TravelTraveler Magazine

How to Survive a Long Flight

There’s no question about it: traveling opens our eyes and minds to new cultures, landscapes, and people. That being said, getting there isn’t always fun.

Most people don’t exactly look forward to long flights, but they don’t have to inspire dread, either.

If you’re like me and can’t afford to upgrade to business or first class, here are a few tips to keep you going while you’re stuck in coach.

Buy Right 

Airlines that aren’t based in the United States tend to offer better amenities on long flights — like personal televisions, eye masks, slippers, and free wine with dinner. All other things being equal, go with the international option. And take note of your departure and arrival times — and time differences — when booking your flight. Paying close attention to these details can help alleviate the effects of jetlag.

Get the right gear

Just because you can’t splurge on business class doesn’t mean you can’t splurge on other things — like quality sleep gear. Eye masks, earplugs, neck pillows, and blankets are a must on a long haul. I recommend the Nap travel flight kit. In addition to being incredibly soft, the inflatable items won’t take up valuable carry-on space.

The Early Bird Gets the Exit Row

The best advice I received as I prepared for a flight from D.C. to Bangkok was to arrive at the check-in desk four hours early to request an exit row. Note: sitting in the exit row means accepting the responsibility to assist in the event of an emergency, but if you are happy to help, the extra leg room is worth it — especially if you’re tall. And, if you like an aisle seat, the people next to you will not have to climb over you to go the bathroom.

Test Before Take-off

If you’re planning to use a sleep aid to snooze through your flight, be sure to test it out at home. That way if you have an adverse reaction, you won’t experience it at 30,000 feet. Another tip: don’t take any sleep aids until you’re in the air. If your flight gets waylaid on the runway, you’ll have a hard time staying awake to deplane.

Embrace Your Inner Couch Potato

Don’t underestimate the power of movies, music, television, and books to help you through your sedentary slog. Your airline may provide movies or even a personal television screen, but it might not take long to exhaust your options. Before you leave, load a robust array of digitized entertainment onto your laptop, tablet, or handheld device. You won’t regret it.

To Work… or Not Work

There’s nothing wrong with using your down time to get some much-needed work done. And hey, you may even be ahead of the game by the time you land. But most people’s eyes are bigger than their stomachs when it comes to working

on a flight. Be realistic: bring other things to keep you occupied.

Follow Your Instincts

Listen to what your body is telling you. If you feel tired, sleep. (Don’t fret about missing meals when you’re sleeping: You can always ask the flight attendant to bring you some food or snacks when you wake up.) If you are wide awake, watch movies or read. But whatever you do, it’s important to find small ways to exercise on long flights. Arm circles, leg lifts, and walking are all good options.

Lose the Hangover

Many international flights offer complimentary wine or beer with meals. Tossing back a drink may seem like a good way to pass the time or calm anxiety, but beware. Surviving a long flight is about being comfortable the entire time, not just the first couple hours — and a plane is just about the worst place to cope with a hangover.

Erin Block is an editorial assistant at National Geographic Traveler magazine. Follow Erin’s story on Instagram and on Twitter @ErinSBlock.

Do you have tips to add? Leave a comment to share your insight with our travel community.