How to survive a long-haul flight

Sometimes I am lucky enough to visit far away places, but that always means getting on the dreaded long-haul flight. The food is always naff, the seats are never comfortable and you’re always sat behind the one person who fancies reclining into your lap mid-dinner service.

Fortunately, there are some steps we can take to mitigate the challenges of long-haul flying. Most centre around sleeping, but this is because to sleep on the flight really is the best way to get through it (ignorance is bliss!). Here are some tips that should help you both during and after your flight:

Eat before the flight. Remember I said the food is a bit naff? I find aeroplane food is always grim, no matter the airline (to my surprise, our food on a British Airways flight last year was bloody awful). Often you don’t get a choice in the matter and it usually tastes of sadness. My advice? Eat before you fly or pack some slow-releasing snacks in your hand luggage. If you have an afternoon flight (for which you need to be at the airport for late morning), eat a huge breakfast. It’ll give you bags of energy and will hopefully prevent you from getting too hungry mid-flight if the food isn’t up to scratch. Even better, I always feel sleepy after a large meal so it might help you nod off for a couple of hours! I wouldn’t eat at the airport though – no one has the budget for £14.99 beans on toast.

Choose your seat wisely. I don’t mean pay extra to reserve your seat weeks in advance – did you know most airlines offer a choice of seat when you check in online? If you’re someone who likes to recline, get a seat right at the back – it also means you might get served food and drink first, and you’ll have easy access to the loos. Prefer lots of legroom? There are often two or three ‘front rows’ on larger jets which have bags of room in front for your legs – maybe 2-3ft. If you prefer to stretch out, these seats are for you. Seat position can often mean the difference between an awful flight and a pleasant one. I personally prefer the ones at the front.

Pick your flight times well. If you can afford it/there is availability, get a night flight. You can arrive at the departure airport well into the evening and by the time you board the plane, you’ll already be feeling tired. This makes it more likely you’ll get to sleep during the flight, and it’ll make adjusting to the new time zone when you wake up easier too.

If you wouldn’t wear it in bed, don’t wear it on the plane. A flight across the world is a long time to be sat in the same clothes (often not moving for several hours). It’s probably obvious, but ditch the itchy sweater, tight jeans and heavy shoes and opt instead for comfortable, loose fitting clothing. I tend to always wear leggings (mostly for the elasticated waistband), a super baggy top (does anyone else get bloated on flights?) and my slip-on Vans. Also, it’s almost always freezing on the plane. Make sure you take a thick hoodie or cardigan on board, even if you’re headed somewhere tropical. Sometimes I even take a really fluffy pair of socks to get extra cosy – heaven!

Eye masks. No, not a caffeine infused aloe vera gel to reduce aging and puffiness. I mean those big, thick fabric things you can use to sleep with. Does anyone else find the cabin is too light, or someone in front is watching Gone Girl with maximum brightness on, or their neighbour is playing a mobile game which involves intense strobe lighting? I find it impossible to shut all these distractions out just by closing my eyes. Eye masks can be hugely helpful in blocking out all of these light sources so that you can fall asleep (and stay asleep).

Remove your makeup. Ladies and gents who wear makeup – if you wouldn’t sleep for 8 hours in it, don’t wear it on your flight. If you need to look beat at the airport that’s cool, just remember to take it off once you’re on board. You can re-apply your makeup to wake yourself up a couple of hours before landing so that you’re fresh-faced for your destination.

Stay hydrated. Drink lots of water – more than you would ordinarily drink on the ground. The air in the cabin is depressurised and can quickly feel stuffy and dry. Drinking lots of water can make you feel so much better both during and after your flight. This applies to your skin too – I always pack a travel moisturiser (remember – under 100ml) and apply it during the flight (usually before I put makeup on).

Be nice. You are crammed in a 200ft by 20ft metal box with 200 strangers for 10+ hours – it’s not always pleasant. There are steps we can take to make life easier for fellow travellers (and hopefully they will return the kindness). Things like not reclining your seat if someone is sat behind, not hogging the armrests if you’re in the aisle or window seat and avoiding taking loo breaks when the person next to you has only just dozed off. A lot of these are common sense but can really make the difference to the passenger next door.

Take one bag. I know it’s tempting to pack fourteen pairs of pants and all the makeup you own in your cabin bag, but consider whether you really need all that stuff. If you’re on a long haul flight, I guarantee you’ve got a hold luggage allowance. Use it! Can your key essentials fit in a backpack or handbag that will fit under your seat? If you absolutely need to take two suitcases, a lot of airlines will let you check-in your cabin bag with your cargo bag for no extra cost. You can swag onto the plane hands-free without having to wrestle Karen for a spot in the overhead locker.

Chill out! Our lives are super busy, so you’d think most of us would relish the opportunity for 12 hours of no places to be or people to talk to. Turn the long flight time to your advantage! You could catch up with your favourite TV series (you can download to your phone with the Netflix app), read those books you’ve been putting off, use some face masks and treatments (watch for strong smells though, as this can be unpleasant for other passengers) and plan your destination itinerary. These hours are a golden opportunity not to be snuffed.

Things I didn’t include on this list: travel pillows (I’ve never used one, so I can’t recommend it), upgrading your seat class (I’m always in economy) and taking herbal sleeping pills (simply because I’ve never tried them). Do you have any tips and tricks for getting through long haul flights?

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