Whether it’s your first long haul flight or you’ve notched up more hours in the giant metallic cigar than you have in a real bed, everyone loves some good long haul flight tips.
Over a decade of professional travel, I’ve accumulated plenty and yet I’m always keen to hear more.
Why? Because a good flight is the key to happiness. Plato and the other ancient Greek philosophers were just too early to know.
But in all seriousness, a good flight makes sense. You can hit the ground running in your new location and transition back to home life as well. Whether travelling for business or pleasure (and there should always be room for both) there’s simply nothing to be gained from being uncomfortable and miserable.
The idea is to be well rested, replenished and revived with a zest for life, right? Or at the very least, less haggard than when you began.
Yet all too often, the result is frazzled, frumpy and thoroughly, er, fed up with mankind.
So. Let’s sit down and share some secrets…Our best long haul flight tips.
I’ll go first.
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Essential Long Haul Flight Tips
Get Your Stuff Together
In the meantime, here are the long haul flight tips for packing:
Prep Against Blood Clots (DVTs)
Let’s be grown up and deal with facts, ignoring the fears for now.
Long haul flights increase the risk of blood clots in your legs (deep vein thrombosis.) On their own, they’re uncomfortable but the real risk is that they fly off and lodge somewhere more important. Like in your lungs.
Having trained and worked as a doctor, I am keen to spread the word about this because there are plenty of steps you can take to reduce the (overall fairly small) risk.
Low Dose Aspirin
Aspirin affects how easy it is for platelets in your blood to stick together by altering the function of cyclooxygenase and the production of prostaglandins.
Another way of describing it is to say that they make your blood less “sticky.”
A Quick Note About Aspirin
Check with your doctor or pharmacist about whether or not it’s safe for you to take aspirin. For most people it is, but don’t be coming running to the internet if it’s not for you! Check.
In particular, check if you are pregnant, have recently had surgery, have previously had a blood clot or are taking any other medication.
You can buy compression stockings from most chemists or online here. They are not the sexiest of garments but they aren’t too bad once you get used to them.
They’re particularly important for babymoons as pregnancy increases the risk of blood clots. I wore them every time I travelled while pregnant and they’re really not as bad as they look!
Wear loose clothes
Even in the flashiest plane seat in the world, you’re going to have to stay in the same place on a long haul flight for a long time (hey! The clue is in the name!)
Belts, seams and constricting clothing will annoy you.
First and business class often offer pyjamas so you don’t need to bring your own but even then it’s useful to wear something loose and breathable.
I have a pair of loose trousers like this that are great for flying in and simply require a black T shirt to go with them. I pack a second one for the return flight and that’s two days of “outfit planning” done in one as well.
On a long haul flight, you’re also at risk of skin irritation from the fabric of the seat. Long sleeves and trousers avoid this. If you’re heading somewhere hot, loose clothes are breathable. If you’re heading somewhere cold, your skin is covered and you can throw on a jumper and coat.
Pack a jumper and scarf
The temperature can plummet on a long haul flight. Even if it’s warm at your start and final destination, it’s useful to have a jumper and scarf with you. They can also double up as a pillow.
Organise your stuff
Whether you’re travelling hand luggage only or have checked in a bag, it’s still annoying to have to forage around for things during the flight.
The lighting may be low, the space is reduced and, if you’re a decent person, you’re often trying not to bump into or annoy anyone else.
- Use packing cubes like this or brightly coloured toiletry bags to segment things.
- Fill one with things you are unlikely to need but have to be in your carry on. Things like prescription medication, spare contact lenses, battery packs and so on.
- Fill another with your gadgets. Include a spare battery and charging wire.
Book the seat you want
These days, more and more airlines allow you to book your seat in advance – at a price. When you book your ticket, pay attention to this, especially if you have long legs, a dodgy hip, have to have an aisle seat, are travelling together and so on.
Sometimes, theses seats are only available at a certain time.
If you can’t book your seat, there are a few things you can do to maximise your chances of getting what you want.
Firstly, check in as soon as you can. Secondly, ask at check in. You never know. Sometimes airlines reserve seats and only release them closer to the flight time.
Insider Long Haul Flight Tip
If you are hoping for a bit of extra space (and let’s face it, who isn’t?) and you don’t want a window seat then here’s a little trick that’s just between you and me. See below...
- Go for the aisle seat on the middle section of the plane, not the one near the window. The middle of the middle is the worst seat in the plane (other than the one at the back that doesn’t recline.) That means, if the plane is not full, you have the chance to dump all your stuff there or curl your knees up or stretch out. Striking gold! Just don’t tell everyone else, OK?
- Oh, and on that note. Try to avoid the seats with the toilets just behind them. Seats often don’t recline and once the game of sky recline domino begins further ahead, you will be left very cramped indeed.
- If you need to make a hasty getaway once you land, then book closer to the front, on the left. The left hand side of the aeroplane is closest to the door and so the queue moves faster.
- Finally, run your choice through the seat guru checker. This site lets you look at the layout of the plane in advance and highlights key issues that aren’t always obvious (such as lack of space under the seat in front of you or location of baby bassinets.)
Check your luggage allowance
Some tickets give you enough luggage to move house like Marie Antoinette.
Check at the time of booking, packing and certainly before you head to the airport. Read the small print. Airlines are becoming increasingly awkward about this and it is expensive, annoying and time consuming to have to solve the issue at the airport.
Long Haul Flight Tips: At the Airport
Top up power supply
Many flights now have at-seat charging points, even in economy. Many more still don’t. You need to be able to turn your device on if questioned at security and if you are relying on your phone for boarding passes and transfer information, it goes without saying that it’s kind of helpful to be able to turn it on.
Charge your phone at the airport.
Lounge access doesn’t only apply to business class travellers. Many airports now have pay-as-you-go lounges and many others accept membership cards like Priority Pass.
Is it worth it? It depends. If the airport is decent and quiet, probably not. If it’s heaving, you have a long layover, you need a meal or a shower or are travelling on your own, it can be.
Particularly as a solo traveller, it’s great to be able to move around with ease, leaving your gadgets plugged in and getting a meal quickly without needing to queue for food.
Pay attention as you queue. Despite the idea that everything is standardised, it isn’t. Some places make you take off your shoes. Others don’t. Some airports need kindles and iPhones in separate trays. Others are happy for it all to be bundled together.
So, pay attention as you queue.
Pack your carry on so that any electronics and liquids are easy to reach and you don’t have to pull everything out.
Put your most valuable item through last. If you get pulled over or the trays start to crash into each other after they’ve gone through the machine, your valuable items are more protected.
If travelling with kids, this is a whole new ball game as pushchairs, baby food and all the rest need to be dealt with separately. I’ve written whole posts on travelling with a baby and travelling with a toddler to address that.
You can also find a family travel section over here.
A note about liquids, gels and pastes
In case you missed the memo, there are strict regulations on how many liquids, pastes and gels you can take onto a flight.
The most annoying part of this is that you won't be able to take drinking water through airport security and so will have to buy some once you get through (so much for avoiding plastic.)
Think strategically about what you will actually need during a long haul flight. Some useful products are:
- Lip salve - the air gets dry
- Toothpaste - to freshen up
- Scented oils - Welllll... In case someone nearby smells or takes their shoes off!
Beyond that, there isn't much you will need (unless you're travelling with children, in which case check out the links above.)
These should already be small and easily fit into the plastic bag required at security.
Travelling Hand Luggage Only?
Then you'll need to plan in advance as all your toiletries and make up will need to be travel sized and fit within the designated plastic bag at the airport. Check out this link for up to date information on the exact specifications allowed.
If you've left it too late to sort out miniatures, don't stress. Airports sell most things in travel sizes.
Some airports charge for the plastic bag at security. Once you have one, keep hold of it with your passport to avoid this annoying procedure the next time around!
Long Haul Flight Tips for Boarding the Plane
Aeroplane aisles are narrow and everyone acts as though they’re in a desperate rush.
The pressure is on to have it together and sit down quickly (although the world won’t end if you need to take your time.)
It’s a good idea to move to your seat quickly, and put your hand luggage in the overhead bin as soon as possible. You can ferret and fumble around with your things after take off.
A handy hint is to have a smaller bag that contains the things you KNOW you will need mid-flight and just whip that out before you board.
During the Flight
Get up and stretch- set a timer if you have to. It helps to fend off blood clots and general aches and pains.
Drink lots of water
Bring your own bottle and top it up regularly.
Do as you’re told
There's no point in fighting it. Eat when they serve food. Try to sleep when they turn off the lights. Chatter and watch TV (or work) when it's all go, go, go.
I fought this for years, trying to work to my own schedule but it never worked.
Recon the Restroom Situation
Be strategic about going to the toilet. During the dinner service, it can be difficult to make your way along the aisle and just after is busy (and more difficult to get out with a tray on your table.)
As soon as you hear the pilot say “cabin crew, prepare for landing” hotfoot it to the loo! Nothing but queues await after this point – either on the plane or in the immigration area when you land. Carpe diem!
Long Haul Flight Tips for Coming in to Land
By the end of a long haul flight, everyone is a little fed up and ready to get off. This is the prime time for losing stuff. I once left my passport in the back of a seat and had to beg, borrow and steal my way back onto the aircraft to get it. Don’t let this happen to you.
- As soon as you hear the announcement, start packing your bags.
- Make sure you have your passport, customs and immigration paperwork handy. Check your pick up instructions or directions to your first hotel so you can appear calm and confident when you leave the airport and face any hawkers.
- Depending on your phone provider, turn off your mobile data to avoid hideous roaming charges.
- Wait your turn and help people who need it.
And, that’s it! Hope you enjoyed these long haul flight tips and that they help you have a smoother journey.
Any long haul flight tips you want to share here?