A long haul flight is at once boring and exhausting. A First or Business Class seat allows you to stretch out, eat good food and use the time as a spa day. And you get a pretty little bag full of goodies – everything from breath mints to shoe polish! Unfortunately most of us walk through this glorious area to the coach cabin behind. We are confined to a small economy class seat with little room to maneuver and few, if any, amenities. We are left to our own devices for comfort and entertainment. Don’t despair. There are ways to prepare that will help you survive your long flight in economy and that’ll make your time in the air almost bearable.
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Even in economy class, there are variations in seats. Select your seat in advance to get an aisle seat if you plan on getting up often, or a window seat if you’re one of those obnoxiously deep sleepers. Avoid the middle seat if at all possible. If you can afford it, pay a bit more for extra legroom in an exit row. Use an app like seatguru to find the best (and worst) seats on your aircraft. Some seats that appear great on your flight diagram may have drawbacks in reality – too close to the bathrooms or no window to look out.
After (too) many long haul flights in Economy class, we’ve come up with some travel tips for long haul flight survival:
How to begin your long haul flight – adjust your mindset
First, and most important, is attitude. As difficult as it may seem, spending 10-15 hours in a narrow tube with a few hundred strangers is possible if you’re mentally and physically prepared. Try to imagine you’re confined at home during a winter storm. What would you do? How would you be dressed? What supplies would you want on hand? By adjusting your mindset you can prepare and anticipate the time on board.
How to survive long flights in economy AND enjoy your destination: Prepare ahead of the flight to stay healthy
Comfort and entertainment are what people think of first, but for older adults, staying healthy should be the priority. Sitting in one spot for hours at a time on a long haul flight can lead to Deep Vein Thrombosis, DVT, a dangerous condition for anyone, but especially for older or plus size people. This can be avoided by wearing compression stockings, staying hydrated, and MOVING. Get up and walk every two hours at the least. If you’re lucky, there might be a spot mid-plane where you can do some stretches. I’m sure I look silly doing my exercises but I’d rather stares than get a DVT (for more information on this read- Deep Vein Thrombosis)
I’m not a germaphobe but do take health precautions when taking long flights. Recirculated air and lowered resistance due to stress can make you susceptible to illness.
Before I board the plane I fill my water bottle and add some Emergen-C to be proactive. I’ll try to drink this before boarding so I can refill the water bottle for the flight. (The flight attendants will usually have water available in the galley for refills.) I might use another Emergen-C or a Gatorade packet mid-flight. As an older traveler, I find the Gatorade a big help in keeping healthy while traveling.
First job after settling in your seat is wiping down that nasty tray table. These are the most germy spots on the plane, being cleaned only once a day, if that. So take the 10 seconds it takes to wipe down the tray.
Try to incorporate as much of your at-home routine into your flying hours as possible. Brushing your teeth and cleaning your skin can help to ease your body into sleep mode.
How to be comfortable on a long haul flight: choose a comfortable travel outfit
The goal is to look presentable while feeling as if you’re in your favorite jammies. I opt for either Encircled dressy sweatpants or pants from Chico’s Travelers collection. Both are stretchy knit pants with style. Add a comfortable top (a Breton striped top is a great mix and match item for the whole trip) and finish with a cozy sweater or wrap. I recommend the Wanderlust by Diane Kroe, but still love my DKNY cozy – the silk cashmere wrap which can be worn more than a dozen ways during the trip. (The $195 cozy is available for $49 at DKNY outlet stores).
Prepare your carry on essentials for overseas flight: your own first class amenity bag
Most airlines allow passengers a carry-on and a personal item. The personal item is the small bag that goes under the seat in front of you. Choose a well organized personal item so you can access needed items during the flight. But for those items essential for your long flight, pack a small ‘flight bag’ and tuck it into your bag.
Before boarding the plane I remove my ‘flight bag’ from my carry-on. I use a Packing Cube Shoulder bag by Tom Bihn but you can use any soft bag like a Baggu or drawstring gym bag. Choose a bright color to ensure it’s not overlooked when exiting the plane. My bag has a front zipper compartment where I can stash valuables. In the main compartment I carry everything I’ll need for the trip – all the flight comfort items of those First Class amenity bags and my personal entertainment for the long haul as well.
Having everything at my seat precludes me having to dig through the overhead compartments looking for chapstick or a pen. My fellow passengers appreciate this, I’m sure.
How to enjoy a long haul flight: plan movies, books, games, and projects
Having several options for things to do on a long flight will keep you occupied and relaxed. Prepare your tablet with a few movies or TV episodes you’ve been wanting to watch. Most flights have entertainment but don’t count on finding something you like. (You can check out what is available on your flight from your airlines website.)
A long haul flight is a good time to catch up on things you’ve been putting off – read a book you’ve wanted to read, put together an event or party plan, write letters, or learn something new. Try a language app on your overseas flight. Organize your travel photos on the return flight!
If all else fails, have some games ready to keep you occupied. Crossword puzzles on your tablet are a great diversion, and can be done while listening to music. If you’re traveling with a friend or partner, try one of the pass and play games apps. Nothing like a little competition to pass the time!
Bring healthy snacks on-board. Fruit, hummus, cheese, and a little bit of chocolate will come in handy, especially if your meal isn’t great.
Tips for sleeping on an overnight flight
Some travelers (my husband…) fall asleep before the plane has left the tarmac, but for most of us, falling asleep on a plane is difficult. Here are some things you can do to prepare your body for sleep.
Adjust your normal routine BEFORE you travel to include things you will have to do on the flight, for example, use a sleep mask at home in the weeks before your trip if you know you’ll need one on the flight. This is also a good time to experiment with a sleep aid if you think that’ll help. There are many OTC aids that will make you drowsy, Advil-PM, Dramamine, or a simple melatonin pill will often be all you need to let you rest. Be sure to only take one of these if you’ll have sufficient time to wake before you have to depart the plane.
Follow this new normal bedtime routine – brush your teeth, freshen up, and put on slippers and the sleep mask.
Under the best of circumstances, you will only get a few hours of sleep, but hopefully the excitement of the trip will make that tolerable.
Secure your valuables for peace of mind during a overnight flight
Wallet, cash and other valuables:
don’t leave these in the overhead compartment. Most flights now require credit cards for on board purchases. You don’t want to be scrambling for your wallet, when the flight attendant comes by with the beverage cart!
Lock the bag in the overhead compartment. Thefts have occurred on overnight flights when passengers are sleeping. A simple zip-tie will suffice if you don’t have a TSA approved padlock. (why TSA approved? In case you’re asked to gate-check your luggage.)
How to Survive Long Flights in Economy: My Long Haul Essentials
- Travel pillow -The soft ones are great but I use an inflatable one from IKEA which takes up little space in my luggage. Find what works best for you!
- Compression socks – these colorful socks will keep your legs refreshed, but, more importantly, help to prevent DVT. If you have a history of edema, or DVT, your doctor may prescribe a tighter compression
- Blanket or wrap – the airline will provide a blanket but you might prefer your own. Travelrest make a lovely soft 4-in-1 blanket. Choose a soft scarf and you can use that as a blanket on the flight, and a wrap while traveling.
- Sleep mask – again, experiment with what is comfortable for you.
- iPad mini or other small tablet – I clear out extraneous stuff from my tablet before the trip to make room for videos to watch, and uploading images as I travel.
- Kindle Paperwhite – Yes, you can read on your tablet, but for long stretches of reading, an ereader is better on your eyes. Plus the battery on these devices lasts for weeks! Load up your kindle with library books or choose one of the kindle free books available on Amazon.
- Noise cancelling headphones – enhance your listen pleasure or just drown out the noise of the plane or your seatmates. I use Bose Quiet Comfort though, space dependent, I might bring noise-cancelling earbuds instead. These from Symphonized NRG are well priced and compact.
- Some flights have outlets built into the seats, but I pack an Anker external battery charger just in case. And make sure you’ve included a charging cable in your flight bag.
- Always have a pen handy for filling out forms during flight
Toiletries, medications and other amenities to help me through a long flight:
- Stay hydrated! Bring an empty water bottle through security or use a collapsible bottle.
- Keep your skin hydrated with a travel sized spray moisturizer and a small lotion (Bee Bar Lotion by Honey House) Some people use the travel hours to apply a hydrating mask. nügg make a lovely transparent mask in travel-sized containers.
- Keep all medications close at hand, especially prescription items! (Hints: low-dose aspirin can help prevent DVT, Dramamine will work for air sickness and might help you sleep, melatonin (as in Midnite tablets) is also a good sleep aid.)
- Facial cleansing cloths are sometimes provided by the airlines, but carry your own just in case.
- Lip balm – bring your favorite or try an intense one from Lansinoh (marketed for breast-feeling moms but actually amazing for lips.)
- NARS the multiple – cosmetic that can be used for eyes, cheeks and lips
- Visine eye drops
- Hand sanitizing lotion and antibacterial wipes
- Toothbrush, floss and paste
- Brush, hair elastics, etc.
For more suggestions read- Travel clothing for women, easy to pack favorites
Hopefully these tips for surviving long flights in economy will ease some of the misery of your trip. What are your flight essentials for coach class travel?