Flying well is often not about the big things. It’s the little details. They all add up and can either make a long-haul flight awful or awesome. Here are our top 17 tips for flying like a pro and making the day you spend in the air as pleasant as it can be.
The dim half-light of the main cabin on an overnight long-haul flight is like the gloom of limbo; hunched figures aimlessly pacing the aisles, the occasional spark of an overhead reading lamp, the blueish hue of an insomniac’s movie. Sadly, the times when flying was a glamorous, elegant affair have all but gone.
What we’re left with – unless you’re lucky enough to always fly at the front of the plane – isn’t sexy at all. Scrummages for space, grim microwave dinners, battles against the inimitable reclining headrest in front of you.
Having said that, we do still love to fly – and not just as a means to an end to reach a destination.
Because Christina and I have flown so much together over the years, we’ve become pretty good at it. We thought we’d share some of our favourite tactics for getting the most out of our long-haul flights.
Here are our tips for not just surviving, but for thriving on a long-haul flight:
17 tips for tackling long-haul flights like a pro
1. How to stop blocked ears
I often leave a long-haul flight with blocked or ‘whooshy’ ears. A doctor once told me it was my sinus not my ears that were blocked. She told me to try a nasal spray and it really helps. Even more if you take it before you fly.
Another tip I heard from a flight attendant was to steam yourself before you fly. Either a big bowl of hot water and a towel or hold your ears (one at a time) over a large glass with a little steamy water in can really help.
2. Cut out noise
Big over-ear or on-ear noise-cancelling headphones are great but you can’t sleep with your head to one side easily on long-haul flights. In-ear noise-cancelling headphones work with the same technology as the big ones – by sending out matching length sound waves to cancel noise coming in – but are just smaller.
They’re also much more portable, which is awesome when space is so premium.
3. Cut out light
It’s amazing – even when the cabin light have been dimmed – how much ambient light there is on a long-haul flight. That light can ruin chances of proper sleep on a plane.
I don’t usually like them, but an eye mask does wonders when you’re ready to sleep. At a pinch you could pull your blanket over your head or the hood from your top of you have one.
4. E-readers are king
I love my e-reader. It’s the perfect travel companion. The battery lasts forever, you can keep thousands of books and periodicals on it. And with the Kobo, you can even have audio books on the phone app.
E-readers are small, light and are the only thing that the flight crew won’t tell you to pause or put away during the flight. Though manners demand a brief interlude during the safety demos of course!
5. How to stop the ankles swelling
Everyone swells up at the ankles on long-haul flights. It’s just one of those things. Being in the same position for so long plus the pressurised cabin causes fluids and blood to pool at your lowest point.
Flight socks or compression socks are good because they help squeeze and move pooled blood and fluids back up your legs the way the small muscles in your feet and legs normally do.
Alternatively, you could try sports tape like Elastoplast’s Kinesiology Tape. It provides support for injured muscles and joints and is supposed to help improve blood and lymph circulation. A few lines of this stretchy tape should help your body redistribute fluid retention on a long flight.
Pro tip: to get rid of water retention in your ankles, try a bicarbonate of soda poultice. Mixing about 2 cups of bicarb with enough water to form a firm paste, tying it up in an old T-shirt and bandaging it to your ankle will draw out a lot of the fluid in a few hours. You can even do it while you sleep.
6. Order local on the plane – and always avoid the English breakfast
Aeroplane food has a reputation, but not all plane food is made equally as bad. If you’re flying with an Asian airline for example, don’t order the ‘international’ food; go local.
It always tastes better and at the very least you’ll be having more of a cultural experience than if you ask for the pasta… unless you’re flying Air Italia!
Also, please don’t order the ‘English breakfast’ – even if you’re flying BA. It’s always gross. The egg is made from powdered egg protein and I’m certain that weird white sausage was once a dish sponge. It’s not a fair representation of a full English.
7. Book yourself more space – for free!
A sneaky trick for couples travelling together: by booking an aisle and a window seat, you’ve got more chance of having the middle seat to yourselves. Most people won’t take the middle seat if they can help it and check-in staff try to avoid putting single passengers there.
If it’s a full flight and someone takes the middle seat, they’re usually happy to swap for the aisle.
8. What the pillow they give you is really for
I don’t like putting my face on those pillows very much, but they’re perfect for a bit of lumbar support. Squished down the back of the seat, they also protect you from the passenger behind you bumping you when they get things out of the seat pocket.
If you want something to put your head on when you sleep on the long-haul flight, ask for an extra blanket. You can spread it out and adjust how thick your ‘pillow’ is.
9. Open your own bar
Fed up with the usual beer, wine or spirit and mixer? Bring a Carry On Cocktail with you. It comes with everything you need for your single-serve minibar. Each little tin has everything minus the ice, booze and ‘glassware’, which your friendly flight attendant should provide.
There’s even a stirring spoon and linen coaster. Next level flying.
10. Landing card preparations
Keep your passport number, and creation and expiration dates in the notes on your phone and make sure you have a pen handy. This is much better than having to scramble around to fill in your arrivals card. It’s usually just before you land too, which means the seatbelt signs are about to come on.
Pack a bit of moisturiser in your hand luggage or use a bit of lotion usually supplied in the toilets (though it can be quite heavily perfumed). Air in plane cabins is notoriously dry. Shortly before you land – or any time during the flight really – this will freshen you up enough to get you to your hotel after your long flight.
12. Avoid setting off the plane’s silent alarm
If you like to pack a deodorant in your carryon to freshen up in the toilets on the flight, make sure it’s a roll-on. Using a spray in the plane toilets can set off the silent alarm. We have a friend who triggered it with his deodorant and the flight crew burst in on him thinking he was smoking.
13. Your in-flight wardrobe
Think about your itinerary. If you have more than a few hours in a stopover, bring change of clothes in your carry-on. There’s nothing better than fresh undies when you’re halfway through a long-haul flight.
You also have a contingency if you spill food on yourself or – even worse – your luggage doesn’t arrive with you at the other end.
14. How to get a nail file through security
Snagged nails always seem to happen on long-haul flights, but you can’t bring nail files through security… metal nail files that is. You can get glass nail files that aren’t picked on the x-rays and do as good a – if not better – job.
15. How to use the screen in the seat in front of you
The TVs on planes are a different type of touchscreen to your phone. They require directional pressure instead of electrical impulses. So instead of pushing the screen with the blunt, squishy tip of your finger, use your fingernail.
You won’t need to push so hard and the screen will work better. And you won’t annoy the person in front of you – remember, the screen’s in their headrest and everything you do they’ll feel.
16. Avoid creasing your jacket or blazer
If you’ve packed a suit or you have a nice jacket with you, don’t fold it up in your luggage. Wear it on the plane and politely ask the flight crew if they can hang it for you. There’s always space on long-haul flights. Plus when they bring it back to you (which they always do), it’s nice and cool. I have no idea where they hang it!
17. Dodge the germs and start your holiday healthy
I try not to think about the things floating around in the air by the end of a long-haul flight. Gross. And there’s nothing worse than starting your holiday with a cold.
ArmaForce is like a modern miracle and dropping a couple of tablets combats flu-like symptoms and reduces the duration of coughs and sniffles. The tablets are full of natural remedies like Echinacea and Vitamin C. There’s also an ArmaForce throat spray with honey, sage and zinc in it. It helps with sore throats and tickly coughs.
Bonus: how to choose the best seats
With a little research you can find the seats with the most (free) legroom, furthest from the toilets and with the most comfort on SeatGuru.com. It’s an amazing travel resource and can make your long-haul flight a lot more comfortable.
If you enjoyed this post, you should also check out some of our other travel tips:
And here’s a link to our library of travel guides we’ve published.
How do you get settled and cope with long-haul flights? We love learning new tips to trick out your trip. Comment below and tell us!