How to thrive – not just survive – on a long-haul flight

There are lots of ways you can survive a long-haul flight and even more articles telling you how to do it. But these 7 tips won’t have you walking off the plane at the other end – they’ll have you skipping down the skybridge.

United Airlines - long-haul flight

One of the necessary evils of international travel – especially when you live in Australia – is the long-haul flight. Cooped up in a metal tube, confined to your seat and crossing multiple time zones play havoc with your body clock.

And if you don’t get it right, the flight can impact the first few days of your trip quite badly.

The good news is there are ways to combat the effects of long-haul travel – ways we’ve tried, tested and verified.

How to thrive on a long-haul flight

Our most recent long-haul flight was to the States with United Airlines in their Polaris Business Class.

United Airlines business class United Polaris review - the sear

But regardless of all the extra comforts this upgrade gave us – from flatbed seats to much better food – we still followed our usual long-haul routine.

Here’s our hit list for a long-haul.

1. Noise-cancelling headphones

It’s amazing how much ambient noise there is on a flight so our noise-cancelling headphones are a must. I have in-ear ones that provide a physical barrier as well as the noise-cancelling technology.

United Airlines - long-haul flight

Jim’s on-ear headphones completely cover his ears but are compact and fold away easily. They also allow him to double down with foam earplugs when he wants to sleep. The difference, he says, is amazing.

On our flights with United Airlines, we found that their planes – the 787 Dreamliners – were a lot less noisy than other aircraft we’ve been on. There didn’t seem to be as much of that low-frequency drone or turbine whistle that gets inside your skull after 15 hours.

2. Make sleep happen with melatonin

Even if you’re one of those lucky people who fall asleep immediately on a flight, there’s no harm in making things even easier. Melatonin – the brain hormone you produce when it’s dark that helps regulate the sleep-wake cycle.

So popping a melatonin tablet half an hour or so before you want to sleep will definitely help.

United Airlines - long-haul flight GlowJetter

We use GlowJetter – an Aussie company that makes travel supplements. Their Sleep Formula tabs are excellent. Their clever blend of chamomile, magnesium and melatonin really does the trick.

3. Turn left – United Polaris Business Class

The difference between sitting up in your seat and having the luxury of laying flat or simply reclined with your feet up for 15 hours really does make a difference. Whenever you can, say yes to business class. It’s a game-changer.

United Airlines - long-haul flight Polaris Business Class

Two different pillows, a mattress, a duvet, a blanket, slippers, pyjamas, comfortable over-ear headphones, an amenity kit full of the good stuff – this is all waiting for you in your enormous seat.

As for the food, everything the flight crew bring you is delicious. We were very impressed. There’s even a cheese board and a macaron cake stand.

Check out our United Polaris review here.

4. Avoid bad smells and dry sinus

No matter where you’re sitting on the plane, everyone’s breathing the same air, which is pretty stale by the end of a long-haul. There’s also very little humidity in the air, which can dry out your sinus and give you cold-like symptoms.

We combat this in an unusual way. We take a little blob of Australian-made Lucas’ Papaw lip balm on a finger tip and rub it up inside each nostril at the start of the flight.

We try to be discreet about it doesn’t look like we’re having a good pick, but by the end of the flight our sinuses feel so much better and we can breathe easier. Plus we’ve been blissfully immune to our stinky co-passengers!

United Airlines - long-haul flight

5. Moisturise

Air on planes is very drying. Even in United Airlines’ 787 Dreamliners, which have higher cabin humidity, your skin will dry out.

Bringing moisturiser in your carry-on (under 100ml please) will help alleviate skin dryness and make you feel more refreshed during and after the flight. Even better, bring a face mask with you. One with Hyaluronic acid and collagen is ideal.

On our United Polaris flights, the amenity kit included beautiful skin care products from Sunday Riley – a lip balm, hand cream and face cream. These are perfect to help keep your skin hydrated.

United Airlines business class United Polaris review - Sunday Riley skincare

6. Choose your food carefully

We make it a policy to always choose the local food over an anglicised ‘international’ dish on offer. When we’re flying with an Asian airline like Thai Airways for example, we ask for the Thai dishes first.

And always have the continental breakfast over the cooked breakfast.

Food on the United Polaris flights was superb. A la carte options included a chilled appetiser, and choice of mains like spiced lamb, roasted salmon fillet, and a mushroom and lentil bolognese. There was even a sundae cart that pulled up next to your seat so you could build your own ice cream.

United Airlines business class United Polaris review - frittata and pastry breakfast

And best of all, United Polaris offers special on-demand dishes you can ask for throughout your flight. The lobster mac n cheese I had was amazing!

7. Do you suffer from blocked ears post-flight?

I always used to have trouble with my hearing after a long-haul. But when I asked my doctor about it, she told me it was probably more my sinus than my ears.

United Airlines - long-haul flight

Lengthy exposure to pressure from the cabin and a dry environment from the air conditioning can cause your sinus to dry out and eustachian tubes to block. A simple nasal spray either during or after the flight really helps.

United’s 787 Dreamliners have lower pressure in their cabins, which helps with jetlag over all, but with blocked ears in particular.

Bonus: treat yourself when you land

Larchmont Sanctuary Spa LA

Just because you’re back home from your long-haul flight doesn’t mean your holiday has to be over. And starting your holiday right is more important than what you’ve got planned.

Booking in for a spa treatment when we land is our new favourite thing to do. A bit of pampering – even if it’s just a massage – will set you up perfectly for what’s ahead and will straighten out all the kinks in your body from being seated so long.

This is how we did it when we arrived in LA recently.

There’s more than one way to jet the lag

United Airlines - long-haul flight

We’ve got lots more advice on getting through a long-haul flight, recovering from jetlag and generally travelling well. Here are some links to our travel library you might like too:

How to get through airport security fast

How to travel light, pack smart and stay stylish

7 tips for avoiding jetlag

17 tips for tackling long-haul flights like a pro

37 tips for flying in style

Do you have any tips for long-haul flights? What do you do to bring a bit of joy to your seat in the sky? Tell us in the comments.

United Airlines - long-haul flight

We flew as guests of United Polaris Business Class.


  • Reply January 17, 2020

    Peter Hook

    Fantastic set of advice Jim & Christina. Have never been convinced about Melatonin, but this is the point. I have known people who almost as soon as they sit down in a plane go to sleep. They have that mentality. Where as those whose minds are more active will always have trouble. Two or three good glasses of red help – and sod all of those who say ignore good wine on a plane – or a droning podcast, but I wish I could do it naturally!

    • Reply January 18, 2020

      Mr Romance

      Thanks Peter. We try. 🙂 Yes, I wasn’t sure about melatonin either, but it’s worked the few times I’ve used it. The ultra-long Sydney-Perth-Perth-Johannesburg flights we recently did were made a lot easier with it. The only time I ever really sleep well on flights is – ironically – when there’s bad turbulence. Sends me right off! Otherwise, I also employ a careful balance of water and grog so I’m hydrated enough to be healthy but dehydrated enough not to need the bathroom all the time. And the booze certainly helps take my mind off the boredom.

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