Prior to this year, I’d never had the honor of sitting on a plane for 15 hours straight. No that’s not a typo. If you include my layovers, and short second flights, I’m usually traveling for a full 24 hours to get to Asia. Now that I’ve made the trip six times, I feel like I’ve learned a lot. I realized how many helpful pointers I had when my friends and family came out to visit. I basically bombarded them with a list of tips for long haul flights. Here are my wise words of wisdom…
Flash Your Brightest Smile
This is my number one tip to anyone flying anywhere. Give the check in counter your very best smile. I don’t think people realize that the check in desk often chooses your seat for you. They’re also responsible for filling the exit row and upgrading people to first class. I always try to be extra nice to anyone in customer service because I’ve been there and I’ve done that and it sucks.
I realized pretty quickly that being nice has its rewards. If a flight isn’t full, I’m almost always upgraded. I don’t have a reward card or anything, and I don’t book with the same airline every time. All I do is treat the person at the front desk like a human being who deserves to have a good day. I’ve been upgraded to first class or the exit aisle at least four times in the last year. I once snagged an entire row to myself on a full flight and got to lay down. Thank you friendly check in people, you rock!
Book the Aisle
On my first long haul flight, I booked the window. It’s my go to seat because I can look outside, and the wall is a nice place to rest my head and sleep. On a long flight, it’s a little different. First of all, depending on your flight plan, it could get very drafty. My first flight went over the Arctic, and the cold air coming from the side of the plane was freezing.
The worst part of the window though is that you can’t stand up. The two people next to me slept the ENTIRE flight, and I had to wake them up just to pee. Any time they stood up, I literally jumped at the chance to stretch my legs. It was awful. With the aisle seat, you can get up, move around, and stretch whenever you want. On a long-term flight, that’s pretty important.
Take a Lap
Sitting still on a plane for hours isn’t only painful, but it’s bad for your body. Since you’ve secured an aisle seat, be sure to get up and do a lap around the plane every couple of hours. On long flights, the stewardesses don’t mind if you walk around as long as the seat belt sign is off. Stretch your legs a bit, and give your neighbors a chance to do the same.
Be Extra Kind to the Staff
Just like the check in person, the stewardesses are often dealing with people who aren’t in the best mood. Add in the fact that they have to work the entire flight, rarely get time to sleep, and are subjected to airline food all the time. In short, their job is really demanding and exhausting. Besides the fact that you should always treat others with kindness, being friends with the stewardess can make long flights a lot easier. I haven’t tried it, but I’ve heard of people getting upgraded because they bought all of the stewardesses some fancy chocolate at the airport as a thank you before boarding.
Be the Last to Board
I’m not sure why everyone is in such a rush to get on the airplane. It seems to be instinct to run to the gate as soon as it opens. If you’re there on time, the plane won’t leave without you. I usually sit by the entrance and wait for the line to die down. Then, I get on almost last. Here’s the thing, if you’re the last one on, you don’t have to rush past all the staff. You can say a genuine hello and thank you, which they’ll appreciate after herding hundreds of people on board.
The real trick though is to keep an eye out for empty seats. I always look for empty rows, and since I’m the last one on, I know no one else is boarding behind me. I always ask the stewardess (who I’ve already been super nice to upon boarding) if I can move there, and boom I have an aisle to myself to lay down.
Order the Local Food
I almost always fly a foreign airline because it’s cheaper. Something I’ve learned is to always choose the local food option. If you’re flying on a Taiwanese airline for instance, order the Asian dish, not the western dish. Since it’s an Asian airline, the chicken and rice is going to taste a lot better than the spaghetti.
Pack a Variety of Snacks
We all know airplane food isn’t the best, so having a backup is a smart idea. A lot of people get confused about bringing food into the airport. You can actually pack a sandwich and bring it through security. You just can’t bring liquids. I’d also recommend bringing snacks like chips, trail mix, chocolate, etc. Buying snacks before getting to the airport will save tons of money. Sometimes, I’ll buy a meal at the airport and bring it onboard as well since they usually have better food options than the plane.
Bring an Empty Water Bottle
Speaking of going through security with water, you can go through security with an empty water bottle. “Why?” you might ask. Because you can fill it up at a water fountain on the other side of security. Just be careful in countries that don’t have potable tap water. Usually, there is a fountain or water cooler marked “drinking water.” Don’t just fill your bottle up in the bathroom.
Wear Layers of Comfy Clothes and Slip on Shoes
Being comfy on a long flight is key. This might seem like a no brainer, but I’ve seen people board 15-hour flights in skinny jeans and t-shirts. Wear something super comfortable. Layers are best since airplanes tend to get colder the higher up they go. Having a few warm items to add on is always handy. I also recommend socks to keep your feet warm and slip on shoes so it’s easy to put them on and off for bathroom breaks and for going through security.
Invest in Noise Canceling Headphones
I still need to buy a pair of these, but I’ve been told they are amazing. First of all, airplanes are loud, so if you want to watch a movie or listen to music, it’s helpful. Second, if you are trying to sleep and people are talking or a baby is crying, it will help you block out all the distractions. I currently have regular ear buds, and they don’t always do the trick.
Bring at Least Three Forms of Entertainment
Spotify, Netflix, and a Kindle are your new best friends. Most airlines offer movies on long term flights, but sometimes things happen. My screen broke once, and the flight was full, so there was nothing to do for 5 hours. I like to download at least 5 movies on my phone, 5 books on my Kindle, and a ton of albums on Spotify. Having different options will make the flight go so much faster. I like to rotate between movies, music, and books, so I don’t feel like I’ve been sitting still doing nothing for hours on end.
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Have an Eye Mask, Wet Wipes, and a Toothbrush
Some airlines actually have these items in the bathroom, which is amazing. Still, I’d recommend bringing them just in case. Eye masks are great if you plan to sleep through meal service and don’t want to be disturbed. Wet wipes are perfect in lieu of a washcloth when you wake up. It’s super refreshing after sleeping on a plane to at least wipe your face off. Clearly a toothbrush is just good in general since you’ll be on board for so long.
Borrow the Blanket & Pillow
This hack is actually courtesy of my mom. If you have a long layover with the same airline, borrow the blanket and pillow they give you. That way you can take a nap in the airport and get comfy between flights. Then bring it back on the next flight with you to return it.
How do you make the most out of a long flight? Share your tips in the comments!
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Michelle Della Giovanna
Writer at Full Time Explorer
I’m just your average New Yorker who quit her job in the fashion industry to explore the world. Come find out what it’s like to trade in five-inch heels for squat toilets.
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