On She Goes

Prepare for the Long Haul: A Guide to Surviving Long Flights

You can stay well rested and survive those long-haul flights by doing a little work in advance.

Rebecca Russell
Rebecca Russell
July 31, 2017
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A long flight, as defined by me, is one where you can get in at least one good nap (emphasis on good) and still be awake in time to get some ’Gram jams of the plane landing. I took my second long international flight to St. Lucia in 2014, getting in some much-deserved time off during my first vacation as a working adult. (For those wondering, my very first international trip was to Mexico for a spring break trip I won in college.) Since then, I’ve been to Canada, the UK, Sweden, Denmark, Dubai, and most recently the Maldives. Lots of great naps have been had. Aside from staying well rested, here are my top eight tips to prepare for those long flights and stay sane when you know you’ll be in the air for a bit.

  1. Don’t just get to the airport early—get to your gate! After 20 or so minutes of meandering through every airport’s construction zone, one begins to wonder if they’re walking into the abyss or just to the international departures terminal. When you finally reenter civilization, it’s a natural inclination to want to unwind a bit before heading to the gate. I’d caution you to resist this urge, only in the context of international flights. You never know when you’ll need extra time, so don’t just get through security; make your way to the gate and get situated. Grab anything you’ll want (snacks, duty-free goods, Spa Express massage) on the way. I almost got caught up at London Heathrow because I stayed in the American Airlines lounge for too long, luxuriating with the free Wi-Fi and fruit bar. Cut to a gate change that led to me running to the tram between terminals, praying I wouldn’t miss my flight while on the tram, and then running up two seemingly endless escalators (with a rolling carry-on) with only seconds to spare before the boarding door closed. And God forbid you miss an international flight. For those infrequently traveled routes, you’re looking at a day or more before there’s an alternate flight to catch. Give yourself some peace of mind and just get to the gate.
  2. Have a media strategy. It’s the perfect time to catch up on podcasts, TV shows, movies, or new music you said you’d get around to. Download everything you’ve ever thought about consuming before you get to the airport. Don’t have enough storage or a portable device? That’s cool. Most new planes have media systems with extensive collections of everything I mentioned, along with satellite radio and games. I discovered the super insightful “Note to Self” podcast through Emirates’ in-flight system, after exhausting myself watching episode after episode of Catfish.
  3. Skin care in flight. Because no one wants to be facially ashy upon landing. Just kidding, though skin does get a bit dry after being in a pressurized cabin for several hours. I recommend taking face wipes to cleanse and a moisturizer with an SPF to use at least twice during the flight.
  4. Work it out. I’ve been blessed to have someone sitting next to me on only two international flight legs. The other times, I had the complete row to myself and was able to stretch out to sleep. I put on those airline-provided slippers and lounged like I deserved. If you’re not as lucky as I’ve been, or you pick a popular international flight route, you might have row neighbors. Let them know you’ll need to stand up and stretch sometime during the flight, for your own sanity. You don’t have to do Barre or anything; just work out the kinks as you see fit.
  5. Bring minty things. There’s no way around it—your breath will start kicking after a certain amount of time. However, do not, I repeat, do not brush your teeth with plane water (the water that comes out of a plane’s bathroom tap). I can’t stress this enough. It’s not potable, and it’s about half a step above toilet water. Only use the bottled water the airline provides to brush your teeth, or bring some mints or a travel-sized mouthwash in your carry-on to do the job instead.
  6. Finalize your itinerary. There’s a thing that happens roughly 10 hours into a long flight when you realize that you still have as many more hours in the same plane. It’s maddening, but at the same time it produces a strange calm as you test your self-reliance and resourcefulness in keeping yourself occupied. Remember why you’re on the plane; it definitely helps. How can you be mad if you’re traveling to your own personal paradise? Instead, have a second look at your daily plan once you arrive and brainstorm some more things you could do while you’re visiting. I mean, what else are you doing?
  7. Get in some casual aerial stunts. Girl, buy that in-flight Wi-Fi! And while you’re at it, use it to post those takeoff and cloud-scenery pictures that everyone loves while you’re on board. Often, the onboard Wi-Fi is spotty at best, but I was at least able to post to Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat. Also, I find that after more than eight hours on a plane, sometimes the most interesting thing to do is just stare out the window at the terrain below and take pictures to remember where I was. Added bonus: you’ll touch down to increased engagement as your friends wonder where in the world you went.
  8. Anticipate the unexpected. This is technically the first thing you should do: make sure you buy travel insurance. I’m a bit of a gambler, so I only buy insurance for international flights. Plans vary by provider, but it’s definitely worth the expense. While it may not fully cover all unforeseen problems, it will at least reimburse you for a decent hotel near the airport if you have to stay an extra night. Which is a story for another time. Hi, Toronto!