I’ll be flying home to Toronto for Christmas, and that journey is one I take so often it’s almost routine. I have my packing list. I have empty suitcases ready to fill with everything I’ll need to brave a good old Canadian winter. I even have itineraries, details of meetings, family dinners, and events I want to go to in town whilst I’m there. Packing is always stressful no matter how often I have to do it, but planning for a trip is something I actually enjoy.
My friend asked if anyone had any long haul flight tips the other day and it got me thinking about what I actually DO on a flight. Sometimes I’ll fall asleep as soon as we take off and wake up just as we land; other times I’ll have read two books and played ten rounds of Tetris on my phone. I always plan for the eventuality that I won’t get a decent sleep though. There’s really nothing worse than 8 hours of boredom in a giant metal box with nothing to do but listen to the sounds of snoring strangers around you.
1. Drink Plenty of Water
This is probably the most important thing you can possibly do on a long-haul flight, because that recycled air and altitude is so dehydrating. Some airlines will make you pay for your own bottled H2O onboard, which is utter BS as water is essential. Everything costs more on the plane, so if you can, try to grab a big ol bottle of the stuff once you get past the security check and sip it throughout the flight. Better yet bring an empty sports bottle made of BPA-free plastic or glass, and fill it up at a water fountain before you board. It’s totally acceptable to bring a bottle through security as long as there are no liquids in it, and it takes just seconds to fill up with water on the other side.
It’s so tempting to take advantage of the onboard alcohol, especially if it’s “free”. Four glasses of wine and three hours into your flight, you will be feeling rather merry, but trust me, YOU WILL BE SO HUNGOVER when you land. Add the dehydration element to the effects of the alcohol in your system, and you’ll be feeling like shit once you stagger off that plane. Stick to a glass or two maximum with your meal, and remember to stay hydrated. With water, not vodka.
2. Pack Cosy Socks
I can’t emphasise this enough, bring cosy socks; the warmer and fluffier the better. Not to sound too gross about it, but the higher altitude causes feet to swell. You won’t end up stomping around on big fat bear paws but those cute wee shoes you decided to wear that morning won’t seem like such a great idea a couple of hours into the flight. Maybe it’s winter at your destination and you’d decided to go for boots. You will NOT want to spend the whole flight with your feet stuffed into a pair of increasingly constricting footwear.
If I’m on a long-haul flight for work my boss pays for a business class flight, and they do provide a pair of “comfy” socks in their wash bag. Let me just tell you that those socks still suck. I mean come on, who takes the disposable socks they get onboard, washes them, and puts them back into the rotation? They don’t even have a distinct heel. Save them for making sock puppets. All my sock puppets mysteriously have the KLM logo on them. Coincidence? I think not.
This might be a controversial one, but hear me out. I personally don’t have a fear of flying. I have been going back and forth between Canada, Europe, and Hong Kong since I was 6 years old. I used to love it as a kid, because the flight from Toronto to Hong Kong was a time I could stick my earphones in, listen to my Walkman, and catch up on my reading. It was quiet time with no one asking me to do anything or go anywhere.
I also totally understand that for some people, flying is a totally unnatural experience and only a means to an end. A friend of mine from “home” has had a serious fear of flying her whole life, but as she now lives in Dubai and divides her time between U.A.E., Canada and France, she has to spend a significant amount of time on planes. She absolutely hates it. Anxiety is a serious concern for her, and the only way she can get through those long-haul nightmares is to medicate.
It can be detrimental to your whole experience if you suffer from severe anxiety or panic attacks when flying. For some the idea of sleeping through a long-haul flight is a complete impossibility, so if you’re really worried speak to your GP before you leave and let them know about your concerns. They might be able to prescribe you something to chill you out a bit onboard and make the whole ordeal less unpleasant.
4. Wear Layers
I’m pretty sure there is no such thing as a “good” temperature onboard a flight; for me, I’m constantly either too warm or too cold. Wear layers of comfy clothing so you can adjust as the onboard air swings from Sahara to Arctic every few hours. I’ve also heard a rumour that some flights have seriously terrible, paper thin sheets for passengers. These are about as useful as a chocolate teapot, so you’ll be grateful for that big ol scarf you brought that can double up as a blanket.
As an example, on a winter flight I’ll usually wear leggings and a skirt, then a vest top with light jersey t-shirt on top, a lightweight cardigan or jumper and a warm coat. Always bring a scarf. At the very least it will cover up that dubious coffee stain on your shirt from when you hit that bit of turbulence, but between that and your coat you’ll have a makeshift blanket.
5. Bring Face Wipes and Moisturiser
Remember that gross recycled air? The dehydrating effects of the altitude I keep harping on and on about? Those apply to your skin as well, and after 8 hours onboard you will feel pretty icky! Before your plane lands, give your face a good clean with some face wipes and moisturise. In fact, the lovely Fii over at Little Miss Fii came up with the brilliant tip of bringing a good sheet mask onboard and using the time to give your skin a wee treatment whilst you’re stuck in the air with nothing to do. She’s done a few wonderful posts about sheet masks over on her blog, explaining what they do, which ingredients are most effective, and even a few brand suggestions. You can read them here, here and here.
6. Wear Comfortable shoes
Don’t wear heels or tight-fitting boots, for several reasons. Firstly, your feet will swell due to the altitude, and even if you take them off as soon as you find your seat, by the time they call for you to fasten your seatbelt for landing you will have to cram your poor wee tootsies back into your now too-tight shoes.
Wear slip ons if possible. Remember how you need to take your shoes off at security? Do you really want to be hopping around like a demented bunny trying to get your boots back on? They’re also so much more convenient for if you need to get up and stretch your legs or use the toilet mid-flight.
7. Invest in decent earbuds/headphones
If you like to watch films onboard or listen to music, try to avoid using the ones provided by the airline. You know they don’t clean those things, right? I don’t find in-ear buds comfortable so I have noise cancelling over-ear numbers, but whichever you prefer make sure they are a good fit. I once bought a pair of cute AF on-ear headphones that I figured would be “comfy enough”, and three hours in felt like my ears had been compressed by a vice. Not worth it. My current ones are by Bose and feel like your lugs are being gently caressed by kittens.
8. Let the airline know of any dietary requirements in advance
Plane food is crap. Let’s not beat around the bush here, it’s not exactly going to be a taste sensation. What would make it even worse is if you get all lackadaisical about the whole affair and assume they will have a vegetarian meal because they “always” do, and then find out the only options are chicken or fish. I’m vegan and I’ll always phone or email to confirm there will be something suitable for me. If you have ANY dietary requirements or restrictions at all, whether you are vegan or vegetarian, follow a religious diet, or have an intolerance to wheat or dairy, let them know. I mean your meal will probably be pretty shit, but at least it will be the kind of shit you can choke down rather than something you can’t eat at all.
9. Bring a travel-toothbrush and toothpaste
I have a toothbrush I bring with me every time I leave my flat for longer than 24 hours, which folds up into itself like the least threatening switchblade imaginable. It takes up next to no room and you could basically fit it in your pocket.
Imagine you’re on a flight for over 8 hours. That’s about the average amount of time an adult sleeps through the night, and what do you do before you go to bed and when you wake up in the morning? You brush your teeth. Everything feels better after you brush your teeth.
10. Don’t overpack your carry-on
I am almost always guilty of overpacking my checked in luggage. I know that once I drop it off at the desk I won’t have to worry about it until I get off the plane. Unless you have a stopover in the USA, where you have to collect your bags and then check them back in for some reason. If your layover is short they WILL probably lose your bags.
If you have a layover, you don’t want to be dragging an overstuffed carry-on as you run from gate to gate, and even if you have a direct flight, your bulging bag will infringe on precious leg room. Pack wisely, stow your luggage overhead after you’ve taken out your onboard essentials, then don’t worry about it until you land. Trust me, those extra inches of room will be something you’ll be grateful for after a few hours.
Well there you have it, my long-haul flight survival tips! Let me know if there are any I’ve missed, or just anything you do onboard to make the experience more bearable.