Long flights are inherently risky – more risky than many travelers take into account. Boredom is the least of the issues until you’ve been in it for more hours than you can count. There’s also deep-vein thrombosis, which has caused death in long haul travelers, dehydration, sleep deprivation (yep, deprivation), stomach cramps, and severe muscle tension. The human body is simply not meant for sitting in one place for many hours at a time.
Take a look at these tips for making long flights more comfortable. The next time you’re committed to settling into a long metal tube hurtling through the air and being stuck there for a lot of hours, you’ll be prepared.
1. Don’t assume you can sleep
While it’s tempting to look at all that time sitting still as the ideal opportunity to catch some long-needed and well-deserved shuteye, you can’t control the situation as much as you’d like. A crying child, continual pilot announcements, wiggling or overweight seat mates can all make your opportunity for sleep disappear quickly. It’s best to arrive for your flight relatively rested.
If you get some ‘extra’ hours of sleep on board, even better, but you won’t be suffering as much if you can’t sleep for some reason.
2. Test drugs ahead of time
If you’re planning to take a sleep aid to ensure that you snooze your way across the sky, be sure to test it out at home. Don’t, whatever you do, trust that the sleeping pill that works every time for your friend will work the same way when it’s introduced to your system.
If you have an adverse reaction, it’s best not to experience that at 30,000 feet where you have few options for medical support.
If the dose lasts longer for you than it does your friend, you may need to take only half the dose, but you don’t want to find that out as you’re stumbling through a foreign airport and trying to find the baggage claim.
If the medicine doesn’t work the way it should (causing agitation rather than sedation), it’s best to know that before you board a long flight.
Carefully time when you take the medicine too. If you take it before boarding and the plane is delayed, you could have a hard time being alert while you deplane and wait.
3. Pull out all the tricks
Ultimately, you want to make these hours disappear and so you’re going to need to pull out all the tricks. Load your iPad with movies, bring your best headphones, lug along a sleep pillow that supports your head, bring a comfy blankie, eye mask, earplugs, several new magazines – absolutely whatever it takes to ensure you have what you need to make this time go away.
Bring your laptop or tablet with a little work too – you may never get this amount of pure time to work.
4. Layer up and trust your body
The temperature inside the plane can go from stiflingly hot to arctic chill in a matter of minutes, so dress in layers of loose comfortable clothes – including your shoes. Slip your shoes off as soon as you find your seat. If you’re not wearing socks, have a pair in your bag in case you get cold.
Go with what your body tells you to do. If you’re hungry, have a snack from your bag or get something from the cart. If you’re bored, do some work or turn on a movie. When you get sleepy, shut it all down and sleep. Trust what your body is telling you and got with it.
5. Limit the carry-ons
No that the airlines charge for checked luggage (some are even starting to charge for carry-ons), most travelers skip the fee and carry everything on board. The one problem with that plan is on a long flight. If your carry on takes up all the space under the seat in front of you, you’ve lost valuable leg and stretching room. Limit your carry-on to what you need for the flight and try to keep it small enough that you’ll have wiggle room down there.
6. Skip the alcohol – drink water instead
Many international flights offer complimentary wine or beer with meals. It can be very tempting to pass the time and it can calm your anxiety, but it’s a temporary relief. Alcohol and caffeine are diuretics, which means they increase the discharge of urine and dehydrate the body. Dehydration means a lot more than just puffy eyes when you arrive – it can cause severe discomfort, confusion, inability to focus, and more.
Limiting your consumption of alcohol and caffeine a few days prior to and during your long flight is one of the best ways to avoid dehydration.
Drinking 6-8 ounces of water every hour of your flight is also helpful for a few reasons: you stay hydrated and you move fairly often to visit the on board head.
If you do imbibe on the flight, drink extra water to counteract the effects.
7. Stretch often
Don’t be self conscious about doing some stretches in your seat – after all, the real danger of flying is deep vein thrombosis. You might start a trend in your row, and you will certainly feel better when you deplane. Try these stretches every hour or so – they only take a minute or two:
Shrug your shoulders up to your ears and then roll them down your back.
Reach your arms as high and straight up over your head as you can.
Roll your head over to one shoulder, and then to the other.
Point your toes and roll your feet around the ankles in both directions.
Pull one knee into your chest and hug, then switch to hug the other knee.
When you get up to go to the restroom, take long strides down the aisle to stretch your hamstrings. If you have room while waiting in line for the restroom, bend over and hold your toes (of not, try to do this in the bathroom instead).
8. Secure your belongings
When the entire passenger list is zoned out or snoozing, that’s the perfect time for an opportunistic thief to strike. So make sure that your belongings are secured.
Stuff your electronics back into your carry-on and push it far under the seat in front of you. Put your feet on top.
Store your passport, credit cards, and cash in a money belt under your clothes.
Throw a blanket over yourself and tuck it around you with the seat belt over it. You’re more likely to feel someone tugging on things as they’re trying to rob you.
If you visit the restroom, your traveling companion can keep an eye on your stuff. If you’re traveling solo, you may want to secure it all and ask the flight attendant to keep an eye in that direction, but you should never leave your wallet, bank cards, or passport unattended.
9. Try to get an upgrade
While the chances of getting a free upgrade these days are almost none. In the past, the airlines were kinder about upgrading folks when there was space in first class, but their new love of fees and surcharges have made it nearly impossible to plead your way into an upgrade.
Even if you can afford the upgrade, first class isn’t what it used to be. You still have the same meals (without the charge), the same headphones, the same entertainment, etc. Still, on a long flight, the extra room can make a big difference if you can swing it.
If you’re traveling with young children on a long flight, bless you and good luck. Check out these Tips for Safe Travel with Young Children for some hints.