How To Survive Your First Long-Haul Flight

by Liberty Stembridge, Lifestyle Columnist

Published in Lifestyle on 24th January, 2019

When I took my first long-haul flight I was long-haul, woefully, underprepared. I didn't pack properly and ended up without entertainment, headphones or any proper food. Unsurprisingly, it was a miserable 10 hours in the air, so i'm here to prevent you from making the same mistakes. Don't be like me, be prepared - and who knows, you may end up actually enjoying yourself!

Pack Smart

Most airlines on long-haul flights will allow you to bring along both personal baggage and a carry-on into the cabin, as well as you're checked baggage, which obviously does not follow you in.

pack smart to travel

Depending on where you're going, you may only need a carry-on, in which case the majority of your luggage will be in there. If you are bringing checked baggage, however, you have plenty more room in your carry on to pack all of the essentials for your long-haul flight, so take advantage of it.

In your personal baggage (likely a small backpack or handbag) packing some of your most important/expensive electronics, your documents and all of the essentials you will need for your flight. This includes entertainment, snacks, water, any medication you need, and perhaps a spare pair of clothes, depending on what can fit. This is the bag you can keep on you at all times.

In your carry-on you can pack extra books/entertainment, more clothes for when you arrive at your destination (particularly handy for if your luggage gets lost) and any non-expensive, non-essential items that you feel may help you along with your flight.

Get Geared Up

A major mistake that many first-time flyers make is not bringing the appropriate gear with them. On short haul flights things like earplugs and eye masks might be nice but they definitely aren't necessary. On long-haul flights they are what will keep you sane, so pack accordingly. Here are a few common essentials:

Noise-Cancelling Headphones: particularly useful if you like to listen to your music and drown out the sounds of a noisy plane. These will help you to escape the fact that you're crammed into a pressurized container for at least a little while.

A Neck-Pillow: might look stupid and be cumbersome to carry around but you will not regret buying it once you get on that plane. Drift off and arrive refreshed at your destination.

A Laptop / Ipad: this will let you get some work done, entertain yourself and otherwise distract yourself when you're completely bored of whatever is available on the in-flight entertainment.

An Eye-Mask: if you're very sensitive to light but want to catch some sleep in the air, and eye-mask is essential. Likewise with ear-plugs. Chapstick: airplanes are brutal, and will suck the life out of your skin. Defend yourself with some high-quality lip balm.

Drink Lots Of Water

Hydration should be a priority on a long haul flight, as planes can quite literally suck all of the moisture out of you. If you're stuck in a plane for a long time without any source of hydration, your whole body will start to suffer, particularly your skin and your eyes.

drink water in airplane

Take a large water bottle to refill at the airport and take on the plane, as well as plenty of moisturizers to deal with dry skin. Also, avoid any carbonated drinks before you fly and in-flight, as the pressure in the cabin can cause the gas in your stomach to expand, which isn't fun for you or your fellow passengers.

An added bonus of drinking lots of water is that it forces you to get up and go to the toilet once in a while, which means you have to move.

Stay Clean & Fresh

Sure, you could sit for an entire 14-hour flight doing nothing and then get off and head into the world, but you'll probably feel completely disgusting afterward.

Something about airplanes turns the human body into a sweaty mess, so to retain your dignity and sanity, you'll probably want to freshen up periodically throughout the flight. If you can, bring a toothbrush and toothpaste with you, as well as a face cloth or even a face mask if you want to be extra bougie. Extra underwear and emergency hygiene supplies is also a must.

Get Moving

The human body is not designed to sit in a cramped seat for 10 or more hours, and doing so will do odd things to your physiology. Although there probably won't be much space to properly move in an airplane, you can still keep your blood pumping by regularly walking up and down the aisles, going to the bathroom and doing a few easy and convenient stretches. This will hopefully stop your blood from pooling and your body stagnating.

Protect Yourself

Airplanes are nasty, they're covered in germs, and being in an airplane for extended periods of time can actually weaken the immune system. There's also always the chance that you might be struck with a sudden illness mid-flight. Do not worry, however, there are preventative measures you can take.

Prepare yourself a little medicine bag to take on the flight with you, and in it include everything you need to protect your immune system and prevent disaster should you be taken ill and stuck on a plane with 8 hours left to go.

Sanitizing wipes are a must if you're a germaphobe, and especially in the airplane bathrooms, as well as immune-boosting vitamins to keep your whole defense system running well. Pack any usual medications you might take, as well as some extras you might need in case of a minor inconvenience such as a headache, a cold or other pain. Next up: problem-shoot serious issues in advance.

Probably every traveler's worst nightmare is getting food poisoning or some other form of digestive issue on a flight since this is what will be most obvious and difficult to deal with. Take plenty of dioralyte, immodium or your preferred alternative to tackle anything that comes up.


Sleeping is probably my favorite way to pass the time on a plane since you're essentially in a coma for a few hours and it's much easier to pass the time. However, it's not always easy to fall asleep on planes, particularly if you're a light sleeper or if there are noisy passengers onboard. If this is a problem you could see yourself struggling with, prepare with some natural sleep aids like melatonin and avoid coffee before you fly.

sleep airplane

If you struggle a lot with travel sickness too, there are also some over-the-counter travel sickness medications that will help resolve the issue and make you drowsy so you'll find it easier to sleep too.

Dress Appropriately

When preparing for your first long-haul flight, you may be tempted to "dress up". After all, you're going away, probably to somewhere completely new and you want to look and feel your best. However, this can severely backfire on you when you're five hours into a flight and the button of your skinny jeans is cutting into your stomach and you're freezing because you only put on a light jacket.

Dress to be comfortable, not to impress. Preferably wear a few of the warmest clothes you're taking with you on your trip, not only will this save on packing space, but hopefully also prevent you from spending the entire flight shivering. You can always take those layers off if you get too hot.

If you don't want to step out of the airport looking like a mess, take a spare change of clothes to get into an hour or so before your flight lands, then you can leave feeling refreshed and rejuvenated.

Stay Calm And Collected

Flight anxiety is a real thing, and it affects most people to some extent. Even some of the most seasoned flyers get a bit jittery during a particularly rough patch of turbulence. If flying makes you nervous, prepare accordingly - don't leave it till the last minute because you're scared.

There are lots of ways you can reduce anxiety and actually start to enjoy flying, the key is to start before you even get on the plane. There are tons of resources online to help reduce flight anxiety, from guided meditations to affirmations and visualisations.

Downloading these onto your phone to listen to while you're in the air may be helpful too. If you still struggle with anxiety while flying, you may also want to try herbal supplements or some of the sleep aids mentioned above to calm your nerves.

Prepare Your Entertainment

Entertainment is key on any long-haul flight, aside from sleeping this is going to be the main way you pass the time. Don't expect to be able to solely rely on the in-flight entertainment either. If you have one, bring an e-reader and stock up on page-turners before you leave. Most long-haul airplanes also have wifi and USB charging available on board now too, so you should be able to bring a laptop, phone or tablet to entertain yourself on.

prepare your intertainment to your trip

Pre-book As Much As Possible

As mentioned before, preparation is key, and there's no better way to prepare for your flight than pre-booking. All this entails is making sure that everything you can ask for or book before the flight, is done, so you don't need to stress about anything. The two main options you have for pre-booking are seating and food.

For seating, find out There are of plane you will be flying in and check it out on SeatGuru or a similar website. These websites essentially collate seat reviews from thousands of travelers every year, to tell you which seats are the best in terms of legroom, baggage space and a variety of other factors. Hop on and find the seat you think looks best, and book it before it gets snapped up.

For food, pre-booking is usually always a good idea, and it may mean your food comes out faster, and is especially important if you have any sort of food allergies or requirements. Go online and pick out your meal - most airlines serve a variety of different options. If you're worried about airline food, go for the vegetarian or vegan options since it's much less likely to upset your stomach and also tends to be cooked first, so you may be one of the first to get their food.

Prepare For Landing

Once you've reached the last few hours of your flight, you'll probably be getting restless and begging to get off the plane. This is the time to prepare for landing. You'll probably want to prepare at least an hour before expected arrival since you don't want to be caught out brushing your teeth as the seatbelt warning comes on.

Depending on how worried you are about jet lag, you may want to try to time your sleeping on the plane with the timezone of your destination. Get acquainted with the time wherever you are landing and start to figure out your approach.

After many hours of flying, you'll probably want to freshen up so you can get out of the airport as quickly as possible once you've landed. Head for the bathroom, splash your face with water, brush your teeth, put on deodorant and change your clothes if necessary.

Finally, at long last, start packing up your stuff. At this point, you've probably managed to spread a fair amount of your stuff out so it's time to start packing away chargers and binning old wrappers to prepare for descent so you can exit the plane as quickly as possible.

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