How to Survive a Long Haul Flight

When I found out the duration of my long-haul flight from NYC to Tokyo, I think I stopped breathing for a second. Honestly, even sitting on a plane for the eight hours it takes to go to Paris was a stretch.

Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love flying, but the stress of being in a confined, cramped space for 14 hours was daunting.

The flight ended up being a lot better than I was expecting. Honestly, I’d do it again just because the duration of the flight is always worth it for the destination (especially when that destination is Tokyo). Whether you’re headed to Tokyo like me, Tanzania, Taiwan, or anywhere your heart desires, here are the tips and tricks you need to know before your next long-haul flight:

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1. Bring an extra battery

It’s safe to say that most planes used for long-haul flights these days have in-seat power outlets. The exception to that rule is a few budget airlines. Be sure to check whether the plane you’ll be on has outlets, then make sure you don’t check your chargers in your checked luggage.

I strongly recommend bringing one (or two) external batteries to charge your devices just in case. These also come in handy if you’ve got the dreaded layover that’s long enough to be annoying but too short to leave the airport—not all airports have caught up to having power adapters for flyers yet.

Be careful when purchasing power banks for travel – my battery was confiscated at the Beijing airport because the capacity wasn’t explicitly printed on the device.

2. Drink tons of water on long-haul flights

Like, drink soooo much water. My most miserable flight to date was a 14-hour-long, dehydrated return flight to New York. Not only was I under the weather, but the flight attendants weren’t coming around with water during that flight and the air in planes is usually very, very dry causing the effects of dehydration to feel greater.

I highly recommend packing an empty water bottle in your personal item. After you get through security, fill it up at a water fountain. I personally love these water bottles for travel (and also just in life).

They come in a few different sizes, but I opt for the 17 oz. Trust me, you’ll feel infinitely more comfortable if you’re hydrated.

Always drink more water than you think you have to on flights. A symptom of dehydration can be stiffness or soreness, which is never a good thing if you’ve got limited leg room.

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3. Communicate your dietary restrictions in advance

Rookie mistake: I booked my long-haul flight through Expedia, which didn’t allow me to make note of the fact that I’m vegetarian (edit: this has now changed, and varies by airline). I completely forgot to follow up with the airline to get it changed, so I ended up on a 14-hour flight from JFK to Haneda basically just eating small amounts of rice.

If being hangry on the ground is bad, being hangry in the air without food options certainly isn’t better. Contact your airline well in advance regarding any dietary restrictions, and make note of whether or not food will be available for purchase on your flight.

I did none of the above, food was not available for purchase on my flight, and my flight took off at midnight, so every restaurant at the airport was already closed.

Bottom line: bring snacks that are easy to pack like granola bars and almonds, buy snacks if things are open, or just be responsible unlike me, and let your airline know you’ve got dietary restrictions.

4. Don’t forget your neck pillow

If you’re going to be on a plane for more than one and a half hours, a neck pillow is pretty much the best $10 you can spend.

This is the one I have, and I’m convinced it’s almost more comfortable than the pillows in my apartment. I have a really difficult time sleeping on planes, and this took me from being able to sleep maybe a half hour at a time to two or two and a half hours.

Not all neck pillows are created equal, so be sure to take into consideration whether or not you prefer a stiffer or softer pillow before purchasing. I personally recommend leaning towards a stiffer or memory foam pillow for traveling simply so your neck is held more in place, thus making it less likely you’ll wake up with the dreaded flight neck cramping.

5. Wear something that can double as a blanket

It could be hot as hell in the dog days of summer, but the plane will still feel like you’ve stepped into an ice bucket. Chances are that the airline-supplied blankets are either too thin or too sketchy (if you’re a germaphobe like me. The Wall Street Journal found that most airlines only wash their blankets every 5 to 30 days. I rest my case).

Wearing an oversized scarf, or warm layer can help you stay comfortable on your long-haul flight. I personally swear by this zip-up when I’m traveling, because it’s just so cozy, and easy to take off on a plane. The lilac scarf in the image below goes on almost every trip with me because it expands into a nice-sized blanket on flights.

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6. Bring the right earbuds or headphones

Bring every type of earbud. Seriously. The traditional single-prong headphone jack, Bluetooth, everything.

I personally prefer Bluetooth because it’s more comfortable if I’m trying to sleep. My Bluetooth earbuds usually die a few hours into the flight, so I always have a backup pair on hand.

On long-haul flights with in-seat entertainment, typically you’ll need earbuds with a single prong adapter. On my flight from NYC to Beijing, the in-seat entertainment used the double prong adapter, which resulted in my using some potato-quality throw-away headphones.

A quick Google of reviews for your airline will usually bring back a few reviews that mention something about the earbud situation so you can prepare accordingly. If you are headed on a flight using double-prong adapters, you can purchase a converter for just a few dollars here, so you can continue using your own headphones.

Similar converters exist for using Bluetooth headphones for in-flight entertainment.

7. Choose the emptiest row, even if it means being in the back

When selecting your seat during check-in, I strongly recommend choosing a seat in the emptiest row vs. trying to choose a seat closer to the front of the plane. You’ll appreciate having the extra space to stretch out and place your things.

Having an open middle seat or row to yourself to lay out has made 14-hour long flights much more enjoyable I’ve noticed for some budget airlines that I’m able to select my seat through Expedia for no additional fee prematurely when I’d regularly be charged by the airline.

This definitely isn’t true for every airline, however, it is worth keeping in mind!

8. Take the aisle seat

Normally I’m one to opt for the window seat for the ‘gram, however, on long-haul flights I lean towards the aisle.


Being able to stretch your legs or get up to go to the bathroom freely is maybe one of the best things you can do for yourself while on a plane for any amount of time over six hours. I almost never get up and out of my seat while sitting in the window out of fear of bothering other people, and sitting in one place for an extended amount of time just isn’t healthy when it comes down to it.

9. Upgrade from Economy for long-haul flights

This probably goes without saying, but if you’ve got the funds for it, the best thing you can do for yourself on a long-haul flight is to upgrade from economy class.

On domestic flights, paying for the upgrade isn’t always worth it, however on long-haul flights, the difference between economy and business class is relatively drastic. If upgrading to a different class isn’t in your budget, consider picking a standard or luxury airline over a budget carrier for your trip instead.

For example, when I flew to the Maldives on Emirates, flying their more basic economy class felt like flying premium economy on any other airline.

If you’re someone who is uncomfortable or doesn’t like flying for more than a couple hours at a time, flying in premium economy, business, or first class can help ease your qualms. As much as I wish I could say that flying to and from the States and Asia in Economy on a budget airline was a breeze, it was mentally and physically a lot to handle. The thought of having to get on a flight that long with such limited space again, isn’t exactly appealing.

Are long-haul flights worth it?

Truth be told, flying on a long-haul flight was a lot less awful than I expected it to be. I was really, truly, expecting to go crazy about 10 hours in. Having ample forms of entertainment and well-charged devices really helped me get through it.

The long-haul flight is a necessary evil to reach some of the world’s most beautiful and exciting places, making it worth it every time.

If you’re taking a long-haul flight soon, get your aviation quotes ready for those stunning window seat-view Instagram posts.



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  1. SavvyExploring
    February 23, 2019 / 8:24 am

    Great tips! I usually keep my travel towel with me to be used as an additional pillow or blanket.

  2. Aireona
    February 23, 2019 / 7:53 am

    I live by the wear something that doubles as a blanket tip. Sometimes it helps to just cover your head with your scarf; it gives you the illusion of privacy. Hahaha.

  3. February 23, 2019 / 1:37 pm

    Yes, yes, and yes! I couldn’t agree more with all of these tips. On my last flight, however, I picked an aisle seat and I ended up in the middle. I’m still not quite sure how that happened.

  4. March 1, 2019 / 5:28 am

    I am exactly the same when sitting by the window on a long haul, not wanting to annoy people! Also completely agree, neck pillows save lives!!

    Jenny |

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