Tips for long flights

Flying for a number of hours can take a toll on even experienced frequent flyers. But there are ways to make long-haul travel a more comfortable experience. Here are some helpful tips that will make economy feel more like first/business class — or in the very least, more enjoyable. Note: COVID-19 related information now included at bottom of page.

1. Choose your food carefully

One study found that carbohydrate-rich foods such as pastas, whole grain bread, and oatmeal make it easier to cope with jet lag. According to the study, higher levels of insulin make it easier to transition from one sleep and eating schedule to another. Carb-rich foods help induce insulin secretion, which is why they may be helpful in preventing (or minimizing) jet lag.

2. Pack snacks

If you’re hungry when you’re on the ground, at least you can go grab a snack. Meals are served on international flights, but instead of waiting until the next meal is served, have your own protein-rich snacks that will keep you feeling full longer. Think almonds, peanut butter and crackers, cheese, or protein bars.

3. Don’t eat too much

According to Web MD, it’s harder to digest food while in the air, so although it’s okay to eat, filling up isn’t the best idea. In fact, depending on how long your flight is, you might want to eat just before boarding, and eat only snacks while on the plane. If you do choose to eat on the plane, keep in mind that warm foods are better than cold foods since they’re easier to digest.

4. Request a special meal if you want to be served first

If you’ve ever sat next to someone who requested a vegetarian, or other special meal on a plane, you know that these “special” meals are the first to be served. So if you’re hoping to get your food before everyone else — which means not having to wait for the full service and being able to get to sleep sooner — request a special meal. There are multiple kinds of meals you can request depending on the airline you’re flying, from vegetarian to gluten-free to kosher, so make sure to check online before your flight.

5. Stay hydrated

While there’s no magic amount in terms of how much water to drink on a flight, health experts usually recommend drinking more than you normally do, as air travel can be incredibly dehydrating. Continue drinking throughout the flight; don’t wait until you’re thirsty to ask the flight attendant for water.

6. Avoid coffee

Caffeine will keep most people awake, dehydrate you further, and could make you irritable.

7. Drink green tea instead

If decaffeinated green tea is an option on your flight, you might want to take advantage of it. The drink has been said to help stave off the onset of jet lag.

8. Keep alcohol intake to a minimum

For those who drink alcoholic beverages, keep in mind that although alcohol is a depressant, it can act as a stimulant for the first few hours after you drink it, which means it might actually keep you awake. Drinking alcohol can also lead to multiple issues such as dehydration and grogginess that will only exacerbate the dehydration you may already be experiencing, and the jet lag you’ll most likely experience after arriving at your destination. And always drink plenty of water along with alcoholic beverages. 

9. Wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothing

While sweatpants shouldn’t be your go-to travel attire, it is a good idea to wear comfortable clothing on a flight — especially a long one. For men or women, loose-fitting leisure wear is always a good option. Or a man may choose to wear comfortable jeans and a loose comfortable shirt; women might prefer leggings and a sweater.

10. Bring a scarf

For women, a scarf comes in handy on a flight since it can be used as a fashion accessory, a small blanket, and even lumbar support (see below). Expert travelers swear by them.

11. Wear layers

Long flights can mean going from cold to overheated and back again. In order to keep your body at a comfortable temperature, it’s best to layer your clothing. Don’t just wear a T-shirt and bring a heavy jacket. Instead, wear a T-shirt with a sweater or sweatshirt over it, and then consider bringing a jacket as well just in case.

12. Bring a neck pillow

They may not be the hottest accessory out there, but your neck will thank you. Plus, being more comfortable will improve your general well-being, and you are more likely to sleep.

13. Bring lumbar support

Wedging a pillow, blanket, or sweater behind your lower back will counteract the seat’s shape, and keep your spine in its natural one.

14. Bring noise canceling headphones or earplugs

The ambient roar of a plane’s engine (and background noise in general) is said to cause stress for some. Noise canceling headphones or ear plugs will not only block out that noise, but also block out other sounds that will keep you awake, like crying babies and flight attendants who are trying to serve a meal.

15. Wear compression socks

Compression socks will help you avoid swollen feet and ankles, leg pain, and even blood clots and deep vein thrombosis that one gets from being seated or in the same position for too long. If you are prone to swelling of the feet and legs or have contributing health issues, compression socks are a necessity.  

16. Bring an eye mask

Airlines may provide eye masks – at least in some sections of the plane. Blocking out light helps with jet lag, as light affects your circadian rhythm. It also mentally prepares you for sleep, and blocks out the early breakfast wake-up on long-haul flights.

17. Do some in-seat exercises

If compression socks are a little too much for you, you can do some in-seat exercises to get the same effect. Many airlines suggest exercises, and suggest engaging in them for three or four minutes every hour. Exercises include lifting your feet off the ground by a few inches and rotating them in circles, keeping your heels on the floor and pointing your toes up as far as you can, then pointing the toes down while lifting the heels up, and rolling your shoulders forwards and backwards.

18. Bring your own entertainment

Bring enough books, magazines, games, and movies to keep yourself busy instead of relying on in-flight movies. Reading material is imperative, as there will be at least an hour between take off and landing during which you can’t use your electronics or watch movies.

19. Charge all of your devices and bring an extra power pack

Traveling drains your phone’s battery — while you’re waiting, you’re probably playing games, texting, or checking weather, traffic, or delays. Some airplanes now have power or USB plugs at each seat, but to be safe, make sure your phone and iPad are fully charged before you leave, or, bring a power pack.

20. Request a window seat

Many people prefer an aisle seat due to the freedom to get up without disturbing other passengers. However, a window seat not only gives you a solid wall to rest your pillow and head against, but it also means you won’t be disturbed by passing carts, and that you only have to get up when you need to go to the bathroom.

21. Bring lotion, lip balm, and a water spray

Dehydration can be the worst part of every flight. The recycled, pressurized air comes into the cabin from high altitudes and has almost 0% humidity. Counteract this dryness by bringing hand lotion, Evian or another water spray, and a lip balm such as Chapstick.

22. COVID-19 Protocols

As of this writing, masks are no longer required on most domestic and many international flights. If masks are required on a particular route, they may be removed of course, when eating or drinking. For more information on now relaxing COVID-19 travel protocols and requirements, please visit our As Travel Resumes page.