How to survive a long-haul flight

Reading time: 7 minutes

Whether you’re a frequent flyer or a first timer, knowing what to take on a long-haul flight can make the experience all the more enjoyable.

Living in Australia, we’re quite the trek from many Aussie bucket list destinations, with a flight to London taking up a whopping 23 hours. If we’re flying anywhere, we’re going to make it worth it, which means getting pretty happy with the idea of spending a long time on a plane.

Rocking up to the airport knowing you’re prepared for the long flight ahead will make you feel all kinds of smug – all it takes is a few travel essentials in your cabin luggage and knowing what to expect. To help you reach maximum comfort, we’ve put together some tips and tricks to get you from Australia to your chosen destination with as much ease as possible.


Chances are you’ve bought some snazzy new clothes for your holidays and you want to show them off, starting on the plane. Unless you want to get flustered at security trying to unlace shoes and undo jewellery and then have your circulation cut off by tight clothes on the plane, you’re best off sticking to a baggy outfit. A loose t-shirt and hoodie with tracksuit pants or leggings will keep you comfy. Slip-on shoes are also practical if you need to whip them off quickly.

It’s also a good idea to think about the destination you’re heading to. Avoid freezing or sweating as soon as you step off the flight and take some weather-appropriate layers. If you’re heading to Canada to hit the slopes, you’re going to need a sweatshirt and jacket. If it’s a jaunt around Vietnam, shorts are a good shout. Simply change into the outfit during the last couple of hours on the plane, with the added bonus of feeling a bit fresher donning some clean clothes.

Finally, sitting down for long periods restricts the blood flow to your feet, so take a pair of big woolly socks, or even better compression socks.

Comfort is key

Bringing a few useful items from home onto the plane will make your long-haul journey that much more comfortable, not just because you’re prepared but because having some home comforts will make you feel instantly at ease in this new and sometimes unpleasant environment.

Use the pillow provided to support your lower back and use a blow-up neck pillow for your head to rest on. This works particularly well if you’re in middle or aisle seats where there isn’t much to rest on.

Investing in a good set of earplugs keeps out germs, regulates air pressure at high altitudes (particularly during take-off and landing) and helps to block out noise so you can catch forty winks.If you still have trouble dropping off, an eye mask shuts out any light that may be keeping your brain ticking over.

Take a couple of scarves. Scarves? Yes, scarves.If you’re one to get cold easily, or you’re tall, those measly plane blankets just don’t cut the mustard when you’re trying to tuck yourself in on a long flight. Taking a blanket scarf or two (not tiny neck ones) rolled up in your bag gives you that extra bit of coverage and a headrest, which could be the very things that send you off to the land of Nod.

Stretch it out

Your body won’t be used to being in the sitting position for such a long time, so get up and stretch whenever you can. This not only helps you avoid cramping and tingly sensations in your legs, but also the possibility of deep vein thrombosis (DVT). Do some simple DVT-prevention exercises like stretching your calves or rolling your ankles. Even better, prepare your body a couple of days before the flight with a longer stint of exercise to get the blood flowing.

Beauty essentials

After about eight hours on a long-haul flight, you’ll find your teeth become furry, lips become cracked, and there’s a general air of mustiness about you. When this happens, grab your toiletries bag and lock yourself in the toilet for a refresh.

First off, blow your nose, it does all manner of good. Next, nasal spray – it helps ward off infections trying to get into your body, preventing you from getting sick before your holiday.

Splash your face with cold water and use either face wipes or face wash. Brush your teeth with a toothbrush and toothpaste (obviously) and finally spray some deodorant. Voila! You’re a new person.

The air on planes is notoriously dry, sucking the life out of your skin and leaving you feeling anything but fresh-faced. Applying moisturiser every few hours from your seat combats this, as does slapping on some lip balm and rubbing in some hand cream.

Take food

Plane food isn’t exactly known for being frequent and top quality. One word: snacks.

Contrary to popular belief, you can sneak your own food through security and onto the flight. Just be wary of anything that might resemble a paste, like hummus – there’s nothing worse than watching your thought-out fodder go in the bin because it doesn’t follow security regulations.

Fruit is a great option, as airports don’t tend to sell fresh foods in the terminal. Muesli bars and nuts are also excellent to graze on, just make sure you’ve not got anything too sweet or salty. We all know how strict Australian customs can be when trying to bring certain foods back into the country, but you are allowed to take provisions through security – just make sure to have eaten them by the time you get to your destination or check their customs prior to flying to make sure you can take them through.

If you’ve got dietary requirements, most airlines offer the option for you to select a specific type of meal before the flight, so it’s worth checking what the airline provides.

Stay hydrated

As we’ve mentioned, plane air can be super dry. While face cream takes care of the outside, drinking plenty of water will keep you hydrated from the inside. Sipping water throughout the flight is also one of the best tricks to reduce jet-lag.

Taking liquids through security is a big no-no, so either take a couple of big empty water bottles or buy some water once you’re through. The latter is probably easier.

Avoid alcohol and caffeinated beverages, which can really dehydrate you. Electrolyte drinks are a great way to keep hydrated and topped up with vitamins.

Pick your seat wisely

When booking your flight, pre-book your seat. While doing so, think about your usual travel behaviours when making your selection. If you like having something to rest your head on, choose a window seat. If you get up regularly to stretch or use the toilet, pick the aisle. We’ve never worked out what the middle seat is good for. Answers on a postcard, please.

SeatGuru can help you when making a decision about which seat to pick. It offers maps of the aircraft seats, seat reviews and even a colour-coded system to help you see which seats are superior and which are substandard.

Stay entertained

Watching five movies back-to-back is enough to drive anyone insane. You can keep yourself endlessly entertained by making sure you’ve got a mixture of activities to hand.

What you choose is entirely up to you. You could opt for real-life books or Kindle editions, movies and box-sets on your tablet, working on your laptop or games and music on your phone. Whatever your preference, just be sure to download stuff so you can listen, watch and read offline and be sure to pack the appropriate chargers, including portable chargers. Bonus tip: if you’re going to be spending time in airports for stopovers, take a socket extension lead. That way, you’ll be able to charge up all of your tech using just one plug.

If you find it hard to switch off and sleep, audiobooks can really help. It’s like having someone read you a bedtime story. If audiobooks aren’t your thing, make sure to download some soothing music or playlists.

A puzzle book sounds lame, right? You’d be surprised how many hours you can while away doing crosswords, word searches and sudoku. Yes, you can get these on your phone, but giving your eyes a rest from a screen will surely do some good.

Some noise-cancelling headphones help block out aeroplane roar and reduces “noise fatigue” (a kind of edgy tiredness that you get when you’ve been exposed to loud noises for an extended period of time) and let you listen to music at a much lower (and safer) volume.

If you’re planning on watching something with your travel buddy, a two-prong adapter ensures you’re not stuck sharing earphones.

If you’re travelling with children, make sure you pack a small stash of toys, games and colouring books. Download some kid-friendly apps onto your tablet, too, but be prepared to lose access to your tech for the duration of the flight.

Bring a little bag

With all of this stuff in your cabin luggage, when the time comes to reach for your passport, it could be buried somewhere deep in the bottom of your bag. The solution? A smaller bag inside your bag. This could be a belt bag, or a mini shoulder pack, either way, it’ll house easy-to-reach travel documents, your phone and maybe some gum (which can actually help ear pain during take-off and landing). A jacket with extra or hidden pockets works just as well.

Keep watch of valuables

Some people consider a plane a safe haven that’s free from theft, but you’d be surprised how many phones and other valuables get swiped on board. Keep your camera, laptop, phone and any priceless jewellery close to you.

Cheeky upgrade

Why not try your luck at check-in and get an upgrade? If you’re feeling bold, you might be able to get away with a free one, but if not, airlines often offer a slight upgrade (say from economy to premium economy) for a small fee. Be warned – while you may get extra legroom, you probably won’t get any special treatment.

Extra handy bits

Travelling to a country where you need to fill in customs forms? Pack a pen. Not only will you be well equipped, but you’ll become some sort of stationary deity amongst your seat neighbours. Expect hopeful looks to you as the unorganised mortals in the near vicinity pass your precious ballpoint around the aisles – just don’t lose sight of it. It also comes in handy if you fancy starting your travel diary early, doodling sketches, filling in those crosswords or playing hangman with the person next to you.

You never know when a headache or a gippy tummy are going to strike. And it always seems 10 times worse in the confined space of a cabin. Those inflight magazines can also cause some pretty nasty paper cuts. Pack a mini medical kit full of paracetamol, diarrhoea tablets and plasters to take care of any medical emergencies on the plane.

So, there you have it. Your holiday should start the moment you arrive at the airport, not when you get there. Follow these tips and you’ll soon learn to love a long-haul flight.


TID is an Australian online travel insurance company.


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