Travel Tips

How to Deal with Long Flights

Surviving Long Flights

I don’t pretend to be an expert at long flights – as you may know, I am terrified of flying. Whether it’s a 25 min jaunt from Grand Rapids to Chicago or the 16.5-hour marathon from Johannesburg to New York, I am equally uncomfortable and anxiety-filled.

That being said, I do have a few go to tricks for making long flights at least a little more bearable. Read on and hopefully you can pick up some tricks for making your next extended flight a better experience.

Airplane Outfits

I will never understand the people I see on the airplane in nicer clothes than I would go to a restaurant in. Who are you trying to impress from your 16-inch-wide, near vertical, rock hard seat stuffed between a screaming child and snoring giant? When I’m flying, long and short, I go for maximum comfort.

My go to airplane outfit is as follows:

  • The North Face climbing pants (they are quick dry, soft, flexible, and stretchy). These serve a dual purpose, as the pockets are great for toting my passport and money through the airport, but they are still comfortable for the airplane seat.
  • A soft t-shirt. Nothing fancy, I just prefer something soft.
  • My favorite baggy hoodie. I get uncomfortably hot on airplanes (I’m still perplexed why some people say airplanes are cold?), so this is more for the airport, especially if the departure/arrival have vastly different climates.
  • Running shoes. I take these off on the plane anyway.
  • Soft running socks.

Additionally, I will pack an extra t-shirt, underwear, and socks in my carryon in an easily accessible location so I can change either on my layover, or shortly before arrival at my final destination.

(This outfit is featured in the main picture for this post)

Airplane Seats

Leeann and I have worked out a system that seems to work 70-80% of the time. First of all, we pick our seats as soon as we book our flights. I prefer the back of the plane, but not the very back. Somewhere within 4 rows of an exit, but always in the last section of the plane.

The reasons I do this are many, but in terms of comfort, it seems to be the last section of the plane to fill up. If you are not on a full flight, chances are there will be empty seats in the back. To take advantage of this, Leeann and I will pick a window and an aisle seat in an empty row. This way, we hope that no one will select the seat between us and we will have the whole row. If someone happens to take that seat, then it has never been an issue to switch with them so we can sit together.


Almost everything you read on airplane comfort and avoiding jetlag recommend that you drink plenty of water on flights. So why is it that the airlines give you the most microscopic glasses of water? I always make sure to bring a giant Klean Kanteen water bottle that I fill up after security and before getting on the plane. If I manage to drink it all (which I frequently do), then I go to the back of the plane and ask a flight attendant to fill it up for me. Staying hydrated is a must.

Newer research is showing that one of the biggest contributors to jet lag is not the time zone change, but in fact the extended period at altitude. Airplanes are only pressurized to around 8,000 feet, so the jet lag you are experience may actually be altitude sickness. All the more reason to stay hydrated on your flight.

Airplane Entertainment

Long flights are where I catch up on my movie watching. International flights come with the perk of a personal entertainment system, and they usually have a great selection of movies (at least on the Delta, Avianca, Qatar, Iberia, Air France, and KLM. I can’t say for other airlines). I make sure to bring my own noise cancelling headphones, as these are infinitely better than the ones they provide you with (but take comfort in knowing that you will have a free pair if you do forget).

Flight Routine & Meals

I try to establish a routine when on long flights (we will be doing the 12 hour leg from South Africa to Europe frequently in the near future). On this flight the airlines typically feed you one to 1.5 hours in, as well as with 1.5 hours to go, and a small snack in the middle of the flight. Knowing this, I try to plan my pre-flight meals accordingly, and I bring snacks for longer flights.

I will usually begin the flight with a movie, which will usually conclude when I’m wrapping up with the first meal. Then it’s time to sleep. You’re never going to sleep a solid eight hours on a plane, so I shoot for hour long naps. Leeann and I will alternate if we have an empty row, one sleeps while one watches a movie, then we switch. We try to stretch out as flat as possible, laying on each other, to get the best quality sleep possible since the quantity simply will not be there.  Leeann was nice enough to let me sleep on and off almost the entire 13-hour segment from Chicago to Doha in our most recent flight. Thanks :-).

Our final tip for surviving long flights is to get up and move as much as possible, even if it’s just going and standing by the lavatory. Sitting in a tiny cramped seat is terrible, there’s really no way around it. Walking to the lavatory although brief is a much needed reprieve from your 16 inches of chair.

Good luck on your next flight!


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