The masterclass Hacks for surviving even the most gruelling of long-haul flights
Boarding a long-haul flight can evoke both excitement and nerves; the thrill of a far-off exotic land tempered with how best to manage countless hours on a plane. Luckily, from packing to picking yourself up afterwards, we’ve got you covered…
Before you board
Whether you’re a nervous flier or not, preparation helps with long flights. Start with familiarity: if the airline you normally travel with also operates over long-haul distances, then booking with a company you know and trust can assuage doubts. If not, then shop around. Every airline offers something a bit different in terms of service, entertainment, meals and comfort, so look for something that you think you’d be comfortable with.
In the run-up to boarding, preparing your body for air travel can reap rewards. Drinking lots of water (more than usual) helps to avoid dehydration in the cabin, which is always dry. “Take your own large water bottle with you and ask the cabin crew to keep topping it up,” suggests Christopher Babayode, author of Farewell Jet Lag: Cures from a Flight Attendant. Doing stretches or light exercises helps as well, adds Christopher, as your muscles will be more relaxed when sitting down for long periods; the endorphins that are released are natural painkillers and help to cope with the discomfort. Studies have also found that carb-rich foods aid in alleviating jet lag, but don’t go overboard as heavy meals can be hard to digest in the sky and may impede sleep.
Flights are meant to be fun, though, so in addition to any in-flight entertainment, make sure that you’ve got things to fill your time. “Cram your ipod with podcasts, music and audiobooks,” says James Nixon, author of 23 Tips to Survive a Long Flight. Bring lots to read and stock up your tablet, too, so that you’re not a hostage to the in-flight cinema.
Once you’re in the air, you’re in it for the long-haul – literally – so pack any essential items that you’ll need in your hand luggage.
“Take snacks to keep your energy stable outside of the cabin-crew meal timetable,” advises Christopher. This helps lessen your body’s confusion, as on-board meals on long-haul flights – especially overnight ones – can often be served at odd times.
If you aren’t already wearing them, a set of comfortable clothes should be next in your bag. No one really enjoys sitting in jeans or tight trousers for long periods, so it’s worth taking clothes to relax in, even if they’re less glamorous – no one will judge you.
If you require any medication, throw all of it into your bag. Many passengers are almost pre-programmed with a ‘short-haul mentality’ and tend to pack these in their main luggage instead, thinking they won’t need them.
Getting rest and sleep is essential, too. If it helps, bring your own eye mask as not all airlines readily supply them anymore. “Take earplugs as well,” adds James. “Some planes are noisy but the Airbus A380s are so quiet that the trouble is other passengers talking.”
During the flight
It’s important to stay as healthy as you can during the flight. Drinking water – as much as double your usual intake – is important. “But so, too, is staying off the alcohol,” adds James, “as it will just dehydrate you.”
The root of many people’s trepidation when approaching a long-haul flight is the fear of contracting deep vein thrombosis (DVT), where the blood is at risk of clotting due to extended periods of inactivity. While the chance of developing a flight-associated clot is at least one in 50,000 on flights of all lengths, wearing compression stockings – which gently squeeze your legs to aid blood flow – and a few simple exercises spread across the duration of your flight can help dramatically lower the risk. Walking around the cabin, even just to use the toilet, can also help combat DVT. There’s even exercises you can perform in your seat to aid circulation: lifting your lower leg up and down and rotating your ankles are just two of many examples. The NHS (nhs.uk) is a good resource for this information. Keeping your mind calm is important, too, adds James: “Secure your overhead bag, so people can’t steal your possessions while you’re asleep.” After that, there’s nothing else to do but relax, dig into your stash of books and media and enjoy the ride.
Once your plane touches down, you should replace any water that you might have lost during the journey through dehydration. “Rehydrate with a good source of electrolytes, such as a low-sugar isotonic drink or even coconut water,” explains Christopher.
Jet lag will always be a hurdle you’ll need to overcome on long-haul flights, but it’s not something you can really outmanoeuvre. James advises that it usually hits most travellers on the third day after your flight, and the only thing to do is to allow your body as much sleep as it needs while keeping in tune with the local time of your destination.
If you follow this advice, by the time you attempt the return journey, you’ll be a long-haul pro and better able to enjoy the rewards of flying to the ends of the Earth – namely visiting far-off destinations ripe for adventure. Bon voyage!
‘While the chance of developing a flight-associated clot is at least one in 50,000 on flights of all lengths, a few simple exercises can dramatically help lower risk’
Delayed gratification Bring plenty of books and entertainment and turn your long-haul into a well-deserved rest