Long flights are inherently risky – more risky than many travelers take into account. Boredom is the least of the issues until you’ve been in it for more hours than you can count. There’s also deep-vein thrombosis, which has caused death in long haul travelers, dehydration, sleep deprivation (yep, deprivation), stomach cramps, and severe muscle tension. The human body is simply not meant for sitting in one place for many hours at a time.
Take a look at these tips for making long flights more comfortable. The next time you’re committed to settling into a long metal tube hurtling through the air and being stuck there for a lot of hours, you’ll be prepared.
While it’s tempting to look at all that time sitting still as the ideal opportunity to catch some long-needed and well-deserved shuteye, you can’t control the situation as much as you’d like. A crying child, continual pilot announcements, wiggling or overweight seat mates can all make your opportunity for sleep disappear quickly. It’s best to arrive for your flight relatively rested.
If you get some ‘extra’ hours of sleep on board, even better, but you won’t be suffering as much if you can’t sleep for some reason.
If you’re planning to take a sleep aid to ensure that you snooze your way across the sky, be sure to test it out at home. Don’t, whatever you do, trust that the sleeping pill that works every time for your friend will work the same way when it’s introduced to your system.
Carefully time when you take the medicine too. If you take it before boarding and the plane is delayed, you could have a hard time being alert while you deplane and wait.
Ultimately, you want to make these hours disappear and so you’re going to need to pull out all the tricks. Load your iPad with movies, bring your best headphones, lug along a sleep pillow that supports your head, bring a comfy blankie, eye mask, earplugs, several new magazines – absolutely whatever it takes to ensure you have what you need to make this time go away.
Bring your laptop or tablet with a little work too – you may never get this amount of pure time to work.
The temperature inside the plane can go from stiflingly hot to arctic chill in a matter of minutes, so dress in layers of loose comfortable clothes – including your shoes. Slip your shoes off as soon as you find your seat. If you’re not wearing socks, have a pair in your bag in case you get cold.
Go with what your body tells you to do. If you’re hungry, have a snack from your bag or get something from the cart. If you’re bored, do some work or turn on a movie. When you get sleepy, shut it all down and sleep. Trust what your body is telling you and got with it.
No that the airlines charge for checked luggage (some are even starting to charge for carry-ons), most travelers skip the fee and carry everything on board. The one problem with that plan is on a long flight. If your carry on takes up all the space under the seat in front of you, you’ve lost valuable leg and stretching room. Limit your carry-on to what you need for the flight and try to keep it small enough that you’ll have wiggle room down there.
Many international flights offer complimentary wine or beer with meals. It can be very tempting to pass the time and it can calm your anxiety, but it’s a temporary relief. Alcohol and caffeine are diuretics, which means they increase the discharge of urine and dehydrate the body. Dehydration means a lot more than just puffy eyes when you arrive – it can cause severe discomfort, confusion, inability to focus, and more.
If you do imbibe on the flight, drink extra water to counteract the effects.
Don’t be self conscious about doing some stretches in your seat – after all, the real danger of flying is deep vein thrombosis. You might start a trend in your row, and you will certainly feel better when you deplane. Try these stretches every hour or so – they only take a minute or two:
When you get up to go to the restroom, take long strides down the aisle to stretch your hamstrings. If you have room while waiting in line for the restroom, bend over and hold your toes (of not, try to do this in the bathroom instead).
When the entire passenger list is zoned out or snoozing, that’s the perfect time for an opportunistic thief to strike. So make sure that your belongings are secured.
If you visit the restroom, your traveling companion can keep an eye on your stuff. If you’re traveling solo, you may want to secure it all and ask the flight attendant to keep an eye in that direction, but you should never leave your wallet, bank cards, or passport unattended.
While the chances of getting a free upgrade these days are almost none. In the past, the airlines were kinder about upgrading folks when there was space in first class, but their new love of fees and surcharges have made it nearly impossible to plead your way into an upgrade.
Even if you can afford the upgrade, first class isn’t what it used to be. You still have the same meals (without the charge), the same headphones, the same entertainment, etc. Still, on a long flight, the extra room can make a big difference if you can swing it.
If you’re traveling with young children on a long flight, bless you and good luck. Check out these Tips for Safe Travel with Young Children for some hints.
Damian Tysdal is the founder of CoverTrip, and he believes travel insurance should be easier to understand. He started the first travel insurance blog in 2006.