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How To Survive A Long Flight -- How To Fly Comfortably

Updated on May 15, 2012

Surviving A Long Haul Flight

For many, flying is uncomfortable, unless you're in first class -- and even then, it can feel cramped and claustrophobic. When you know you have to fly for hours, you might wonder how to survive a long flight.

When it comes to extremely long flights, i.e. New York to Australia, California to Europe, it can be an even worse experience, because now in addition to dealing with the tight conditions, you have to fight muscle cramps, blood clots, dehydration and well, boredom. However, there are some simple ways to make your next lengthy flight more comfortable. Here are a few things I've learned to do in my years of traveling, to survive a long haul flight. And while I'm always the happiest when I'm on the ground, these tips do help make the trip easier.

Probably the most important tip I'm going to share doesn't have to do with conquering boredom. Rather, this has to do with your own health and safety -- and it's this simple: make absolute sure that you move around during the flight.

The reason? For starters, you can get muscle cramps; think of how stiff you feel when you get out of a car after a long drive. But more pressing is the fact that if you sit still for too long, you can get blood clots -- which could be potentially deadly. So on a lengthy flight, make a point to be as active as possible.

1. Take a short walk around the cabin. Even if it's just to go to the restroom, take a few minutes extra to do so. Get up, shake out your legs and arms, stretch and get your circulation going. Do this often. I try to get up every couple of hours.

2. Do in-the-seat exercises. Many airlines now include diagrams or videos of simple movements that you can do right from your seat, most which involve head and neck rolls and stretches. Or you can come with your own set. In my links box, I've included the URL for a site that describes some of these.

High And Dry

Another problem passengers face while flying, especially during a lengthy journey, is dehydration. Remember, you're at a high altitude and are breathing in recycled air, so you dry out rather quickly. Here are some things I do to help with that:

1. Drink a lot of water or juice. This may seem like an obvious thing to do, but drink up, even when you're not thirsty. Many of the flights I've taken, like with Qantas Airlines, for example, have a little watercooler with paper cups by the restrooms. Take advantage of that and have a drink whenever you can.

2. On the other hand, don't drink a lot of alcohol. It's tempting to knock yourself into a slumber with a nice, big glass of wine, but if you overdo it, you'll get even more dehydrated. Drink even more water if you consume any alcoholic beverage.

3. Splash some water on your skin. I find that this helps keep my skin from drying out. You don't need to do much -- just a little spritz every now and then does the trick. I also like to wet my hair to keep it from getting dried out and frizzy.

4. Keep lip balm and moisturizer on hand. I play flute so for me, keeping my lips from chapping is a priority. I also like to rub some lotion onto my hands to keep them from drying out. Remember, if you're flying from the States, the lotion needs to be in a bottle 4 oz or less, and needs to be in a clear, plastic baggie.

Comfort Zone

Getting comfortable can be difficult when you're forced to squeeze into a small seat with not much leg room, but there are ways to make things bearable.

1. Try to book a flight at an unpopular time. I've found that certain times of day and days of the week are more popular for flights. Do some research and try to gauge when those times are. This way, there will be a better chance of the plane having some empty seats ... and then you can stretch out across the row and take a nap. We were fortunate enough to have this kind of situation when we flew to Australia. Obviously, this isn't an exact science -- you're taking a gamble here -- but it's definitely worth looking into. Also, flights that are at less popular times (usually early in the morning, very late at night and during the middle of the week) tend to cost less money. So if you get a row to yourself and a cheap flight, that's just a bonus!

2. Find out which airlines have the most leg room, widest seat length, etc. I like the site Seat Guru (link is below), which is very thorough and extremely accurate.

3. Bring a neck pillow with you. This way, you have something to lean against if you want to relax. Many airlines do give pillows, but I find them to not be supportive enough.

4. Bring an eye mask. This way, you can shut out any light from people reading or watching the movie and get a little sleep.

5. Bring earplugs. How many of us have been on a flight with the inevitable screaming baby? Or even just one where there was a group of people traveling together and they were talking loudly while you wanted to relax? Ear plugs won't completely eliminate the sound, but they do help. Just make sure to take them out during take-off and landing because it feels weird to have ear plugs in when your ears are popping.

6. Bring some gum or hard candy. I find that sucking on a piece of candy helps prevent my ears from popping too much. It also helps if you make yourself yawn.

7. Layer up. I always wear layers anyway, because I make a point to pack light, but it's good to have a few different articles of clothing on hand in case the cabin temperature changes. Plus, you might be going to a place where the weather is completely different from where you took off. You don't want to fly to Florida in February wearing a sweater, then get off the plane and be hot. But if you have a T-shirt on underneath, you'll be more comfortable.

8. Wear really comfortable underwear. Okay, you can stop laughing now because I'm being very serious. But if you're going to be on a plane for 14 hours, don't wear the bra that pinches or the panties that ride up. It will drive you crazy after a while. Uh.... I speak from experience.

Let Them Entertain You

There are endless ways you can entertain yourself on a flight: you can read, do a crossword puzzle, but I personally like it when passengers get their own in-flight entertainment system. For me, I can't read for too long because it starts to hurt my eyes. I like being able to watch a movie or listen to music because that kind of entertainment is a little more passive; you can eat while you do it or you can even close your eyes and drift off. Plus, I just like to mix things up. I like to read for an hour, then watch a movie, then listen to some music... if I'm going to be flying for 14 hours, I want to have options!

1. Research airlines to see which ones have personal entertainment systems for each passenger. These airlines will have little TVs in the back of each seat so that you can watch whatever movie or TV show you wish.  More and more airlines are offering this to passengers in coach. Qantas and Virgin have the best systems I've seen to date because they offer you so much entertainment. JetBlue also has the TVs, and so does British Airways. Delta does sometime. American Airlines does not, as least not on any of the flights we've taken. And you know what? It makes a difference. When we flew to New Zealand on Qantas, we had about a dozen movies we could choose from, including one of my all-time favorites, Muriel's Wedding. I watched it three times and enjoyed myself! On the other hand, when we recently flew to L.A. on American, we were stuck watching the one movie they had that day ... which was Paul Blart, Mall Cop. See what I mean?

2.Read books on Kindle or watch your own movies on a portable DVD player. Having the DVD player can be especially important if you have a kid with you since they don't always have a wide variety of child-friendly entertainment. When we were on that American flight, the little girl in me watched Go, Diego, Go on her personal DVD player for about four hours straight -- and was a quiet little angel the entire time!

3. Bring a laptop. Most airlines now offer wireless connections. If you so desire, you can work from 35,000 feet.

Always Come Prepared

1. While many flights now make you pay for food, some long flights will still serve you. Still, bring some non-perishable snacks, like popcorn or pretzels to munch on. Virgin was kind enough to give us a little "overnight bag" that was full of snacks, but you can't count on that. And when you're body clock is so messed up because of the time changes, you might suddenly find yourself straving mid-flight. Better to have something at the ready.

2. Keep pain reliever, antacid and stomach meds within quick reach. I often get headaches just from being in tight, stuffy quarters for so long, so I like to have my pain relievers right there. When you're taking that long a trip, you're basically stuck, so better safe than sorry.

3. That said, if you take meds, chat with your doctor about what effects the altitude might have on them. If you get the okay to actually take them on the plane, don't forget to do so.


Flight Path

What most annoys you about flying?

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Relax, Just Do It

Probably the best thing you can do on your journey is to simply relax and try to enjoy the ride.

1. Try to sleep. I don't really like sleeping in a sitting position, but if I'm tired enough, I sometimes manage to sneak a nap in.

2. But if you can't sleep, at least do some deep-breathing exercises or meditate. This way, you can at least let your body be a peace for a few minutes.

3. Get off the plane. What, you mean hop out onto the wing?! Well, NO. But you might want to consider stopping someplace for the night and breaking up the journey. Most long flights aren't direct; the Australia and New Zealand flights, for example, stop in L.A. or Hawaii. This could be your chance to just get off the plane for the night and spend a day in that city. Then you can take a break from all of that flying!

Bon Voyage

As annoying as flying can be, it's a necessary evil if you wish to travel anyplace far. But there are ways to make it tolerable -- and even, dare I say, enjoyable. Remember, half the fun of doing something is the journey it took to get there ... right? 


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    • profile image


      17 months ago

      Do you wear flight socks each time? I've tried some before I fly but they make my head go funny?

    • profile image


      18 months ago

      Thanks for the advise!! As an obese person i'm really dreading our flight to Hawaii!!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      HOLY HELL CHICAGO TO SINGAPORE SUCKSSSSSS. Just saying. But hey, good tips.

    • profile image

      Best Psychics 

      7 years ago

      Hopefully it will end all the jet lags and the flight sickness.

    • Kimberly Bunch profile image

      Kimberly Bunch 

      9 years ago from EAST WENATCHEE

    • NaomiR profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from New York

      Thanks! I thought I was going to lose my mind the first time we flew to Australia.

    • Ellen_C profile image


      9 years ago

      great tips! I fly a lot and it gets tiring


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