I can’t count the times I’ve walked through a plane and stared longingly at first class, only to head back into economy with my head hanging. And what follows? Eight, ten, or even twelve hours with my knees scrunched up and my neighbour practically in my lap. At least you know you there’s the reward of an exciting destination.
Nevertheless, you can make life on a long-haul flight a bit more comfortable, and here’s the best tips and tricks for your ultimate long-haul flight experience.
You obviously want the best seat on the plane for yourself, ideally without spending any extra money. On most long-haul flights, this is possible to accomplish for free if you keep the following tricks in mind:
Once that 24hrs comes up, check in. Virtually every airline now has the option to check in online before arriving at the airport, so all you have to do is print out your boarding pass and drop off your luggage at the airport kiosk. Often seats can be reserved for free when you check in online, particularly for long-haul flights.
If you are traveling alone, it is best to choose the aisle seat in a two-seat row. This gives you a great opportunity to claim both seats if no one sits in the other one. If you are traveling in pairs, the following rule applies: one takes the window seat and one the aisle seat. Nobody wants to sit alone in the middle seat.
The last row is often shunned, as it is usually near the restrooms, has seats that may not fully recline, and sitting here means you will be the last one to exit the plane. However, sitting in the last row has its own advantages. I have often booked an aisle seat in the last row and ended up having all three seats in the row to myself. Even with just one other person you still have extra legroom and a spare seat between you where you can store your belongings. It’s a risk to book the last seat, but it can often pay off.
If you want more legroom, you should choose a seat in front of or behind a partition wall, in the emergency exit row, or in the aisle. However, be advised as the extra legroom may come at the expense of your back. Often the backrests in the aisles or in front of partition walls cannot be reclined, or can be reclined less than other seats. Just be aware that some airlines now charge for these seats.
If turbulence is not exactly your idea of a good time, then you should definitely stay away from the last row, where you will feel turbulence the strongest.The seats above the wings are the most stable and are a better choice for nervous flyers.
Once you have found your ideal seat, all that’s left to do is settle in for the long flight ahead. However, there are plenty of ways to make the rest of the trip more comfortable.
First, you should plan to board the plane close to the end. We all know the drill: the plane starts boarding an hour before the flight takes off and everyone is jostling to be the first to settle in. It may be tempting to join the fray of people fighting their way to the front of the line, but for your own sanity you should wait it out sitting at the gate.
Getting on at the very end means that you will have to spend less time waiting in line, and you won’t be jockeying with other passengers to stow your luggage. You will avoid the unnecessary stress that can accumulate before your flight even takes off.
It's also crucial to choose the right clothes to fly in. Tight jeans and shorts are generally a no-go. Comfortable, long trousers, a loose-fitting shirt, and a warm pullover are perfect. It’s important to remember that the plane will generally not be the same temperature as your country of arrival, and you can always throw a pair of shorts in your carry-on bag to change into once you land. You may also want to pack a pair of thick socks to keep your toes warm and a pair of flip-flops to slip on when you need to use the restroom.
To prevent thrombosis (blood clotting), you should try to move around at regular intervals. An easy way to do this while sitting is to pull your feet towards you and stretch them back away from you, which stimulates blood circulation in the legs. Doing ankle circles can also help, as well as walking up and down the aisles of the plane. However, doing yoga between the rows of seats should be avoided—you might find your backside on Instagram once you've landed!
Bring your own laptop - fully charged - on board. Many airlines now offer outlets on their planes, but you should play it safe. You can load your laptop with your own favourite movies and TV shows if the entertainment system on the plane isn’t sufficient, or if there is no entertainment at all. Yes, it is possible on some budget airlines to have no entertainment, which makes a ten-hour flight feel like a twenty-hour flight. Better to have some movies downloaded just in case!
Four other indispensable carry-on items are deodorant, moisturiser, a toothbrush and toothpaste. After 10 hours on a plane, you will feel much better being able to freshen up, and the moisturiser will ensure that your skin doesn’t dry out due to the filtered and recycled air.
Get a neck pillow with memory foam. They may look silly, but they are definitely worth it. Your head will be well-supported and you can then use the cushion provided by the airline to support your lower back. The combination works wonders, allowing you to sleep comfortably. Add a sleeping mask and ear plugs and you can totally shut out the world.
Drinking plenty of water is essential to stay hydrated on the flight and prevent headaches. Eating light will also improve your experience. When you have to sit still for a long time, greasy food can be hard to digest. Although it may be tempting to grab that Toblerone from the Duty Free Shop, try your best to skip it.
Adjust to your new schedule. To prevent jet lag, you should try to adjust your sleeping and waking times to reflect the time difference. Working on it, a week, or even a few days ahead of time will make a world of difference.
There you have it, all my best tips and tricks for your next long-haul flight. It will still be exhausting, but maybe now you will be a bit more relaxed at the end. Sure, you won’t look like a supermodel at passport control, but you can always channel your inner celebrity and rock some sunglasses indoors.
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