updated on April 13th, 2019
Seeing far reaching corners of the world is something most people have on their life’s to-do list! Sitting on an airplane for days probably isn’t. So far, the longest flight we’ve been subjected to was just over 13 hours. It’s not the longest flight in the world, but combine it with some pretty rough back-to-backs and it might as well be. Our most trying journey was flying SLC > DEN (1.5 hours) > NRT (13 hours, due to mechanical issues) > KUL (7 hours). That’s over 20 butt-in-seat hours. Pepper in a missed connection and some layovers and we spent two full days on airplanes and in airports.
There are definitely longer single flights than those we’ve flown. Check these ones out. 18 hours on an airplane?! Ouch.
Obviously, if you can swing flying business class with cash, points, or miles, we highly suggest it. We aren’t those people, so like the vast majority of travelers, we get to squeeze into coach.
Surviving a Long-Haul Flight in Coach
If you’re flying coach you’re not going to have much room. Truly, there’s no room. We both are close to 6 feet tall, and here’s how our legs looked the whole time. We love using ExpertFlyer to alert us if better seats open up before our flight. Here’s the pros and cons to each seat option:
Sitting in the Aisle
Sitting in the aisle is great if you’ve got a small bladder or want to be able to stretch a leg down the aisle every now and then. The positives to sitting in the aisle seat comes with the negative of having to get up whenever the person in the middle or window seat needs to get up. This can be a problem if you’re planning on sleeping for an extended period of time.
Sitting in the Middle
I’ve never met nor read of anyone who prefers the middle seat. If that’s you, you are something special. The only perk I can think of is by matter of plane etiquette, you should be given both inside arm rests, though it is rare for fellow passengers to follow this etiquette.
Sitting in the Window Seat
The window seat is great because no one is going to bother you should they need to go to the bathroom or stretch their legs. The side of the plane also makes a great place to rest your head when it’s time to get some sleep. However, you will have to displace the aisle and middle seats should you need to get up. Not recommended for those with small bladders!
What To Bring on a Long Haul Flight
A Good Travel Pillow
We’ve tried all sorts of pillows to help us get some sleep on long-hauls. The best pillow we’ve found so far is this wrap around travel pillow by Turtl. You can find them on Amazon. It’s nice because it easily wraps around your neck, which keeps you warm. It also has a built in support frame so your head doesn’t fall forward and your mouth doesn’t drop open while you’re out.
While it would be nice to just sleep the entirety of the flight, that’s probably not going to happen. All major airlines will have their own in-flight entertainment systems with various movies and TV shows for you to watch. These are immensely helpful, but might not be enough. We always bring plenty of our own entertainment options.
We used to pack a couple old Nintendo DS Lites for some games (cheap and portable!) but have since started bringing a Nintendo Switch. We swap out playing single player games, play together, and have even played multiplayer with other passengers who also brought their Switch along.
Beyond that, we both make sure we have plenty of Spotify music (sync your playlists to be available offline ahead of the flight), as well as movies and TV shows downloaded and available on our phones. Sometimes watching The Office (for the 100th time) is what you need to drift off to sleep. Don’t forget your headphones!
Medication for Long Haul Flights
Many people find medication helpful for sleeping on a plane. I am definitely one of those people. Melatonin or Benadryl (and a glass of wine- not medically recommended- does wonders for me) work well for a lot of people. If you have a fear of flying or just get generally anxious in the air, definitely see a doctor about a one-time dose of something stronger, like Xanax.
Long Haul Amenity Kits
Most airlines will often offer coach passengers with a small amenity kit that includes an eye mask, pillow and a blanket. This isn’t always the case, so if you’d like to be sure you have one of those, it would be smart to bring your own.
An eye mask helps immensely to block any light and movement and help you sleep. Often they’ll be offered for free, but not always.
Make sure this is in a bag that fits under the seat instead of in the overhead compartments so you can access it easily! Having to rustle above other travelers each time you need something gets irritating. You also run the risk that the plane will run out of room and force you to gate-check an overhead bag.
Again, many airlines offer in-flight entertainment. They will even offer headphones if you forgot yours. It’s also common to find music channels including “relaxation” stations to help kill the airplane noise. It’s also fun to watch the flight tracker to know how much longer you’ve got to your destination.
Take Care of Yourself on Long-Hauls!
Most major airlines offer free beer or wine on international flights. While free alcohol can take the edge off, make sure you’re not getting so tipsy you end up hungover. A long flight is rough, but few things are worse than waking up hungover on a plane with several hours left in your flight.
It’s easy to get dehydrated on a flight with the free alcohol and recirculated air. Drink plenty of water! You can pick up a giant bottle of water after airport security and bring it on the plane.
DVTs, dangerous blood clots in the legs, is a (probably overblown, but still possible) risk from long-haul flights. To combat this, get up and walk around as often as you can. If you’re staying hydrated, having to get up to go to the bathroom can do double duty by moving your legs while you walk the aisle to the cramped bathroom. Take some time to flex your thighs and calves. We’ve tested these compression socks and they did seem to help.
And finally, sleep as much as you possibly can!
Don’t be a jerk
See our post about in-flight etiquette. Long-haul flights suck. Don’t forget: they suck for everyone. Don’t ruin the flight for someone else! But that’s another post and another rant, so at the end of the day, remember that you’re stuck in a tin can with hundreds of people, 36,000 feet in the air. You’re all in this together until the plane lands. At least you’ll be somewhere awesome once it’s all over!