Let me show off a bit here. I've racked up around 350 flights under my belt. And if you're die-hard fans of my blog (as you should be), you know I've traveled extensively across Africa, America, Asia, and Europe.
From Prague (my hometown), it's quite a distance to Asia, America, and Africa. This means one thing: I've endured several endlessly long flights. During these, I've gathered a wealth of experience on how to survive (and possibly enjoy) these flights without wanting to shoot myself in the head after just 4 hours. And because I'm such a good soul, I'm sharing these tips and tricks for long-haul flights with you.
Let me set the record straight right from the start, I try to avoid economy class. If possible, I opt for business or at least premium economy (you'll understand the differences in my article “Cabin Classes Explained”). Of course, I've had my fair share of economy flights... and that's exactly why I avoid them.
So, my number one tip for long flights can't be anything else but: upgrade. Seriously, it’s probably never more worth it than when you have a 10+ hour flight ahead of you. You'll have to pay extra, but your mental health is worth it. Plus, there are several ways to upgrade from economy to a better class.
I'm willing to pay extra for quality and experience so I get to my destination semi-rested. Here I am hiking on the Panorama Route in South Africa
Using your air miles is a tip you'll find all over the internet, but in reality, I think it's utterly impractical. Most people don't come even close to having enough miles needed for an upgrade. So, I won't dwell on this and move straight to the next tip.
Some airlines offer a "Bid My Price" service. It allows you to offer your own price for an upgraded class. If you bid an amount that meets the airline's requirements, you win and fly in a better class for the money you “bet”. Isn’t that brilliant? You get the thrill of "gambling" and fly in a better, more comfortable class.
Which airlines offer “Bid My Price”?
Just accept the higher price. For most long flights, purchasing premium economy will suffice, especially in newer planes. The price for this upgrade on long flights is usually around USD 400, and the quality difference is more than double. Even this small upgrade brings a range of benefits you'll appreciate on long flights; namely, a better seat and more legroom.
On the other hand, purchasing a business class ticket is especially worthwhile for long overnight flights, as it helps you avoid wasting a day of your holiday due to lack of sleep on the plane. Personally, I've often found that I sleep better in business class than in my own bed. Must be the white noise.
Now, I have a few hacks for for you when it comes to upgrading. The best time to upgrade to premium economy is about six weeks before departure. This rule doesn't apply to business class, where prices don't change much until the flight. Another interesting option is that sometimes there are available business class tickets right at the check-in counter. Just ask if there's an option to purchase an upgrade. Often, the prices are good because they don't have much chance to sell these seats otherwise. Then again, there might not be a good offer available and then you’re stuck in economy or dishing out more than you’d hoped. The best opportunity, however, comes from promotions and discounts in emails from the airline just before departure. That's when you have a chance to buy a business class seat for a 14-hour flight for about USD 300. And that, my friends, is the way to a customer’s heart—go airlines!
Tip: Read my ANA Premium Class review to find out everything you can get when flying Premium Class.
Think all airplane seats are the same, and it doesn’t matter where you sit? Think again. Choosing your seat can significantly impact your comfort and overall travel experience. But selecting the ideal seat is quite a science.
Comfortable seats and sufficient legroom are essential for maintaining smiles for the entire flight
This depends highly on your preferences, as both options have their advantages and disadvantages. An aisle seat allows you to get up and move around as much as you want. The downside? There’s nowhere to rest your head (like you do in a window seat), and people will constantly be walking by you.
The benefit of a window seat is the nice view and the ability to lean your head against the window to sleep. The downside is having to disturb the people next to you whenever you need to get up. I personally prefer the aisle seat, ideally on an Airbus 330, which has a 2-4-2 seating arrangement in economy. This is, in my opinion, the cheapest comfort hack—you pay the same, but the comfort is significantly better (when you choose a seat in the two-seater row and ideally are traveling with someone you know... then you don’t have to worry as much about your head crossing the invisible border between your seats).
I would avoid the four-seater in the middle at all costs, so it's better to reserve your seat when you buy your ticket. There’s nothing worse than a 12-hour flight in a middle four-seater. I had such a flight in my younger days, and it’s absolutely the worst plane travel memory I have.
Note: If you fly first class, in most cases, you won’t have to deal with this dilemma at all and will have your own private island in the plane where you can comfortably lie down. You’ll have the aisle, the window, and all the room in the world.
This choice is a little more obvious—to me at least. A seat in the front part of the plane has several advantages:
However, I don't recommend sitting too far in the front because the constant opening and closing of the bathroom doors can be annoying. If you think you'll get used to it, you won't. Whether flying during the day or at night, those bathroom doors never take a break. Worst case scenario is that everyone waiting their turn for the bathroom lines up next to your seat—yikes!
This are the plane types of Austrian Airlines. When I flew from Vienna to Tokyo, it was on a Boeing 777-300—read more in the article about my Austrian Airlines experience
Choosing a flight based on the type of aircraft is a bit more advanced. Many routes are serviced by several airlines with different types of planes. So, if you don't have a favorite airline, it's worth exploring all your options.
Don't worry, I won't bore you with the technical details of different aircraft types (not that I know them all myself). But I will tell you what to consider when choosing an aircraft.
Newer is better. Modern planes like the Boeing 777, Airbus A350, or A330 have nicer designs and maintain higher pressure and humidity in the cabin. And by humidity, I don't mean enough to frizz your girlfriend's hair, but enough to keep you from feeling dried out like raisin. However, I recommend avoiding the Boeing 787—it's terribly small and just trash.
Another crucial factor is the cabin layout. Logically, a 2-3-2 seating arrangement provides much greater comfort than a 3-3-3 or even 3-4-3 layout. Almost always (unless you're flying premium class), you'll end up sitting next to someone. For this reason, it's an advantage to travel at least in pairs, like I do. That way, I know that no smelly, snoring person will be sitting next to me.
Anyone who's traveled to a far-off destination knows what I'm talking about. Jet lag, yes, we all hate it. You want to explore a new country, but instead of excitement, you're totally exhausted during the day and can't sleep at night.
I have a tip for you that will save your stay in the destination. The most important thing is to arrive at your destination in the evening. Then you can just crash into bed, wiped out from the flight, and thus shorten the jet lag. For example, flying from Europe to America works great this way; it's worse in the opposite direction. Generally, I consider daytime flights better for survival, where it's easier to come up with an agenda and entertain yourself, rather than having to "sleep".
Once you arrive, either crash in your hotel if it’s nighttime, or expose yourself to as much sunlight as possible, which will help reset your internal rhythm, and hope your body gets the clue. Stay hydrated and avoid excessive consumption of caffeine and alcohol, which can worsen the symptoms of jet lag.
Jet lag is no fun, especially if you’re dealing with mountain sickenss at the same time. Here I am smiling through the pain in Peru
Use booking.com to book your hotels—I always do. Choose wisely so you’re getting a really good night’s rest after the possibly less-than-fantastic sleep you got on the plane. (This is an affiliate link, meaning I get a small commission if you use it to book your hotel. It comes at zero extra cost to you, but means a lot to me. Thanks for your support!)
How to prepare for a long flight? Get your body ready. I'm not talking about adjusting your sleep schedule but rather preparing your body for being in one position for x hours on the plane.
The day before departure, take time to hit the gym, go for a walk, or at least do some stretching. This will improve your blood circulation and prevent potential cramps and discomfort on the plane.
Definitely avoid trying to stay up all night in order to sleep better on the plane. I think that's nonsense. First, you'll be totally out of it, and second, it often has the exact opposite effect.
I know, stuffing as much as possible into your carry-on bag is tempting, especially if you're facing a really long flight. But remember, all those things you pack, you'll have to carry around the airport and through all the security checks. And imagine trying to get something out of that giant bag on the plane... unrealistic.
Focus on packing the essentials and consider investing in a versatile small travel bag with multiple pockets. A small size is important because many people (including me) tend to fill bags to the brim and carry a lot of unnecessary items. A small bag simply won't allow this and thanks to multiple pockets, each item can have its place.
Me with my backpack full of only necessities on the way through the Kazbegi mountains in Georgia
Tip: Not sure what to pack in your carry-on? Read the article "How to pack a carry-on" and you'll have a clear idea. I’ve included anything and everything you’d possibly need to know about carry-ons and going through the airport with them.
I don't want to be over-dramatic, but definitely don't forget this tip. Bringing noise-canceling headphones is an essential tip for dealing with a long flight—planes are LOUD! These headphones will suppress the surrounding noise, which will be plentiful on the plane.
Noise cancellation will make it easier to relax, sleep, or watch movies. Invest in good headphones that will make your journey more pleasant, because not all noise-canceling is equal, and with some, you'll still hear the screaming child in the seat next to you.
If you like to use the built-in screens in the seats in front of you on long flights, get wired headphones. Airpods won't connect to them, and you'll be stuck with the most basic headphones available on the plane, which you don't want (trust me).
An eye mask is a simple but effective tool for blocking unwanted light, whether it's from cabin lights or fellow passengers watching movies. This will help you fall asleep on the plane—and you’ll need all the help you can get. I wanted to write that you'll be able to achieve peaceful sleep, but that would be an exaggeration.
Note: Most airlines have eye masks available on board, even if you fly economy class. But it won't be very good quality, so I recommend bringing your own anyway.
Here I am comfortably flying to Chile!
What to wear on long flights? Comfort is key. Flying is not a fashion week, haha, so style takes a backseat in this case. Choose loose, breathable clothing and layers. Sometimes it's hot on the plane and sometimes it's cold, so you can remove layers as needed.
Don't forget comfortable footwear, as your feet may swell during the journey. The biggest mistake people make on long flights is dressing to impress. The best thing to wear is simply sweatpants and a hoodie or light sweater.
This tip might surprise you, but I really hate it when people bring their own food onto a plane. On long flights, there's always enough food available throughout the flight, all you need to do is ask. So, I don't understand why grown adults would need to carry a backpack full of baguettes, chips, and other snacks.
Tip: Read up on what you can have in your carry-on and what's better left at home.
Generally, the rule with airplane food is that the higher the class you fly, the more and better-quality food you'll have on board.
Long flights can lead to dehydration due to the dry cabin air. That's why it's important to drink water regularly throughout your journey. Bring your favorite water bottle from home and fill it up before boarding. This ensures you have enough water throughout the flight, not just when the refreshment cart comes around. Plus, staying hydrated contributes to overall well-being and helps combat fatigue.
Tip: Read tips on bringing liquids onto a plane in my other article. It’s meant for people flying for the first time, but even if you’ve been on a plane before, you might need a refresher on some of the procedures at the airport and onboard.
Always keep your water bottle handy
A glass of wine or a chilled beer isn't bad at all. But there's no need to consume all the alcohol supplies onboard, even though you might get it for free during the flight. I know you probably don't plan to, but I might be scarred by typical Czechs (my countrymen) who consume everything as long as it's free.
Excessive alcohol consumption can contribute to dehydration and disrupt your sleep pattern. Also, temper your consumption before boarding the plane. I understand the need to fill the waiting time at the airport, but you're much better off having a fresh juice.
Discouraging example: I've witnessed at least three occasions where a drunken person was not allowed to board my flight. These individuals were so plastered they could barely walk to the gate counter. I just don't get such behavior. So, if you didn't think it happens, it does. Probably more times than I've even noticed (because I get seats in the front of the plane and am always among the first to board!). And don't even think about getting wasted on board. It’s not that hard to cause an emergency landing, and oh boy would that be expensive!
If you want to ensure maximum comfort, there's no need to fill half of your carry-on with a pillow and blanket. From my experience, in the plane, they'll gladly give you two pillows and a blanket, or even more blankets if you didn’t layer correctly and are freezing. Again, just ask. Most full-service airlines have fairly high-quality stuff that will keep you relatively comfy and toasty.
Tip: Another place that will give you a great pillow and blanket? Your hotel. Get it on booking.com. I always use the filter option to choose 9+ ratings, free breakfast, and check the reviews for that extra special customer service. After a long flight, the last thing you need is an arrogant receptionist.
Where are you flying to next? How about Mexico, to see El Aguacero Falls?
There's nothing worse than a phone that dies two hours after the plane takes off. So, one of my basic tips on how to prepare for a long flight is: charge all your electronics, mobile phone, tablet, and laptop. This ensures a stress-free journey, not to mention that time after you land at a new airport and need everything that’s on your phone—info, apps, maps, and confirmation emails.
However, most airlines now offer USB ports and in higher classes, a standard power outlet, so it’ll be smooth sailing... if you have the right cable with you, that is.
Tip: Consider getting a universal adapter for different types of sockets. Even though international flights have USB ports, once you disembark the plane, that won't be as certain. And such a gadget will definitely come in handy while traveling.
There are plenty of options to entertain yourself on board the plane. I'll list them all here for you to choose from:
The classic. Long flights offer the perfect opportunity to watch movies you've wanted to see but haven't found the time for. But in-flight entertainment isn’t Netflix, and even though airlines offer several hundred movies, you might not find anything appealing (it's happened to me a few times). And believe me, you don't want to spend a 10-hour flight watching some stupid comic book characters beating up villains (yeah, I don't like Marvel movies).
So, avoid disappointment and download movies to your laptop in advance that you really want to see. This way, you'll board the plane with the peace of mind that you have good movies lined up.
Ana Premium Class onboard entertainment made the long flight significantly more enjoyable
Immerse yourself in the captivating world of literature during your long flight and forget that you're even flying.
If you like to read multiple titles at once, I recommend buying an e-reader. Traveling with several books at once is impractical and heavy, even though I prefer reading from actual books in the real world.
What are the best books for long flights for me? Engaging ones that completely absorb you. And preferably nothing too deep or dark. Leave the Proust and Kundera at home for those long winter evenings in your reading nook. I personally prefer thrillers and detective stories, you could lean more towards comedies or biographies. Whether you love fiction, non-fiction, or something in-between, having a good book on hand is a reliable way to entertain yourself for hours.
Podcasts are a versatile form of entertainment that covers a wide range of topics. I personally listen to podcasts about travel (surprisingly) and business.
Find a podcast about the destination you're heading to. You'll combine pleasure with usefulness and disembark as a seasoned pro. Whether you enjoy storytelling, informative discussions, or comedies, podcasts provide a comfortable way to spend time on long flights. They are also an excellent choice for those who might struggle with motion sickness (kinetosis) from reading or watching movies on a plane (and then on other means of transport once you get to your destination).
Playing games is an ideal choice if you want to completely switch off. Games provide a pleasant distraction, making your journey feel shorter and more enjoyable. You can see what the in-flight entertainment system offers, or, download your favorite games on your cell phone. It should ideally be something that you won't finish in an hour, and before you know it, you'll be disembarking the plane.
I always do the trivia quiz on the plane’s entertainment system... and I always win (of course). They even have those versions where you are competing against other passengers on the plane, those are always fun. Bring it on! Last one gets peanuts for everyone!
Tip: If you subscribe to Netflix, you can nostalgically download GTA: San Andreas and save Grove Street. And many other games, obviously.
For you, it may not sound exactly like fun in the truest sense, but it does for me and it can entertain you for a few hours—work on your flight. For instance, I always work on day flights, the true workaholic that I am. Actually, scratch that, I’m just efficient! Did I smash out that strategy? Yes! Did I also travel halfway across the world in the meantime? Absolutely!
I recommend preparing a work agenda a few days before the flight, buying Wi-Fi on the plane, and simply working. Time flies by when you’re concentrating on something. Other activities are good, but they might entertain you for maybe two hours, while work can keep you busy for a good 8 hours.
Believe me, nothing refreshes you more during a long flight than brushing your teeth, rinsing your face, using deodorant, and putting on a clean t-shirt. You'll feel reborn. All you need to do is take all your hygiene essentials with you on board. Yes, it's that easy.
As you might know, I travel with my girlfriend. So, I know that her version of "keep it clean" on the plane is utterly and completely different from mine.
The start is quite similar, she brushes her teeth and washes her face, but then... She starts applying countless products to her face, supposedly to not have such dried-out skin from the plane. And she puts on an eye mask to combat dark circles under her eyes. I'm telling you, it's like a full-on beauty salon on board the plane. I may be known to borrow her lip gloss here and there—that dry airplane air is a killer!
If you're bringing a laptop, there's nothing stopping you from getting through a few work emails. Even if you aren't as keen on working through the first part of your vacation as I am, you can still use those hours on the plane to be productive.
I have an idea for you: how about choosing your accommodation on Booking.com for your destination and working on planning what you want to see in the country? Don't tell me you're such a perfectionist like me and have everything planned in advance. Plus, there might be a last-minute offer waiting for you if you manage to find it.
For me, a flight is always an experience I wouldn't want to sleep through entirely, so I avoid pills. However, for some travelers, achieving peaceful sleep on a plane can be a challenge. In such cases, sleeping pills might be a viable option.
Consult with your doctor before the trip and discuss your options and dosages. Keep in mind that sleeping pills should be used cautiously and it's essential to understand their potential side effects. Use them only if counting sheep and other solid sleep-inducing advice have failed. Or just book a day flight.
I don't have kids (yet), but I often travel with them on planes. I mean, there's always some kid in the plane, preferably a few seats away from me. I like kids, but I think we all agree that a screaming child on a plane is an absolute nightmare for everyone around.
Nevertheless, I've observed a few hacks that parents use to entertain their kids on a plane:
The most challenging part of a long flight is probably keeping kids in one spot, in their seat (and keeping yourself there, too). So, for me, it's totally fine to get up and walk around the plane.
International flights usually use large planes, so you can easily walk 1–2 km (0.6–1.2 mi) if you put your mind to it. Stretch a bit along the way and you're ready for another few hours in your seat. And hopefully your child’s little legs will mean they get tired faster than you.
You know how I mentioned that you shouldn’t bring your own snacks on the plane? Yeah, if you have kids, that advice goes straight out the window. Snacks for kids are more than okay. The goal isn't primarily to feed them, but to entertain them aka keep them content (and quiet).
What are the best snacks for long flights for kids?
You really need to know your child well and understand which toys genuinely entertain them. Otherwise, you might end up with a giant backpack full of toys, while the biggest fun for your kid is kicking the seat in front of them. I've been there, in that front seat. An unforgettable experience; thankfully it was on a short flight to Spain.
What are the best toys for long flights with kids?
Unless you take a long flight, you won't see beautiful places like Tugela Gorge in Drakensberg. And you don’t wanna lose that!
This article will focus on carry-on luggage. If you don't want to get embarrassed at the airport by security rummaging through your bag for something that shouldn't be there, you'll want to read this.
Traveling is about making memories, not police reports. Follow these tips and cautionary tales and remember to catch the right type of travel bug. So go out there and explore the world, but, you know, wisely!
If you’re getting ready to fly for the first time, welcome. Big step, huh? I’m here with all my slightly sarcastic but helpful advice for those of you who want to be prepared and know what to expect on a plane.