12 Long-Haul Flight Hacks You Need to Know, According to Travel Pros
Follow these tips to have a relaxing flight and reduce jet lag.
Gearing up for a long-haul flight to someplace across the world for work or fun may fill you up with all sorts of nervous excitement. You want to make sure you've packed enough (but not too much), have mid-flight essentials at the ready, and are set up for success upon landing so you can hit the ground running. If you don't plan for a long flight in advance, though, a few unfortunate things can get in your way: jet lag, hunger, dry skin, chilly temps, and splurge-y, unexpected expenditures at the airport or during your flight. No sweat. Take the following advice from travel pros who have mastered the art of flying for hours on end, and you'll arrive to your destination feeling fresh, energized, and ready to go! Read on for our expert-approved long-haul flight hacks.
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Sometimes you need to book a flight at the last minute, but when you can help it then book early.
"Long haul or not, if you want a good flight, in a good seat, and at a low price then you should book three to six months prior travel. Imagine an aisle seat, three rows from the bathroom, on an 11-hour flight," says Steve Perillo of Perillo Tours. "Occasionally the price will go down in the interim, but usually not. And the very act of booking moves your trip from a dream into reality."
Booking early also kicks all your other planning into gear, which gives you time to craft the perfect without worrying about other things booking up, like lodging and tours. It may also save you money in the long run since you'll have more booking options to choose from at your destination.
Choose a flight that arrives at night
Anyone who's done a long-haul flight knows just how real jet lag is. To help you settle in more quickly, choose a flight that gets in at night, says Brian Lonergan, Fora travel advisor. That way, you can unwind in your hotel or rental without feeling like you're missing out. Not to mention, you'll be able to catch up on some much-needed rest.
If your flight gets in during the daytime, try your best to stay awake until nighttime so you can more quickly acclimate to the new time zone.
Stay at the airport hotel
On that note, consider making your post-flight agenda as simple as possible by booking a hotel at the airport.
"Getting to your accommodation with minimal additional transfer time or logistical effort can help you get oriented and can set the right tone for your entire trip. This is especially true if traveling with young children," says Longergan.
He adds that today's airport hotels are very nice and not your parents' airport hotels.
"Seoul-Incheon has the Grand Hyatt, while some of my best trips to Japan have started at the excellent in-terminal Royal Park Haneda, with Mt. Fuji views and a breakfast buffet that rivals some of the five-star hotels in Tokyo proper."
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Skip the makeup (or bring a toiletry kit)
If you're on an overnight flight, try to keep makeup to a minimum and pack a toiletry kit so you can stick to your nightly regimen. That should include a cleanser, moisturizer, and a toothbrush and toothpaste.
"I don't wear makeup on a long flight because it clogs my pores and causes breakouts in the air," says Kat Jamieson, founder of the With Love From Kat Travel App. Instead, she doubles down on an ultra-moisturizing skincare routine that helps leave her skin feeling hydrated. (Airplane air is notoriously drying.)
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Set yourself up for good sleep
We can't all travel first class, but you can set yourself up for some solid shut-eye on your long-haul flight.
"What you really need is a neck-support pillow so you can doze off," says Perillo. "A lot of people find the window seat, over the wing, to be the coziest place on the plane. It has the least turbulence, and you can lean on the wall." On that note, he says that while medication can help you fall asleep, it may exacerbate jetlag upon arrival by causing a bit of a sleep hangover.
In addition, wear comfortable clothes and shoes—with a fresh pair of socks to change into—and wear layers so you can remain at a comfortable temperature. Jamieson adds, "I also always pack a silk eye mask with me if it's longer than a six-hour flight so I can get my beauty sleep."
Use noise canceling headphones
Listening to a rumbling jet engine for hours can start to wear on you. Today's noise-canceling headphones and earbuds are a mid-flight blessing, so take advantage of the technology. Not only do they soften/eliminate the engine, but they'll allow you to hear your entertainment better and make you feel like you're in a bubble all your own.
Pack your own snacks and empty water bottle
The mid-flight stomach growl is no joke, largely because you've got little recourse except for an $18 "charcuterie" board comprised of seven, cheese cubes, eight soggy grapes, and four cardboard-flavored crackers.
Before your flight, swing by the grocery store to put together a bundle of yummies and pack them on your carry-on. Also, bring a reusable water bottle that you can fill up after security.
Build an in-flight essentials kit
Speaking of in-flight essentials, build yourself a handy kit of items that'll improve your comfort levels while zooming through the sky.
"Having your favorite personal care products at your fingertips can minimize the stress of long-haul flights and help you feel more like a human upon arrival," says Lonergan. "Think lip balm, eye drops, moisturizer, oral care, pain relief, cough drops, and bandaids." Your kit should be compact enough to fit in an economy seat back pocket.
Adapt to your destination's time zone pre-flight
They say it takes about one day per hour of time difference to adapt. So if you're heading somewhere with an eight-hour difference, it could take over a week to feel normal—likely just in time to head back home!
Make a note of your destination's time zone and start acclimating about a week before jet-setting. Go to bed earlier/later and wake up earlier/later. Also, try to eat your food according to the new destination's schedule.
"Changing your meal times is giving your body a heads up that its circadian rhythm is about to be turned on its head," notes Lonergan. "Be mindful of in-flight meal service times. You don't have to eat your meal as soon as it's served, and you can bring your own food and skip the airline's offering entirely."
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Make friends with your flight attendant
Flights are particularly challenging these days thanks to staffing issues and ever-changing COVID protocols. And your flight attendants often bear the brunt of everyone's stress, all while doing their best to keep everyone safe and happy.
"Being in that skinny tube all night is strange and a little scary for everyone. So any little connection between you and the staff feels extra special," Perillo says.
Take some time to acknowledge their efforts and spark up a friendly dialogue (if they have the time). You can even bring a small "goody bag" to make a nice, memorable impression. This might earn you an extra treat, like a freebie drink or larger pour, but more than anything it sets the stage for a happier flight for everyone.
Bring comfortable socks to change into
Let's face it, no one wants to wear their shoes for the entire duration of a flight, especially when it's on the longer side. Taylor Beal, owner and author of the travel blog Traverse With Taylor, always opts for a pair of cozy fuzzy socks. "You don't want to be that awkward person hanging out barefoot on the plane," Beal says. "Plus, airplane floors (especially in the bathroom) are notoriously disgusting." The socks let your feet breathe a bit without grossing out your fellow travelers.
If you have issues with restless legs or leg pain when you are flying, Justin Albertynas, the CEO at RatePunk, recommends bringing a pair of compression socks. "Not only do they help reduce the risk of blood clots, but they also keep your blood flowing, prevent swelling and leg fatigue which makes those longer flights more pleasant."
Pack a portable charger
Using your electronics on a long flight is pretty much a given. Whether you're listening to music, reading a book, or watching a movie, having a portable charger is a must. "If you don't bring one and your seat's charger isn't working, you're just stuck," says Mary DeSpain, president of Destination CLes.
It'll be quite awful to be on a 12+ hour flight and have any of your devices die. Some people can't sleep on planes either, so relying on technology to get them through may be the only option. Always bring the portable even if you've juiced up everything before take-off.