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Tips for long-haul flights

Dread long-haul flights? Here are our top tips for a hassle-free trip...

However wonderful your destination is, for many travellers the idea of spending long hours in a plane can seem like a nightmare. Thankfully there are plenty of ways you can make a long-haul flight survivable – and even pleasant!

When you book your flights

1. Timing is key

Try to book your flight at a time of day that suits your body clock. For most of us, that means getting a mid-morning flight that doesn't require checking in at the crack of dawn or (even worse) in the middle of the night. Only a lucky few sleep well on planes, so if you can avoid taking the red-eye and begin your journey relatively rested you'll have a much more enjoyable flight.

2. Consider an upgrade

If you travel regularly and have racked up a fair number of air miles, now might be the time to cash some in for an upgrade. Premium economy or business class seats provide extra comfort and can make all the difference on long flights. Not a frequent flyer? Think twice about booking with bargain airlines – it might make for a less comfortable journey. Look instead for seasonal sales and online deals on premium airlines.

3. Choose your seats wisely

Many airlines let you choose your seats when you book for an extra fee. This is worth considering on a long flight if it means you can sit in your preferred section, and is particularly helpful when travelling in a group.

If you don't want to pay extra, be sure to make a note of when online check-in opens in your diary so you can hop onto the airline's website and choose the seats you want as soon as they become available. Think about where in the row you'd like to sit – window seats are great for the views, but aisle seats may be more comfortable (especially if you're tall).

4. Stopovers aren't the worst idea

Very long-haul flights can be particularly challenging. Consider breaking up your travel with a stopover, or at least a few hours on the ground to rest, recuperate and stretch your legs. The world's best airports are blessed with plenty of services to revive weary travellers, from massage and spa facilities to gyms, swimming pools and indoor gardens. Spend some time in one of these airports and you'll feel much more human on your connecting flight!

Preparing for your flight

5. Dress comfortably

Dress for flying success by wearing light, loose-fitting clothing in breathable fabrics. Think cotton t-shirts and jersey tops and avoid clingy, skin-tight or heavy clothing. Slipper socks and a cardigan or hoodie can keep you cosy on overnight flights, which can get a tad chilly. If your flight is taking you somewhere warm, peeling off a layer or two at the other end will keep you fresh as you arrive.

6. Pack toiletries and medicine in your hand luggage

On a long flight it's a good idea to pack toiletries, painkillers and any medication you need in your hand luggage. Mouthwash, wet wipes, a travel toothbrush and moisturiser will go a long way to keeping you feeling fresh.

7. Don't forget snacks

If you're flying between mealtimes, pack a few light and non-messy snacks to tide you over and keep hunger pangs from ruining your afternoon. Rice cakes, travel sweets, dried fruit and cereal bars are all good options, as are mints or chewing gum to keep your mouth fresh.

8. And don't forget in-flight entertainment either

Many long-haul airlines are packed with entertainment options like TV, films and games, but we'd recommend bring your own in-flight entertainment options too. Books, magazines, puzzles and games will go a long way to keeping you occupied throughout the flight, as will a well-charged tablet or smartphone. Pack your charging cables too – you should be able to use them at the airport, and on some flights USB charging is available at your seat.

9. Block out the cabin noise

A pair of noise-cancelling headphones are a must if you're planning on getting some shut eye, or even if you just want to relax in relative peace. A comfy sleep mask will complete the set and ensure the best kip possible.

At the airport

10. Eat a light meal before you fly

If your flight leaves at an awkward time (or you're a bit anxious about the quality of the in-flight food), arrive at the airport in time to eat a light meal. Avoid fatty foods and stodge – opt for salads, grilled fish or pasta with veggies over steaks, fry-ups and fast food. If you're pushed for time, pick up a healthy wrap or salad to eat at the gate.

11. Stock up flight-side

Once you get flight-side you can pick up a bottle of water for your flight and add any toiletries, travel pillows, flight socks or earplugs you may have forgotten to pack previously. Look out for useful freebies on your way through Duty Free – a good dollop of hydrating moisturiser from a quality brand should help your flight get off to a good start, and you may even be able to pick up a trial size tube to carry on board.

12. Get researching

Got some time at the gate? Make the most of free wifi to read up about your destination and check where the ATMs, taxi rank and local transit options are at your arrival airport. Save a picture of any important information like maps and timetables to your phone or tablet so you have it easily to hand at the other end of your journey.

On the plane

13. Make your seat as spacious as possible

Stow your hand luggage in the overhead locker if possible – this will give you much more room to stretch out when in your seat. Keep objects in your seat pocket to a minimum for the same reason. Your bottle of water, facial spritz and a magazine, tablet or e-reader should be all you need to keep to hand – the rest can go overhead.

14. Drink plenty of water

Stay hydrated to keep discomfort from cabin air to a minimum. By all means get your flight off to a relaxing start with a glass of wine, but remember that alcohol, caffeine and sugary soft drinks can be dehydrating. Sipping water, juice or herbal teas throughout the flight will help you stay fresh – a spritz of water or a drop of moisturiser will help your face and hands stay comfortable too.

15. Keep moving

Keeping mobile will help with circulation and stop you from going numb after hours sat down. Give your legs a shake by taking a stroll up and down from time to time (but not during trolley service or the post-lunch toilet rush, when the aisles will be in heavy use).

Find a space between seating sections or in the galley for some quiet stretches. You don't need to do a full-on yoga routine, but some simple extensions and rotations for your legs, neck and shoulders will leave you feeling much fresher.

16. Stay rested

Rest up (and start getting used to your destination's time zone) by taking a nap between meal services. Overnight flights will dim the lights at a certain time to help you drift off, but it can be beneficial to get some sleep even when flying through the daytime. Pop your sleep mask on and your shoes off, and snuggle into a comfy travel pillow for the most restful in-flight nap experience.