I just returned from my sixth trip to South Africa, which is an amazing country but one that requires a long flight from the US. From the Midwest where I live, travel can include a two-hour bus ride, a flight to DC or Atlanta, and then the flight to Johannesburg. The flight to Joburg is about 15 hours from the ATL on Delta and longer from DC or NYC because of refueling stops.
While the challenges of getting there are always worth it, long-haul flights are exhausting. I thought about this quite a bit on my flight home this time, mostly because on the way over to SA, my partner and I had the luck to have an open seat in between our window and aisle seats. While it was a dream on the way over, that taste of sweetness made the flight home (which was lacking that empty middle seat) more bitter… but I am always trying to find new ways to make these flights more comfortable and less stressful. So here are my top ten ways to make the long-haul flight more comfortable.
Water, water, water (and saline nose spray).
File this under: Planes (and hotels, etc.) are really dry. I can’t stress enough to stay hydrated. This may mean cutting out alcohol or salty foods the day of travel and/or perhaps carrying your own refillable water bottle. It may also mean using the lav more often but do not let this stop you! Being dehydrated is not fun (or healthy). I actually tend to get nosebleeds on long flights. Saline spray helps with this tremendously. And a handkerchief or tissue packs are a good idea as well.
Bring antibacterial wipes.
For your hands, to be sure, but also to wipe down your tray table, armrests, seat, etc. While aircraft do get cleaned, they probably don’t get the good deep cleaning that I want in order to feel comfortable eating, drinking, and sleeping for 15 hours.
Bring your own snacks.
The snacks at the airport are overpriced and you can never guarantee that you’ll find something you like to snack on during a long flight. And I don’t depend on the in-flight meals anymore because while Delta’s are usually pretty good, you just never know and what’s worse for your trip than getting hangry?? So stop at Target and get your favorite snacks (not too salty and with protein and fiber to keep you energized and full) before you fly. My favorites are trail mixes and protein bars.
Bring the right pillow and a seat pad.
Perhaps you are someone who can sleep anywhere but alas, I am not so lucky. I bring a travel pillow as well as my trusty seat pad. Don’t think twice about spending a little extra on the right pillow (I don’t dig those inflatable ones, for instance) or about the space it may take up. In my opinion, it is worth it. A pillow with a snappable strap can help to attach it to your carry-on during transit. The one I have even includes a built-in pocket for my phone. My favorite seat cushion is the Therm-A-Rest LiteSeat which you can inflate to your preference but that rolls up nice and small when not in use. Totally worth it.
Bring things to do.
Of course! Bring your phone, Kindle, a paperback, etc. depending on your preference, carry-on, and destination. And bring your own earbuds or headphones because the ones the airline gives you won’t be great (or even good).
Layer your clothes.
Running around the airport can be a sweaty, stressful ordeal at times but in hour ten of that flight when you are trying to sleep, it can get cold and that little tissue of a blanket most airlines provide doesn’t always cut it. I tend to wear loose-fitting clothes with some give; often the ones I wear hiking which breathe well. I go for pants with no belt and a zippered sweatshirt with a hood that can double as a blanket or rolled-up backrest. Oh and for goodness’ sake, WEAR SOCKS. I don’t know how many times I see people on planes and in the security line who are barefoot. Sorry ya’ll, but this is gross. That’s not water on the floor of the lav, folks. I wear wool socks to keep my pigs cozy the whole flight through.
Wear glasses? Bring your case.
I often wear contacts when I am away, but on flights, I always wear my glasses. I am sure to bring a hard case for them now because I can take them off for when I sleep and stick the case in the seatback pocket. This way I don’t misplace them and they stay safe and clean. I also put my lip balm (because: dry) and earbuds in the case for easy access.
Stick to your schedule.
Before and during long-haul travel, I try to stick to my normal schedule as much as possible. This includes when I sleep, when I take any vitamins or medications, and when I eat. As little disruption as possible will minimize jet lag.
This goes hand-in-hand with #8. It’s easy to indulge in more food and drink or to sacrifice sleep when on holiday. This can lead to illness, stomach woes, or worse. Again, stick to your regular schedule as much as you can and bring some Tums or similar so you can enjoy the local cuisine while at your destination.
Consider springing for the upgraded seat.
Now, I am not talking about first-class (but if you can afford it, go for it!), I am just referring to the trend of airlines offering special seats in economy for an additional fee. Delta has its Comfort Economy Plus, for instance, that offers a few inches of extra legroom which I find totally worth it. You might find a good return for an extra $50 or even $200 investment if it provides a bit more comfort.
Ever get that not-so-fresh feeling?? Ha, don’t lie! We all do, especially on a long flight, so do yourselves a favor and bring some sanitary wipes to use during and after your flight. ‘Nuff said.
This article was originally published May of 2016 on the travel site GlobalETA. It does not include affiliate links.