We know that the hardest parts of a long-haul holiday are the flights, so we asked seasoned travel writers and flight attendants to share their tips for comfortable long-haul flying. Follow their advice and you’ll be relaxed and refreshed before your holiday has even begun.
Consider a stopover
If you’re travelling to a really long-haul destination, such as Australia or New Zealand, you’ll relish a break to the journey. As well as being able to stretch your legs, you’ll get a chance to experience another wonderful culture on the way – Hong Kong, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur or Bangkok, anyone?
Book a good seat
Before the online check-in for your flight opens, check out SeatGuru, this recommends the best seat numbers on each type of aircraft. While the preferable seats are often at the front of each section, just behind the bulkheads, they are also where parents with young babies are seated. You might find the rear of the plane quieter. And, if you don’t want to be disturbed, book a window seat; if you want to move around, choose an aisle seat.
Chill before take-off
Don’t think you’ll be able to run yourself ragged before a long-haul flight, collapse onto it exhausted and sleep all the way to your destination. Sarah Rafferty, flight attendant for a major international airline says: “Long-haul flying is better tackled when rested, calm and relaxed, so try to have a quiet day before you fly.”
You don’t want to be shlepping heavy carry-on cases on to the plane either. Bulky hand luggage can be a faff on long-haul flights, so just pack the essentials for a comfortable flight: loose-fitting clothes to change into (even pyjamas!); eye shades; earplugs or noise-reducing headphones; toiletries for freshening up; a pillow and a warm blanket - air conditioning can be fierce. Sarah recommends a luxurious cashmere wrap: “I see it as an investment – it’s warm, lightweight and has lots of uses when I get to my destination.”
Adapt to your destination time to minimise jet lag
As soon as you get onto the plane, adjust your watch to your destination time and adapt your routine. Keep active during daytime hours at your destination. When it’s bedtime, use ‘sleep cues’ - change into sleepwear, brush your teeth and snuggle down into pillows and blankets. These may be enough to let you drift off, or at least rest at the appropriate time.
One seasoned long-haul traveller actually recommends that you sleep as much as you can: “The only way to enjoy a long-haul flight and feel OK when you get there is to sleep for as much of it as possible… no reading, no movies, no meals, no nothing.” While most of us would find this advice too hardcore, it is possible to instil restfulness by making a cosy den and relaxing with eyeshades and headphones. Travel writer Fiona Harper does wonders with a large black cotton sarong: “It’s my secret weapon for surviving long-haul flights. I’ve even attached it to the seat in front, creating a sort of privacy tent.”
Sitting in a plane seat for hours, however, can increase your risk of developing deep vein thrombosis, so get up and move around the aircraft every few hours. Perform leg exercises in your seat and even an in-flight yoga workout to keep your blood moving.
Watch what you eat and drink
When you fly, especially long haul, gases in your digestive system expand due to low pressure in the aircraft, causing uncomfortable bloating. Before you fly, eat light, easily-digestible foods such as fish, nuts and rice, rather than heavy, fatty meals. Nutritionist Abby Lang tells us to avoid fizzy drinks as they put more gas into our systems. “Fennel tea is awesome for intestinal gas and bloating, so you can bring some fennel tea bags with you and just add hot water on the flight,” she advises.
It might be tempting to celebrate the start of your holiday with a few G&Ts on the plane, but alcohol is a diuretic, dehydrating the body, as does flying. Combine the two and you’ll make more trips to the aircraft toilet queue and experience unpleasant hangover-like symptoms. Better to stay hydrated during the flight with plenty of still water and the occasional alcoholic drink if you’re feeling deprived.
How often do you get the chance to do absolutely nothing for upwards of seven hours? If you view a long-haul flight as ‘me time’, it will seem much less gruelling. You could use it to practice meditation, read that engrossing thriller, binge-watch a box set or write your blog. Relax into your long-haul journey and the time will fly by.