How To Make Long Flights More Comfortable (Step-by-Step)

A Boeing 747-400 on the ramp at Amsterdam Schipol Airport

Qantas, Perth to London Heathrow: 17 hours and 15 minutes. Air New Zealand, Auckland to New York JFK: 17 hours and 50 minutes. Singapore Airlines, Singapore to New York JFK: 18 hours and 50 minutes.

Yes, those are nonstop flights, and those times don’t include boarding, deplaning, and everything else on either side. So, if you’re soon planning on spending just a few hours flying across the country or to the other side of the pond, know this – surviving a long-haul flight is possible, to extremes you may not have even known existed!

Flying long-haul doesn’t have to be miserable for whatever duration you decide fits in that category. I have an unpopular opinion – I love it.

I am happy to seek out interesting routes, thrives on long layovers, and like to check various international flights off my bucket list.

I am also someone with a wife who does NOT enjoy any of that (some would call her normal), is somewhat afraid of flying, and is also obsessed with travel. We make it work quite well – and for that reason, I am confident in providing long-haul flight tips.

Below, we’ll look at what you can do to prepare for long-haul flights and how to make long flights more comfortable on the ride. With any luck, you’ll arrive ready to explore and make the most of your trip!

Prepare for a Long-Haul Flight In Advance

1. Book Your Flights Carefully

Momondo search for flights with different inclusions such as bags and wifi
Momondo / Momondo

Among the top-tier tips for long flights is to take action before you even book it – by booking the right one! The airline you select, and even the aircraft that they use to operate the route, can have a considerable impact on how comfortable you are during the journey.

However, you may need to be familiar with what’s offered on which airlines and you may come across some carriers that you’ve never even heard of. When you use sites like Momondo, you’ll get a snapshot of some basic comforts and inclusions to expect.

Look at the screenshot of a search above – Norse Atlantic Airways’ flight doesn’t even include a carry-on bag (pah!), while the United flight offers one of those plus wifi.

Google Flights does a great job with this, too, as it points out whether the aircraft has an in-flight entertainment system or if you can at least stream movies to your device.

Skyscanner puts a handy one-click filter at the top to see the fastest possible flights first. All of these sites, along with one of our favorite tools, Going (formerly Scott’s Cheap Flights), can make sure you get you a fantastic deal as well.

See Related: How to Use Momondo to Find Cheap Flights

2. Select the Right Seat

American Airlines First Class Flight Seat
Kim Magaraci / ViaTravelers

Another key component to surviving long flights is to get a good seat. The easy solution is to fly first class, where there is no bad seat!

That’s an unrealistic addition to the trip budget for most of us. Extra legroom upgrades can be more feasible, or you can strategically choose from the standard options:

  • Window: Choose a window seat if you plan to sleep during the flight, as you can rest your head on the wall. Window seats can also be a good choice for nervous fliers who want to be able to see outside.
  • Middle: Well… we’re not going to pretend that anyone wants to choose a middle seat, right? Do NOT select one of these for comfort! On the flip side, shoutout to all the moms, dads, girlfriends, boyfriends, wives, and husbands who take one for the team and sit in the middle for their travel partner(s).
  • Aisle: While less comfortable for sleeping, an aisle seat gives easy access to anyone who expects multiple bathroom breaks, will need to be in and out of the overhead bins, or plans to stand up and stretch every so often. They tend to be better for those with longer legs.

I take it further and research the airline and aircraft on SeatGuru before selecting my seat. On the airline’s own seat map, you often can’t tell if there’s a bulkhead, limited reclining space, an electronics box in your foot space, an armrest tray table, or other annoying aspect of your seat, but SeatGuru will give you that information.

Finally, I always try to make my seat assignment in an area with the fewest other passengers. You can also take a gamble if flying with a partner by selecting an aisle and window seat that currently has an empty seat between them, as others may be deterred from choosing that one.

3. Order Your Supplies

Kim Magaraci, managing editor at ViaTravelers, on a plane with noise-canceling headphones
Kim Magaraci / ViaTravelers

Hopefully, you’re booking with enough time to pick up some all-important long-haul flight supplies if you don’t already have them. You don’t want to be without some of these for the entire flight:

  • Noise-canceling headphones: Airplanes are generally loud, but crying babies and coughing adults are even louder – my wife’s Soundcore Anker Life Q20 does the trick for even the longest of flights and seriously helps her flight anxiety.
  • Sleeping accessories: An eye mask is necessary even when they turn off the cabin lights, and airline pillows and blankets just never do the trick (and they’re often not free). Don’t skimp on yours, either, as it almost makes it worse. The Lewis N. Clark Comfort Set has it all, and they also make a great neck pillow if you prefer that style.
  • Medications: I don’t travel without a small container of Tylenol in case of miserable migraines or muscle aches. Sleep aids, like melatonin, can also be great for getting to sleep.
  • Safety items: Be careful because thefts do happen at the airport and even on planes. Lock up your stuff with a zipper lock and keep your passport and other valuables in an easy-to-hold case for peace of mind for the whole journey.
  • A good (large) water bottle: You must stay hydrated on flights to be comfortable and combat jet lag. Airport water is super expensive, but there are often fill stations in the gate area, so bring a Hydro Flask or two.

These are just a few of the big ones, and there are many more accessories to make sure you have an enjoyable flight – a good book or magazine, your favorite snacks, any necessary chargers, and some moisturizer and lip balm are all great to have if they apply to you. Don’t wait to order until the last minute!

4. Pack Strategically & Dress Comfortably

Traveler using Peak Design Travel Duffel as pillow
James Oliver / ViaTravelers

Now that you have everything you need, it’s time to make sure you can actually enjoy it all. There’s no sense in having the world’s best travel pillow if you’re wearing the world’s most uncomfortable jeans, and there’s no reason to bring a great book if it’s buried in your hand luggage.

There’s no reason to dress for prom to get on a plane. Wear what you’re most comfortable in, whether plain white T-shirt and sweatpants or shorts and a tank top. You may also get cold or hot, so it’s not a bad idea to have a warm layer to put on or take off after takeoff.

Make any additional layers, alternative footwear, and other in-flight necessities easy to reach when needed. No one wants to unpack their underwear from their carry-on in the middle of the aisle to find their eye mask. Keep the most essential items in your under-seat bag – that will be easiest to reach and the least likely to be gate-checked on very full flights.

See Related: The Ultimate Vacation Packing List (+ Printable PDF)

Keeping Comfortable While on Long-Haul Flights

5. Stay Hydrated & Eat with Caution

Seabass in KLM Business Class
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Finally, we’re on the airplane, ready to use all that preparation! First, it’s imperative to stay hydrated for these next hours. Many people stop drinking water when on a plane, whether it’s because they don’t want to use the lavatory or simply because the plane’s atmosphere makes them forget about it.

But getting dehydrated is never okay, and you’ll arrive feeling much worse. Besides keeping that Hydro Flask you ordered close and full, avoid ordering alcoholic beverages. They will certainly dehydrate you, and the alcohol will be more potent at higher altitudes.

If you have a sensitive stomach, consider bringing a bit of your food or at least a snack. Airplane food is not exactly known for its quality, and there are few things less pleasant than sitting with indigestion (or other symptoms) around hundreds of people for ten hours with nowhere to go. A travel pack of Tums (or other antacids) is your friend in this situation, too.

6. Stretch & Move Around

Passengers are sitting in armchairs of the aircraft during the flight, the view from the back of tourists flying into a vacation trip travel, airplane inside interior
icemanphotos / Adobe Stock

One way to be comfortable when sitting in a seat for many hours is to get up out of that seat. Do it every hour, every two hours, or however often you’d like, as long as the seatbelt sign is off. Flight attendants generally don’t mind if you want to walk around and stretch when they aren’t doing service.

You can walk the aisles, touch your toes in the galley, and move your muscles as possible. While seated, you can twist your ankles in circles, roll your neck, extend your legs, and do other exercises. Not only will this keep your body from getting sore, but it will also prevent clots and deep vein thrombosis, which can be deadly.

That said, travelers who are overweight, older, or not in great health should take extra care to do all this. Compression socks can also prevent those emergencies – just ask leading expert and founder of ViaTravelers, Kyle, who was even interviewed by CNN about it!

7. Set Yourself Up for Quality Sleep

KLM Toiletries with Rituals Bag
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Some people claim that they can’t sleep on flights under any circumstances, while others seem blessed with the ability to pass out while standing up. I’m somewhere in between, and I’ve found methods to ensure I can get some rest, even in the economy.

For one, keep your sleep kit close. I can’t count the number of times I’ve successfully passed out before takeoff WITHOUT my eye mask on or pillow around my neck, just to be woken up by some announcement minutes later – and then never be able to go back to sleep.

You want to fall asleep and stay asleep, so put your accessories on as soon as you think you’re ready for that to avoid the disappointment of losing your tiredness.

Use the wall when seated by the window – consider cleaning it with some hand sanitizer if that grosses you out. After takeoff, you can also move your under-seat bag back and use that space to stretch your legs as far as possible. Finally, reclining is okay, in my opinion, as long as you do it slowly and respectfully.

See Related: How to Pack Formula for Air Travel [Step by Step Guide]

8. Stay Entertained

The seatback entertainment screen on a Lufthansa 747 showing the landing gear camera on approach to the runway
Woodrow Matthews / ViaTravelers

But sleep isn’t always possible. That doesn’t mean you need to stare at the tray table in front of you for the next half-day. Most long-haul airlines have seatback screens to watch movies and shows, play games, or even see the view from the cameras on the plane’s tail, landing gear, and belly.

In-flight entertainment is so important nowadays, and I don’t know how we’d survive long flights without it. When using the aforementioned Skyscanner, Momondo, or Google Flights, seek out airlines with this, or at least the option to stream content to your device (like Hawaiian and Southwest Airlines). Again, for those, noise-canceling headphones are ideal.

Download some games or other media on your phone, or have a book or e-reader, as you may run out of interesting movies to watch.

Nowadays, it’s even common for planes to be equipped with wifi, and you can get basic work done up in the sky. Trust me, writing articles at 35,000 feet is one way I’ve tried and tested to make time fly by.

Dealing with Flight Anxiety

The economy cabin of a Lufthansa 747-8i aircraft
Woodrow Matthews / ViaTravelers

Lastly, let’s address something that millions of people around the world deal with: flight anxiety. There’s no reason to be embarrassed or ashamed of a fear of flying. As I said, my wife is a very nervous flier, yet she will not let that stop her from checking places off her bucket list – and getting there by plane.

There are a number of things to do and remember before and during your flight if you tend to get nervous. Your travel companions can help with some of these as well. Here is what’s worked for us over the years:

  • Let a flight attendant know during boarding. Most of them are in this line of work because they like people and want to ensure you have a nice travel experience. They can offer you extra attention, check in on you, and maybe even snag you a better seat if one is available.
  • Bring some medication or sleep supplements. As mentioned, melatonin is a natural one that can help you relax and go to bed. But your doctor may be able to prescribe you something else if you are afraid of a serious panic attack.
  • Decide whether window or aisle is better for you. Window lets you look outside and perhaps sleep better, while the aisle allows you to walk around and get to the bathroom quickly if necessary.
  • Remember to trust the equipment and the processes. Aviation is one of the safest creations of humans. Every system on that airplane has multiple redundancies – meaning if one thing goes wrong, many other things are completely separate to make it right. Turbulence is so normal that it would be strange if a flight didn’t have any. You are one of the finest pieces of engineering in the world, with some of the most intensely trained professionals operating it.
  • Use tricks to take your mind off the flight. Listen to music, close your eyes and think of your absolute favorite place in the world, plan your next trip, and take deep breaths that you count out in your head. All of this is great for distracting and calming yourself.

Also, try not to look at the clock or the part of the screen with the flight time remaining. Make a rule that you won’t check those until after your nap, snack, or some other checkpoint. Before you know it, you’ll be on the ground thinking, “That wasn’t so bad after all.”

See Related: Ways to Get Free Flights and Airfare

FAQ

What items should I bring to be comfortable on a long flight?

Long-haul flight essentials include your favorite snacks, plenty of water, a good set of headphones, a book or magazine, and basic medications like painkillers (in case of a migraine, for example). Sleeping supplies like eye masks, pillows, and blankets are imperative for anyone who wants to close their eyes meaningfully in the air.

How can I sleep comfortably on a long flight?

To get some decent sleep and combat the jet lag that comes with long-haul flights, it’s essential to wear comfortable clothes. Avoid choosing a middle seat (window is best to rest your head), and don’t drink caffeine before boarding. Bring sleep supplies like an eye mask, travel pillow, and blanket – they will do wonders to help you fall asleep; having a sleeping pill isn’t a bad idea for worst-case scenarios.

What exercises can I do to prevent stiffness during a long flight?

While in your seat, you can simply rotate your ankles and wrists, straighten out your legs, roll your neck, and lift your knees, among other simple body movements to keep blood flowing. As long as the seat belt sign is off (don’t be that guy/gal), flight attendants are usually happy to let you use the galley to touch your toes, stretch your calves, rotate your back, and otherwise move around. These, along with compression socks, are highly effective at preventing deep vein thrombosis – blood clots that can be deadly!

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Woodrow Matthews
WRITTEN BY

Woodrow Matthews

Woodrow is a travel writer who enjoys sharing experiences, tips, and tricks from his vacations. He’s been to 40+ countries, all 50 US states plus Puerto Rico and the USVI, and lived for several years in France, from which he explored many parts of Europe. Woodrow is an expert in travel hacking, finding bargain flights, and coined the term "upgrade engineering" referring to his talent to upgrade simple hotel room bookings into suite stays. Woodrow loves scuba diving, hiking, beaches, and all things aviation.