In for the long haul

How to: survive a long-haul flight

Are your legs dreading those cramped hours, dampening your holiday excitement? has some tips.


We would all love to be this guy.

But flying for most of us is more bobble-head sleeping techniques and plastic cutlery than padded recliners and on-demand meals. I won’t bore you with all the gruesome details, but I recently suffered through a (reasonably) long-haul flight where I was seated almost exactly in the middle of the plane – middle seat in the middle aisle in the middle cabin – (disaster!), the miniature, personal TV didn’t work (catastrophe!) and my next door neighbour was a gabby 86-year-old New Yorker who had just come off a cruise (nuclear meltdown!).

And I wasn’t prepared. At all. After I flicked through the on-board magazine for the fifth time, the pilot gracefully dropped us at our destination.

Never again, I said. And I’ve done my research since so the next time I board an aircraft I’m going to be ready for all possibilities.

Location, location, location

You can never start preparing too early…and it all starts with picking the right seat. Although a small fee is usually incurred now (thanks Michael O’Leary) for the choice, it can be worth it. To make sure you get value for your money, check out SeatGuru. The TripAdvisor app allows users to study seat maps for specific planes (and flights) to figure out if there is a power source, reclining seats, extra leg room or if the seats are in any way inconvenient, being too near the toilets and their accompanying smells for example. Its colour-coded system identifies superior and substandard locations in the cabin.

Liquidity problems

We’ve all added to this pile, right?

(Image: Robert F Bukaty/AP/Press Association Images)

Liquid restrictions for hand luggage have been in place for years now but some of us still think its an unnecessary evil and those ziplocs a waste of time and money. But it’s worth purchasing the €1 bags at the airport and placing your items in there to ensure you don’t lose that €70 bottle of perfume or have to go without brushing your teeth for the entire flight (remember, you need to be a considerate neighbour too).

Even better, why not have everything ready to go before you get there like our hero Amy Dianna here?

However, some airports require specific plastic bags bought on-site and do not allow freezer bags from the kitchen drawer so check before you travel.

Menu pages

Airplane food is notoriously average – it’s all part and parcel of travelling, the slight inconvenience before a holiday full of lavish meals. But if the gruel-like substances really turn your stomach, there are ways around it.

Most airlines offer specialist options at time of booking and because they have to prepare these dinners separately, they are often of better quality. So even if you’re not a veggie or not allergic to certain things, opt for the special option anyway as it’s usually better than the standard fare – and it comes first.

Try to avoid excess alcohol or caffeinated drinks while in the air and if you’re trying to eat healthily, consider bringing your own food on board.

Too posh to push?

Airplane seats recline for a reason so don’t feel bad about gently squeezing that lever and leaning back but there is a time and a place. Make sure you bring the seat back up for meal times and afterwards, check that the passenger behind you has finished eating and given the tray back. No need to make enemies who you’ll later have to see while queuing for passport control, luggage and taxis.

For extra comfort – particularly on really long flights – invest in a travel pillow to avoid that head-bobbing motion.

Avoid cankles

You know, when you can’t tell the difference between your calf and ankle because your leg is swollen? There are three simple solutions for this. First, wear a pair of flight socks. Yes, they are unattractive but, really, are we really going to impress anyone on a 747?

Secondly, pay attention to the in-flight exercise video. A few stretches will keep your body fit, your blood circulating properly and reduce fatigue.

Finally, move around a bit. About half-way through the flight, take a few strolls up and down the aisle and there should be room down the back of the plane for some simple exercises. Advanced fliers can try and time this with their toilet break for extra stream-lined flying.

(Image: Ian Nicholson/PA Archive/Press Association Images)

Other bodily issues can occur because of the dry air so drink plenty of water to keep hydrated. Drops are a handy item to carry on to refresh your eyes if they get dry, while lip balm is essential to avoid crusty lips. All travel size, obviously.

Let me, entertain me

It's a fine line...bringing too much stuff which will cramp your leg room and being bored, in need of stimulation. The in-flight entertainment systems are getting increasingly unreliable so ensure you include something that can keep you busy in your hand luggage. And bring your own head phones too - the ones provided are more-often-than-not dodgy.

If you don't own an electronic reader, try to carry only paperpacks that will fit neatly in the pouch in front of you. Alternatively, have material downloaded to a tablet or smartphone. For example,'s app allows you to download a number of stories which you can save for later. Not a reader? Try video games, magazines (if ever there is an excuse for gossip magazines, it's a long-haul flight) or good old-fashioned puzzle books.

Take everything you may need from your bag before putting it in the overhead compartment to lessen the amount of rummaging. And if you do a little of everything - read, sleep, watch movies, listen to music and chat (a little) if invited to by the traveller next to you.

It could get worse

If Icelandic volcanoes have taught us anything, it's that flight schedules often don't go to plan. So prepare for that dreaded delay. This guy didn't and look how he ended up:

Make sure you have some cash in the currencies of both your departure and arrival countries as you could be delayed either side. Also ensure you bring appropriate clothing for either side - and for all levels of air conditioning. Layering, as always, is key for both convenient packing and personal comfort. A fully-charged mobile phone is also an essential.

Five items to invest in before a long-haul flight:

  • Noise-cancelling headphones
  • Compression socks
  • An iPod
  • Sleeping tablets
  • Sucky sweets (no idea if they work, but it's a tradition now)

One last thing - take off your watch before boarding. If you're not counting down the seconds, it won't seem as long.

Now all you have to do is beat the jet-lag. Happy flying!

Have you checked your passport lately?>

Going on holliers? Here’s how to get through an airport as quickly as possible>

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