7 Tips to Survive a Long Haul Flight in Economy

It can be challenging to take a long haul flight in economy class. Leg space can be limited, and you can’t fully recline your seat. Some people find it the least enjoyable part of their holiday, especially when flying from the United States or Europe all the way to Southeast Asia or Australia.

You can, of course, upgrade and fly in business class, where you can get a lot of extra space and the luxury of being able to properly recline your seat. However, for most of us, business class fares can cost as much as (or more than) our entire vacation budget, and are out of the question.

So if you have a long haul flight soon, try these tips on how to enjoy your time down at the back of the plane.

1. Find out what strategy works for you

If you’ve flown long haul a few times, you may already
have a preference for what flights you prefer.

For instance, what time of day do you prefer to fly? Some
people prefer to fly overnight, trying to sleep away the flight. Other people
prefer a daytime flight, enjoying the chance to catch up on back-to-back

What about if there’s a stopover along the way? Some people want to stay overnight in a hotel, to break up the journey and have a decent rest (often in combination with daytime flights). On the other hand, you may be one of those people that are keen to get to their final destination as quickly as possible.

Reflect back on previous flights you’ve taken and consider what you’ve preferred. If something has worked well for you, and made the long flight more bearable, try and book a similar long haul flight this time, even if you need to pay slightly more. This is especially important if you are flying with children or flying with your dog.

It pays to choose your seat on a long haul flight.

2. Pay extra to choose your seat

If you’re trying to save money on your
flights, it’s tempting to not pay anything extra to choose your seat, a
requirement on many airlines these days. However, this is a bad move when
flying long haul.

You probably have a preference for what seat
you prefer, and this is especially important on long flights. The world is
split between flyers that prefer a window seat (with the chance to sleep
against it, without being disturbed) and those who prefer to sit next to the
aisle (handy for stretching your legs during a long flight).

To ensure you don’t spend eight hours or more on a flight squished into the middle seat, paying the cost of a meal to pick your seat is a small price to pay to help you survive a long flight.

3. Research your long haul flight in advance

When flying some airlines, as well as being able to
choose your seat online in advance, you can also find out about the planned
meals and the movies currently being shown on flights, whether for a cost or
included in the fare.

This will answer your question of whether one or two meals are being served, and help you decide whether to eat before the flight (and whether you should take some snacks). You may also find out that you’ll finally catch that movie you’ve been meaning to watch — something to look forward to and make the long haul flight more enjoyable!

However, don’t always count on enjoying the included entertainment on the flight. Screens can sometimes be broken. It always pays to have a back-up option, such as a good book (or bring a Kindle!). You’ll be thankful after a long flight with nothing else to pass the time.

airplane food
Find out what the airline is providing you.

4. Sleep on overnight flights

The best way to pass the time on overnight flights is
to try and sleep for part of it. This will also help ensure that you arrive
refreshed at your destination. It’s a lot harder to sleep on a flight when
you’re in economy class, rather than enjoying a lay-flat bed in business class,
but it still is worth the effort.

If you already know that you find it hard to sleep on flights, plan ahead and take along things to help you sleep. Earplugs and an eye mask are long haul flight essentials, as well as a thick scarf that you can use as a blanket (here’s why you shouldn’t use the blankets in planes).

Most pharmacies can also sell you products to help you sleep. Often these are enough to nudge you towards getting some shut-eye, or at least spend the long flight dozing on and off. 

5. Change your time zone when you board

To help adjust to the time zone of your destination,
if you’re flying long haul across multiple time zones, it’s best to start that
adjustment earlier rather than later.

After you board the flight and you’re waiting for
departure, change the time of your watch and phone. If it’s a single flight,
change the time to the time at your destination. If you’re flying multiple
legs, change the time on each leg.

Changing your time zone early will help to start syncing your eating and sleeping habits as soon as possible, instead of an abrupt adjustment when you arrive at your destination.

arriving in yerevan armenia airport
Time your arrival well.

6. Arrive at your final destination in the evening

Even if you manage to sleep when flying in economy,
there’s still one type of flight that it’s best to avoid: those overnight
flights that arrive at your final destination first thing in the morning,
especially after a change of multiple time zones.

If you arrive first thing in the morning, often you’re
not yet able to check into your hotel to either have a nap or a shower. Then
you’ve got to get through the whole day without falling asleep, not ideal when
you’re trying to sightsee in a foreign country.

It’s better to time your final flight to arrive in the late afternoon or the evening. At least then you can be certain you can immediately check into your accommodation. And if you want, you can go straight to bed, trying to sync up your body clock with the new time zone by having a full night’s sleep.

7. Avoid short overnight flights on full-service airlines

One final tip for flights in economy: if you’re taking
a short overnight flight (around seven to eight hours), it’s usually better to
fly with a budget airline rather than a full-service airline.

This is because when the flight takes off on a budget
airline, you can immediately start trying to get some sleep. On the other hand,
if you’re flying on a full-service airline, they will soon be doing the drink
service and then the dinner service, despite the late hour, making it difficult
to sleep.

Not to mention they generally turn the cabin lights on
two hours before arrival, due to the breakfast service, usually at a very early
time of the morning. The lights are generally switched off for no more than
four hours, sometimes even less.

While the seats may not be as comfortable on budget airlines, the lack of disturbance in the cabin can make for a better chance at sleeping. Then spend the dollars that you’ve saved on a nice meal before your flight departs.

All photos by Aleah Taboclaon. Text by Shandos Cleaver.

Have you been on a long haul flight? What other tips can your share?

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