As we enter a new year, we have a lot of big travel across oceans to look forward to, but with exciting travel often comes long flights. And if you’re deterred by transcontinental travel due to fear alone, these long-haul flight tips are for you.
1. Book flights with layovers
I’m usually of the mindset that I want to get to my destination in as quick a time as possible, but if you’re flying somewhere far, far away—and are someone uncomfortable with multiple back-to-back long legs—you may consider breaking up the trip and choosing a route with a long layover that gives you enough time to stretch your legs, get a bite to eat and reset. In some cases, you may even want to opt for a flight that includes an overnight layover so you can get restful sleep at an airport hotel.
Those long-haul flights to Asia, in particular, can start to feel claustrophobic when you get into 16-hour legs, and I feel like when there’s the option to break that up, I will absolutely take it.
2. Consider upgrading to economy premium or business class
A general rule of thumb of flying is “book the class you want to fly.” Sounds simple, right? Sure—except when the class you want to fly costs $5,000.
For our upcoming long-haul flights, I’ve sprung for premium economy, which is significantly cheaper than business class by thousands of dollars but gives me more legroom and a deeper recline. I know this will at the very least be a more comfortable 16-hour stretch than if I were to be crammed into the very back of the plane.
From there, when possible, I use miles (or cash if it’s cheap enough) to upgrade to business on my longest leg closer to the flight departure. The trade-off is you’re often waitlisted, and fliers with airline loyalty get highest priority; the pay-off is that the upgrade price can be much cheaper than paying for business outright, particularly if you’re using points or frequent flier miles.
One thing to remember is you can generally only upgrade a class, so if you book the cheapest ticket available (usually Basic Economy), that will only enable you to upgrade to Main Cabin. In other words, you can’t leap-frog from the cheapest fare to business class.
Related Post: The Easiest Way to Get the Southwest Companion Pass
3. Pick your seat strategically
You better believe I don’t book a seat without mulling over the configuration, the legroom and more. Often before purchasing any long-haul flight, I search the seat configuration on SeatGuru to see where I can get the most comfortable seat for the least amount of money.
And now, thanks to TikToker Zachary Abel, I have the Legrooms for Google Flights extension on Chrome that also allows me to filter all searches by the flights with the most legroom. A definite game-changer for all you tall folks out there.
4. Be strategic with credit cards
One of the greatest perks of playing the travel credit card game is the fact that I can use credit cards for upgrades, lounge access and to offset fees like bag charges. On our recent trip to Turks, we were stuck on a long layover in Miami each way, and the three of us ate and drank the annual fee I pay on my AmEx card in the Centurion Lounge—it was the fifth time I’ve used the AmEx lounges for meals since opening my Platinum card last summer.
Looking for the best credit cards for lounge access? Here are my favorites:
Related Post: Travel Hacking for Beginners: The Best Travel Credit Cards
5. Have a back-up plan
It’s just common sense: The further you travel, the more legs you take, the more likely it is you’ll have a delay or flight cancellation. The best thing you can do is be prepared; it will take a bit of the sting out of your plans being interrupted. This could include knowing your options like what kind of trip interruption your credit card company offers—in many cases, they’ll refund you for the trouble after you’re returned from your trip and filed a claim—or having a game plan should you need to find somewhere to stay overnight in a pinch.
6. Pack necessities—and layers—in your carryon
At the bare minimum, you should have a change of clothes, underwear, toothbrush, any medication, and a jacket in your carryon or personal item. That way, if you find yourself stuck in a hotel overnight and your bag is somewhere over the Atlantic (or stuck in the cargo hold), you’ve at least got something clean to change into. I also always pack a sweatshirt or jacket and a scarf that can be used as a blanket (or pillow) should my flight not provide those basic amenities.
7. In fact, ditch the checked bag entirely
The best way to ensure you don’t lose your luggage? Don’t check a bag! Ever. And especially in this travel climate.
8. And pack snacks, always
On many of your shorter flights that may be connected to long-haul flight routes, you won’t get anything more than a cup of water and maybe a soda. And in many of my experiences, airport restaurants and even convenient shops are closing down early, so if you find yourself stranded—or a delayed flight turned into a tight connection turned into you not getting to eat at the airport—you’re SOL when it comes to food.
I always keep packaged snacks in my carryon, as well as a Swell bottle I can refill at the airport’s water stations—staying hydrated while flying is equally important. Snacks should be non-perishable, non-melting and non-smelly (consider your fellow passengers here), like granola bars, pretzels or trail mix.
9. Bring some sort of sleep aid
This is obviously personal preference, but as a chronic insomniac, a sleep aid is necessary if I’m going to get any sleep in a cramped cabin full of strangers—be it Melatonin or something stronger like Ambien. Whichever route you choose, just make sure you try the sleep aid out before you fly should you have any adverse reactions.
10. Use noise-canceling headphones to block out unwanted sound
SVV talked me into upgrading from my AirPods to Sennheiser wireless headphones that are basically like pillows for my ears and have insane noise-canceling capabilities. I’ve been wearing them around the house for the past couple months as I video-edit or listen to audiobooks, and they block out so much noise, in fact, that I never hear my stealth husband when he creeps into the room. I was extra thankful for these after we were stuck next to a baby who screamed all the way from Nashville to Houston last week.
11. Wear comfortable shoes that you can slip on and off
I’m always baffled when I see travelers taking long-haul flights in jeans and/or anything but what could qualify as orthopedic shoes. Why on Earth would you not want to be as comfortable as possible when sitting in the same seat for hours on end? I’ve switched entirely to flying in tennis shoes—for the past two years, these sub-$100, slip-on Adidas tennis shoes have been my travel shoes of choice—and ones that slip on and off without needing to lace them up for the inevitable middle-of-the-night trips to the lavatory (because walking around a plane bare-socked? ew).
Additionally, my flight attendant friends swear by compression socks, which I’m testing out on my next transatlantic flight.
What are your top long-haul flight tips?
All great tips I’ve learned the hard way too over the past decades. Still not in a carry on for my month-long trips, too many contingencies and climates to plan for! I was skeptical about compression socks for a long time, but started using them about 3 years ago and now swear by them. I use them for planes, road trips, long days of traveling and even long days at my desk when I know I am not going to be able to move around as much as I want. They are a game changer for me.
Oooh good to know! Just got my first pair for Christmas.
And I totally get it about the carry-on plight. A month is a LONG time. I’m doing just a carry on for my 16 days in Africa this spring and am already nervous.
Some good tips! Especially the snacks- I always forget to pack them and end up paying eye watering prices in departures!
I like the idea of wearing slip on shoes but most of my long haul trips involve hiking as some stage so I need to bring hiking boots which I end up wearing on the plane so they don’t take up space in my luggage. They are annoyingly clumpy for a flight though!
Or on a flight that has turbulence and they don’t serve a dang thing, then you’re left starving for hours! Been there too many times.
Good point about the hiking boots. The few times I’ve done cold-weather trips the last few years (ski trips, winter in Iceland), I’ve worn my snow boots on the plane to save space in my carry on, and dang my feet were SWEATING.