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13 Ways to Survive a REALLY Long Flight – In the Cheap Seats!

Eye mask and ear plugs

It’d be nice if we could all (a) afford to fly in first or business class on long haul flights or (b) transport ourselves to our destinations like in Star Trek. Unfortunately, those options are either (a) unrealistic for most of us financially or (b) not realistic for any of us at this time. The reality is that most of us are stuffed in economy (and now, basic economy). Sure, it’s bad enough being in those tiny seats for even a few hours, but how do you keep your sanity in economy class on a really long flight – like more than 6 hours? I recently did a 17 hour flight (it was supposed to be 16 hours, but for a number of reasons it wasn’t and that last hour was the longest hour of my life). So, it got me thinking and I’ve put together a baker’s dozen of tips to help you make it through!

1. Check seat pitch and width on any airline you’re contemplating.

I listed this first since this may have been the sanity-saver for both my husband and me. We had the option of flying dirt cheap on Airline C, or about an average cost on Airline E. Both aircraft were similar, but not exact. Airline C had a seat pitch (distance between seats) of 32 inches, and seat width of 17 inches. Airline E also had a seat pitch of 32 inches, but a width of 18.3 inches. Yeah, an inch may not seem like a lot of room, but it’ll feel like a penthouse suite around hour 12 (not really, it’ll just feel marginally less uncomfortable). Airline E was totally worth the money, not just for the seats, but also for the really nice service. Where do you find seat pitch/width information? I found it on Seat Guru. You’ll need to know the type of aircraft you’ll be flying on, but the airline website usually lists that.

2. Try to get a row to yourself, or at least a seat in between.

Flights seem to be a lot more crowded so this may not always possible, but it’s worth a shot. I've found empty seats more frequently towards the back of the plane.

3. Upgrade.

If you can wangle one, or if you can use points or miles. It may be worth it on super long haul flights.

4. Noise canceling headphones, earplugs and eye masks are your friend.

We’ve all been on fights with someone sitting next to you snoring, a baby crying the entire flight, or both. We've also all been on flights where the person next to you is the only person on the flight who insists on having his or her reading light on the entire time. To reiterate - earphones, earplugs and eye masks are your friend.

Map with Eiffel Tower

5. Electronics and Other Entertainment.

Short haul flights (flights less than 6 hours) may have entertainment available for purchase, while most long haul flights still offer complimentary in flight entertainment; however, it may not always be to your liking or in your preferred language. I always take my tablet, mp3 player and phone, loading them with books, magazines, music, podcasts, anything to occupy my time. A lot of flights now have USB ports for your devices, so remember your cords. I also usually take a puzzle book, because, well, you never know when you might not be able to charge up……

6. Exercise.

If you can exercise the day of your flight, it may help you sleep on the flight . Another benefit of exercising on the day you fly out is that it’ll increase your blood flow, reducing the chance of getting DVT (deep vein thrombosis), which can be deadly. You can also do calf exercises in your seat to help reduce the chances of DVT. Remember to talk to your doctor if you're at risk of DVT.

7. Drink Up. Water, Not Alcohol or Caffeine.

The air at 35,000 is very dry at around 10% humidity. That low cabin humidity and high elevation contributes to your chances of getting the dreaded “airplane cold”. Hydrating will help reduce your chances of getting sick as well as the chances of leg cramping caused by dehydration. And apparently, studies have shown that drinking a little bit through the whole flight is better than chugging a lot before you get on the plane. To that end, you may want to bring a collapsible water bottle. It won’t take up much room and you can fill them at the airport. And, no need to dehydrate yourself further by drinking coffee, tea or a few cocktails midflight.

Besides, the water used for coffee and tea isn’t bottled watered. It comes from a tank in the plane. Since 2004, the Environmental Protection Agency has regulated water quality on airlines, but the problem of bacteria in airline water is persistent. Not only that, even though the water tanks get cleaned, there’s always some residual sediment. I couldn’t find any reports of people getting sick from consuming water from an airline tank….still…. yuck!

(On a somewhat less disgusting note: Because I get really dry, I also bring nasal saline spray to keep my nose hydrated. Keeping your schnoz hydrated doesn’t prevent you from getting sick, it just helps keep your system moving along which helps keeps you stronger in the end).

8. Bring Wipes.

Along the same line of keeping healthy is bringing your own bacterial wipes. I admit, I'm a bit of a germophobe, but does anyone really want to spend 10 hours on a plane with a sticky tray table? Wipes will make your life just a wee bit more comfy. In addition, cold and flu viruses can survive up to 72 hours on plastic surfaces. Do you really want to risk getting that “airplane cold” from your arm rest? I wipe down everything. Even the little lip on the window shade.… And don’t even get me started on what may be lurking on that inflight magazine…..

9. Bring Your Own. Food That Is.

Those of us who are relegated to coach uniformly complain about airline food and how bad it is. Ever wonder why? Well, that’s because at about 35,000 you lose your sense of taste. That, in combination with the low humidity, makes everything taste the same as if you have a cold – like nothing at all. So how do airlines make up for that? By adding 20-30% more sugar and salt. Sure, you can order a special meal. You’ll usually get served first and the meal is likely to have been prepared in smaller batches, but if you have the space, bring you own food (just not smelly stuff) and snacks. Yeah, that’ll probably taste different too, but you’ll have stuff you’ll actually eat without the extra salt, sugar and probably calories. Some great snacks are crackers, pretzels, apple slices, grapes, carrots, nuts (reminder that there are people with severe nut allergies, so keep that in mind when selecting)

And if that’s not all, apparently, the noise level on a plane is about 85 decibels (the same as in a noisy city), which seems to have a psychological impact. A study found that people who ate with loud background noise rated food as being less salty and less sweet than those who ate in a silent environment. Crazy right?

10. Anti-Gas it Up. It’s Your Friend.

It’s just a fact that you get gassy and it can be unbearable, for you and, uh, potentially anyone around you, especially on long haul flights. Why is that? When pressure drops, the air has to expand into more space, leading to that nasty bloating feeling. So basically, that air’s gotta go somewhere, right? Medical experts say you should just let ‘em out. Fellow passengers probably not so much. I swear by Phazyme and Gas-X.

11. Don’t Worry. Be Comfy.

Wearing uncomfortable clothes can be a nightmare, so make sure to wear something you can move around in. I sometimes wear a stretchy dress and leggings and bring a sweater. Guys, go for the dress if you want, but, if you prefer pants, just make sure they're not, uh, binding. Shoes – I try to wear slip-ons, even though I have Pre-Check, because, well, you just never know.

12. Kick it!

Deemed the most annoying type of passenger for the third straight year, seat kickers, with a 64% annoyance rate, outranked inattentive parents (59%), and the aromatic passengers (55%) in a recent CNN poll. So, what do you do about the person behind you kicking your seat, making noise (insert annoying habit) while you’re trying to sleep? That’s a bit tricky. You could politely ask him or her to stop because they might not actually realize they’re annoying you. You could try to change your seat, which may not be an option. You may even have to ask a flight attendant to intervene.

13. Crew appreciation.

Hint: A little bit of chocolate goes a long way. Call it gratitude for the crew taking care of you. Call it a bribe. Call it what you will. I make it a habit of bringing a treat for the crew, because, as a former flight attendant, I know how hard they work. Still, there are benefits to bringing those goodies – you frequently get goodies in exchange. Not that that’s the reason you do it, but it’s nice. On a recent flight I brought the crew some chocolates. Every crew member thanked me and I was offered perks like a bottle of champagne (which I declined) and first class amenity kits (which I accepted since they’re always full of cool and useful stuff).

One more thing: What about something to help you sleep? Personally, I’m not a fan of sleeping pills, or even natural sleep aids, on a flight. I tend to feel worse than if I hadn’t taken anything, but you have to decide what works for you.

In the end, long haul flights are somewhere on the spectrum of the holiday visit to your annoying Aunt Bessie and having a root canal (both dreaded, yet necessary) - sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and do it if you want to travel somewhere far. So, if you're planning a reeaally long plane ride, I hope these tips are useful!

Are you planning a long haul flight anywhere? Where are you headed? Do you have other tips? Let me know on Facebook!

View out airplane window

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