Travel Tips

Tips for long flights

I’ve been on some pretty long flights in my traveling career. My flight from New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport to Seoul, South Korea is to date my longest ever-15 hours in the air, with my flight from Miami to Buenos Aires coming in as a not close second (nine hours in the air plus a three hour flight from my originating point in Philadelphia). Not to mention I have done countless flights to Europe. While they have been “shorter,” when you figure that you’re spending the same amount of time in the air as you would in a typical 8-hour workday with smelly bathrooms, cramped seating, and rather gross, disgusting cabin air, any flights longer than an hour in economy can seem like an eternity. Here are my personal tips for those long flights. (If you have the means to travel in business or even “worse,” first class-clearly my tips are not meant for you!)

-Do your research ahead of time to find out what type of aircraft you will be traveling on
Sites like are ideal for this. Although if you’re like me, cost is more of a determinant when booking air tickets, if two airlines have close fares, I would go with the one that has the newer aircraft, and more importantly, more modern features (i.e. personal TVs on the seat in front of you) and the option to purchase extra legroom (on long flights, five extra inches of space makes all the difference). However, if you’re stuck on an older airplane that still features signs from the 1990s, not to mention sports the overhead TVs where numerous seats are obscured from comfortably viewing them anyway, plan accordingly. While one considers Hawaii to be a pretty popular destination for American tourists, American airlines (all American airlines, not the actual company) don’t seem to consider it such from an aircraft perspective. The planes we flew on when we visited Maui were OLD, so thankfully we came prepared by downloading movies onto our iPad to provide some in-flight entertainment, since both ways we really couldn’t see the overhead TVs.

-Watch movies
It may sound lame but when you figure an average movie is about 100-110 minutes long (sometimes longer), watching two of them in-air will take up a good deal of your long flight. What I love most about the personal TVs is that you get to make the movie selection, it’s not dictated to you. And while on-demand viewing is even better (dozens and dozens of entertainment viewing options), a selection of half a dozen movies to choose from is still pretty good. Coming back from Portugal last year, I watched two movies I hadn’t seen in the theaters but weren’t yet available to rent, and so for more than half of  a roughly six hour flight, it was taken up by movie watching.

-Get an aisle seat
Although window seats certainly have their perks, namely being able to rest against the side of the plane, on long flights it’s imperative you get up and walk around. Therefore, being on the aisle means you can get up whenever you want to and not feel bad or apprehensive about having to continually ask your seatmates to move. Deep venous thrombosis is a blood clot that forms in a vein deep inside a part of the body, although it mainly affects the large veins in the lower leg and thigh. This can be a very serious threat to one’s health, so it’s crucial to take it seriously and move about the cabin often or at least do exercise movements from your seat (many planes feature pamphlets in the seat pockets on some exercises you can try to aid in circulation). My uncle, THE world traveler, suffered this after a flight from Johannesburg, South Africa to JFK Airport, more than 20 hours in the air.

-Look at the scenery
Depending on where you’re flying to, you may pass over some pretty spectacular scenery that you would never be able to see from anywhere else. I will never forget my flight to South Korea in which I saw glacier fields in Alaska (coming from the rather boring landscape state of Pennsylvania, this was AMAZING) and then snow capped mountains in Russia. Despite being so high up in the air because there was nothing around, no tall buildings, no development, I could see everything perfectly. Both images remain in my mind almost a decade later. They looked like something out of a National Geographic documentary.

-Drink water, globs and globs of it
I have never drunk alcohol during a flight and don’t intend on ever doing so (save for if I ever get to fly first class). Carbonated beverages and alcohol can make you become dehydrated and being in a plane for 6+ hours, dehydration is the last thing you want to happen. I may drink a cup of soda with a meal but for the most part whenever beverage service comes around, I always get ice water. No, it’s not a miracle drink but it will help your body’s overall physical feeling. And don’t not drink it because you don’t want to have to use the usually gross bathroom facilities-make your body’s health a first priority, and your smelling sensibilities, second.

No I didn’t forget sleep tips. I have never been able to sleep on flights whether they’re long or short. It’s beyond annoying and exhausting when all you want to do is sleep but you can’t get comfortable or stay asleep for longer than 15 minutes at a time. I’ve tried just about everything and know I’m not alone in this. However, I hope my other tips definitely help.

Ice capped Lake Michigan (taken from my airplane seat)

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  • Reply
    July 21, 2013 at 5:33 pm

    I can’t sleep on planes either. No matter what, I am always too uncomfortable. The only time that I could sleep was on a flight from Munich to Chicago because I have all three seats to myself. It does help to book a plane that you know is a little more updated. I try to do this when I can.

  • Reply
    the red headed traveler
    July 22, 2013 at 9:25 pm

    I am always so in awe of the people in economy who not only sleep on long flights but they can sleep for almost the entire time! I don’t get it 🙂 But yes an updated plane not one circa 1995 is always fantastic.

  • Reply
    March 17, 2014 at 2:53 pm

    I haven’t been on any international flights since 2008, so I was curious about the TV thing. We fly back and forth to CA semi-regularly, and in the past few years, I can’t remember a flight I was on that had any in-flight movie options. I’m surprised, because back in 2007/2008 when we were living in LA & flying back & forth every couple of months, almost all flights had a movie. Good to know the international flights still have them though. 5 hours in the air without entertainment is bad enough, can’t imagine how long an overseas flight would seem without it!

    • Reply
      Julie Tulba
      March 17, 2014 at 9:03 pm

      It’s so sad the state of flying anymore since as you said, you can remember a time not too long ago when such “amenities” were commonplace!

      As bad as five hours on a flight without entertainment is, when I flew to Hawaii last fall, I was on a flight for eight straight hours (coming from Houston) and they served NO food. To them, Hawaii is a “domestic” destination even though it’s a longer flight than some international destinations. I figured this ahead of time and did buy food to take on but even by the end of the flight both my h and I were starving. And keeping with the airline classiness, they sold “snack packs.” Ugh.

      I really wish I lived in a city where some international airlines flew from since they at least know that people should be treated semi-decently!

      Thanks for commenting and sharing your experiences!

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