How to Survive Long Flights in Economy
Follow these tips for long flights
Planning to take a long-haul flight in economy class soon? These tips are all you need to learn how to survive long flights in economy…and even thrive.
Look, I hate shelling out a lot of money or miles/points for flights.
My goal is to squeeze as many flights out of my available funds or points supply as possible.
And for us that means flying in economy. Period.
Taking a long flight (over 4 hours) in economy doesn’t have to be a nightmare. It can actually be pretty okay if you follow the tips in this post. Just keep reading!
Need help planning your trip? Check out our list of the essential travel planning resources.
Avoid getting a bad seat
Whether this means checking in early or purchasing advanced seat selection, try to avoid getting a “bad” seat if at all possible.
I once got on a transatlantic flight heading to Paris. A few rows ahead of us was a man who was approximately 6’ 7” or so.
Within no time at all after boarding he was incredibly uncomfortable in his standard economy seat and actually paid on the plane to upgrade to a bulkhead seat so that he had room for his legs.
It cost him about $160 (maybe more), but there was no way he was going to be able to tolerate 9 hours cramped up in a ball the way he was.
Don’t let that be you.
- Select the seats you want when you book or as soon as possible.
- If you can, pay for advanced seat selection. Depending on the airline this may only cost you a few dollars per seat or it might be a substantial fee.
- If you booked basic economy that assigns you a seat upon check-in, then make sure to check in for your flight as early as you can.
- Avoid the back row seats nearest the lavatory at all costs. You’ll have people leaning up against your seat waiting for the bathroom. Seriously.
By the way, don’t be the person who leans up against someone else’s seat while waiting to get into the lavatory.
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Think ahead about how you want to feel when you land
While it’s understandable to face a long-haul flight in economy class with some dread, you don’t want to think ONLY about your flight.
You also want to think about how you want to feel when you land.
So, while it might be tempting to fill up on “fun” junk foods or consume a lot of alcoholic, caffeinated, or sugary beverages, making good eating and drinking decisions will help you feel better in the long run.
I’ve also made the mistake of watching movies through an entire 9-hour flight. I didn’t even attempt to nap.
It left me exhausted and irritable by the time I was ready to board my connecting flight back home.
If had taken even part of that flight to sleep, I would have no doubt had a better end of my trip.
Plane air is quite low in humidity (some studies suggest humidity is between 10% and 20%) which means it is very drying so make sure you drink plenty of water.
I bring a full bottle of water with me on every flight.
- You can purchase bottled water after you get through security (and continue to re-use it while you travel)
- or bring an empty re-usable bottle with you and fill it at a bottle filling station once you get through the security checkpoint.
I love traveling with a lightweight spill-proof sport water bottle (check out my favorite here on Amazon).
Related Post → The Best Products for Long Flights
And anytime a flight attendant offers me a cup of water I take it and drink it right away.
According to the Aerospace Medical Association, a good rule of thumb is about 8 ounces of water per hour.
This is not absolutely necessary on short flights, but on longer flights (over 4 hours), it becomes more important to make sure you’re getting enough water.
Drinking more water will help you feel better overall.
And you’ll be forced to get up periodically to use the restroom, which can help prevent muscle stiffness and pain as well as Traveler’s Thrombosis in susceptible people.
Bring plenty of options for things to do on your flight
Unsure of what to do on a long flight? Don’t assume that your flight will have a lot of great in-flight entertainment options.
If you bring some of your own in-flight entertainment with you, you’ll never be without something to do to make your trip go by faster.
And make sure all your devices are fully charged so they don’t die on you in the middle of reading or watching something you’re really enjoying.
That would be the worst!
I always make sure to have a couple of solid reading options with me when I fly.
I never know what kind of reading mood I’m going to be in, so I either bring something I’m nearly 100% sure I’m going to like or I bring a couple of options.
Check out my picks for the best airplane books if you’re at a loss for what to bring with you. It includes great options for both fiction and nonfiction books.
If you enjoy reading e-books you can download the free Kindle app onto your phone or tablet.
With the Kindle app, you can take your full e-book library with you without bringing any additional devices on your flight.
Or try out Kindle Unlimited for free to find your next great airplane read.
Prefer to consume your books as audio books while you travel rather than reading?
That’s totally a great option for travel.
If you’re unsure how you feel about audio books, you can try Audible for free just to see if you like it.
Don’t feel like reading or listening to a book?
Give a little thought ahead of time to what you might like to watch or listen to on your flight and do some downloading.
- If you have the Netflix app, take a look at what movies and shows are available for download.
- Download a few episodes of any new podcasts you’ve been wanting to try.
- If you have Amazon Music Unlimited or Spotify, download some of your favorite albums or maybe some new music you’ve been meaning to listen to.
Wear comfortable clothing
Staying comfortable physically is an important part of surviving a long-haul flight in economy class.
So, wear comfortable clothing on your flight.
You’ll be a lot more comfortable on your flight if you avoid clothing that is tight and constricting.
One notable exception would be compression socks.
Sitting in place for hours on end, especially in confined quarters, can cause circulation problems.
If you have trouble with leg or foot pain or swelling after long flights, you might want to try compression socks the next time you travel. Find some here on Amazon.
- Avoid pants with constrictive waistbands.
- Wear comfortable shoes you won’t mind having on your feet the entire flight.
- If you do choose to remove your shoes during your flight, PLEASE make sure you’re wearing socks. And keep your feet within your own seat space.
- Consider wearing glasses instead of contact lenses, since the low humidity on your flight will likely make wearing lenses uncomfortable. Or perhaps you might prefer to use hydrating eyedrops.
- Try those compression socks if you’re susceptible to circulation problem during long flights.
And dress in light layers
If you’re anything like me, you swing back and forth between being too cold and too warm on flights and in airports.
Dressing in light layers will make it easier for you to stay comfortable throughout your entire trip.
I always travel with a light cardigan sweater AND a jacket.
By dressing in light layers, it’s easier for me to stay warm enough or cool enough on my flight that I can get rest when I need to.
Eating well (and I don’t just mean eat healthy) while you travel will go a long way toward ensuring that you have a more comfortable travel day or days.
If I don’t eat regularly, I can suffer from quick drops in blood sugar that leave me feeling shaky, sweaty and nauseated.
- Try to stick to regular meal times as much as possible. I’ve known to buy myself a sandwich at the airport at 9 a.m., take it on my flight with me and eat it at noon.
- If you can’t keep regular meal times, make sure you at least get meals. Relying on grabbing a quick snack might not cut it.
- If you can’t stomach “airplane food,” then bring your own food with you.
Minimize caffeine intake
I know this tip may be a difficult one for some people, but avoiding caffeine as much as possible on days you fly can really help you thrive on your flight.
- Caffeinated beverages can make it harder to stay hydrated (see above).
- Caffeine can also thwart any attempts you make to get some serious rest on your flight.
If you need some caffeine to help you prevent the dreaded caffeine withdrawal headache, then by all means do that.
But keep it to just one cup of coffee if you can.
Get some sleep
Learn from my mistakes. Don’t spend your entire transatlantic flight watching movies instead of sleeping.
You don’t want to be like me and end up exhausted and irritable.
So put away your book, tablet, whatever, close your eyes and at least try to get a little sleep.
Even just resting with your eyes closed will do you some good.
And as an added bonus, if you do fall asleep, it will help your flight go by faster.
Need some extra help?
Check out my post about the best products to sleep on a plane for all of the details about how to get some actual sleep on your next long flight.
You’ll arrive at your destination feeling better physically.
Have a connection? Use it to get some exercise
If you’re making a connection somewhere, even if you don’t have a long layover, take advantage of the time to get moving.
- If you have time and it’s possible at the connecting airport, walk to your connecting flight gate rather than using any airport transportation.
- Walk up and down the concourse near your gate to kill time rather than just sitting before you get on a plane to sit more.
- If you don’t have time to wander too far from your gate, stand as much as possible while you wait for your boarding group to be called.
I find that if I get my blood flowing again…
- I appreciate getting to sit back down again once I’m on my flight.
- It helps me avoid lower back pain that often accompanies inactivity.
Take care of your skin
Getting back to that pesky low humidity. In addition to potentially causing dehydration, it can dry your skin out.
You can help your skin out by using good moisturizers on your face and body.
And even consider putting on an “overnight” hydration mask to take good care of your face skin as you travel.
My favorite overnight mask dries down nicely…so that you don’t look like you’re wearing a mask.
It also comes in a travel size that’s perfect for packing in your carry-on.
The bottom line on ways to survive long-haul flights in economy
Surviving long flights is about more than just passing the time comfortably.
You also want to think about after you land and how you want to feel when you arrive at your destination.
Tips like dressing comfortably, keeping hydrated, eating well and getting some sleep will go a long way to making sure you start off your trip right.
More plane travel tips
- What to take on a flight in your carry-on
- Find the best personal item bag for you
- Best products for sleeping on planes
- Awesome products for long flights
- How to fly for less (save money every time you fly)
- How to use Google Flights to save money on airfare
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Thank you so much for your kind words, Mitch. I’m so glad that you found this article helpful. Have a great trip! Darcy
Thank you so much for this article! I’m planning my 2nd trip out of the US in my life (the first was 26 years ago), and I’ve been really concerned about the flight. This post is great and now puts your site to the top of my list of travel planning resources, right after Rick Steves!
Please keep up the great work!