10 tips for better 10+ hour flights

I still remember my first flight to Japan more than 5 years ago, it seemed interminable. During the flight I was all the time impatient, checking the time frequently, looking through the window, looking at the map on the screen often to see how much time was left, watching some movies… but hours went by very slowly, it seemed like a never-ending flight. The good thing about it is that after experiencing a transcontinental flight, all other flights seem very short. When I travel back to Europe the flight is still tiring, but not as much as before, now I just think that I should go on with my everyday life during those 20 hours.

1.- Have something to do
This tip can look stupid, but if you don’t have anything to do during the whole trip you’ll get really bored and you will start thinking all the time how long is this trip going to be. Make sure that you bring entertainment with you: a laptop, books, a handheld game console, music, etc. What works best for you. I always put two short novels or a long one, I have calculated that it’s what I can more or less consume during that kind of trip. During the trip, forget about checking the time, don’t be impatient, enjoy you free time reading a great novel or playing your favorite video game.

2.- Bring warm clothing
Put an extra piece of warm clothing in the hand luggage. In long distance flights they usually put the air conditioner too high and I usually find the small blanket insufficient.

3.- Take your shoes off and bring some extra socks
The first time that I went inside a 747 with destination Tokyo I saw many Japanese people taking off their shoes just after taking a seat. I found that curious but I didn’t take them off, it looked at the time a little bit “dirty”. Nowadays I am japanized in that sense and the first thing I do when I take a seat is to take my shoes off. It’s much more comfortable and you can sleep much better. Remember to take some extra socks in the hand luggage in case your feet get cold.

4.- Stretching
Other thing that grabbed my attention in my first flight to Japan was people stretching and doing exercise inside the plane. When I saw it I smiled and found it funny. Now I am the first one to stand up, go to the back part of the plane and do some stretching every once in a while. Being stuck during hours in such a narrow seat is hard and maybe you will pay the price on your back or legs later on; to avoid it do some stretching and move your body.

5.- Organize your time
Think that you will basically spend a whole day traveling. It is a day of your holidays, what would you do a day of your holidays to relax? Have breakfast, read for a while, eat, take a nap, read a little bit more, go jogging, watch a movie, have dinner… In long distance flights the plane conditions usually “simulate” an evening-night-morning sequence during the course of the flight. Not long after the take off a snack is served, two hours later the dinner, and after three hours all the lights are turned off and supposedly all passengers have to sleep; two hours before the plane is supposed to arrive to its destination lights are turned on and breakfast is served. Try to adapt to this schedule, for example: play some Nintendo DS, have dinner, watch one of the movies usually offered on the seat screens, sleep, do some stretching, read, have breakfast and read until the plane lands. Most of all, try to sleep when the lights are turned off, if you can’t do it do something entertaining and go out for a walk and stretch at least once every hour.

6.- Choose aisle seat or emergency door seats
This is my personal preference, I always choose aisle seat, it’s less “claustrophobic” and for those of us with long legs it’s more comfortable because you have a little bit more “leg freedom”. One of the advantages of having an aisle seat is that you can go walking, stretching or to the toilet whenever you want without having to bother other people. The disadvantage is that during the flight other people will bother you when they have to do the same things. However, without a doubt, the best seats on the plane are those next to the emergency exits; in the past nobody wanted to take these seats because it looked a bit scary to sit next to a door in a plane… but as time went by people realized that it’s one of the most comfortable places on a plane because you have lot of space available for you (there are no seats in front of you). The fact is that it is difficult to get these seats, everybody ask for them, but you might be lucky.

7.- Drink a lot of water
Drink a lot of water. The air conditioning, the little pressure changes, the temperature changes, the tiredness of the trip, sometimes one forgets to drink water, you fall asleep for hours and you wake up groggy, thirsty and even more tired than before. Water is free if you ask the flight attendants, and you can even go to the toilet area where there is usually a trolley with varied drinks. If you are hungry ask for a snack, in most of the airlines they will give it to you for free.

8.- Enjoy airports
In the first flights of my life I saw airports as a boring transit place. I waited impatiently for the gates to open and get into the plane as soon as possible. However little by little I have found the charm of airports and I have started to see airports as a place to “live”. As inside the plane, try to have a good time in the airports: relax, enjoy the atmosphere, browse the bookstores, etc.

9.- Doping
I have never done it but many people usually take some kind of pill to sleep, be careful with overdoses :). I have been recommended many times dormidina, which is said to be very effective to get some good sleep. On the other hand, I always carry with me some aspirins, paracetamol just in case and some muesli energy bars.

10.- Go to the toilet
Go often to the toilet, wash your face with fresh water and brush your teeth, don’t forget to put a toothbrush in the hand luggage and a small toothpaste tube (don’t forget security limitations!).

7 Comments
  • Lime

    September 6, 2010 at 5:14 am

    Once I took the 14 hours flight to USA without preparation.
    After the first hour, I read everything I could find in front of me include my own passport.

    I though I could sleep all the way but in the end I didn’t get any sleep.

    T-T

  • kathryn

    September 6, 2010 at 5:31 am

    I’m a big fan of sleeping pills because I get bored so easily that long flights drive me insane though I have been told they increase the risk of deep vein thombolos. I actually find shorter flights (over 5 hours) worse because you can’t take really take sleeping pills for them.

    Also with #3, be careful your feet don’t swell. I’ve taken my shoes off and not been able to get them back on. Definitely #4 & #7 help with that.

  • Michael Denny

    September 6, 2010 at 7:21 am

    I take 24. hour flights from Thailand to USA and strongly agree with all your tips. The only one I would add is to not drink alcohol during the trip.

  • Brad F.

    September 6, 2010 at 7:34 am

    I don’t know how long I’ve been doing #3, but I remember seeing someone else do it and I copied them. It was great! I’ve done a lot of flying across both the Atlantic and Pacific from (or to) the United States from the Middle East and Asia. This really helps me to get comfortable.

    I usually bring a laptop, my phone can play music and I can read on it. Typically, though, I wind up watching a lot of the movies offered in the seat screens. Well, unless it’s something I’ve already seen, but they seem to keep them pretty current.

    I also prefer aisle seats, even if it puts me towards the back of the plane. My next flight, for example, is in row 55, but hey, it’s an aisle seat so I’m still happy.

  • RMilner

    September 7, 2010 at 3:59 am

    All good advice in your post.

    I often fly from UK, London to Tokyo, it’s about 12 hours. The flight is not so bad, however the journey at each end and the wait to get through security and immigration make the whole experience about 19 hours or more.

    The best thing is to try to sleep during the dark period. Even if you can’t sleep, sit still with your eyes closed. (An eyemask helps.) If you keep your eyes open all the time, they will get very dry from the air conditioning.

  • Supermerlion

    September 7, 2010 at 10:31 pm

    Yeah I agree on the dry eyes part. Really got to drink lots of water. Eye drops might help too. I tend to visit the toilet to do my stretching haha.

  • Mike

    August 27, 2011 at 12:01 pm

    Next time I go for a long flight I’m going to try and force myself to stay awake the full 24 hours beforehand (reading in bed at home is a lot easier than on a plane XD). Then It’ll be impossible not to sleep!