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The ultimate list for how to survive long flights in economy
how to survive long flights in economy
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I love traveling, but I hate flying. Several hours cramped in economy class is no one’s idea of fun. But while you cannot turn an economy class seat into a first-class seat, there are a few hacks that you can implement to make the experience more bearable. Here’s a list of helpful tips on how to survive long flights in economy class.

How to make economy feel more like first-class

1. Choose a good airline

Economy class is different from airline to airline. You will want to do a bit of research ahead of time to see which airlines offer the best service. Sites like SeatGuru help you compare seat width and pitch, and whether there is power and WiFi available.

However, sometimes you will not have the luxury of choosing your preferred airline. If that’s the case, you will at least know what to expect and therefore prepare for it.

2. Choose your seats wisely before you board

Your seat can make or break your flight. Be sure to book early so that you have the option of picking your own seat.

There are pros and cons to every seat in economy class. Consider what is important to you, and choose wisely:

  • If your goal is to sleep on your long-haul flight, choose a window seat. That way, you won’t have frequent interruptions from someone trying to go to the toilet;
  • If you know you are someone who needs to go to the toilet often, choose an aisle seat;
  • Exit row seats are great because you get extra leg-room, but those seats don’t recline. If you feel the need to recline, these seats are not for you.
  • The seat behind the exit row seat might be a good option because the seats in front of you won’t recline;
  • Bulkhead seats (at the front of the airplane) are excellent for parents with babies because you can get a bassinet. It also comes with more legroom, but because there are no seats in front of you, you don’t have under-seat storage or a seat pocket in front of you. Therefore, you don’t have immediate access to your stuff! This can be annoying on a long-haul flight.

3. Check in early

Maybe you booked late and you didn’t get the seat you wanted. That’s okay—you may still have a shot if you check in early. During the check-in period, (which is usually 24-hours before the flight), check the seat map and refresh it regularly. You never know, something better could open up.

4. Invest in a good travel pillow

Most airlines will give you a small pillow, but it is hardly worth it. They’re small, flat, and thin, and they’ll slip behind your head as soon as you fall asleep. Instead, get a decent travel pillow because a travel pillow will dictate whether you sleep well or not.

  • Avoid bulky travel pillows—they’re a hassle to travel with once you’re out of the airplane;
  • Try to get a travel pillow that gives you good neck support.
  • Invest in an inflatable travel pillow that you can squash down so that it can easily fit into your carry-on luggage.
  • Horseshoe-shaped travel pillows circle your neck and they’re best if you’re trying to avoid aches and pains. They also prevent your head from falling over when you sleep.
  • If you have back pain problems, consider a lumbar cushion for the small of your back. 

5. Elevate your legs

Elevating your legs on a flight helps to aid circulation and reduces the risk of swelling and joint pain. It also makes for a more comfortable flight. This is why they have flatbeds in first class! In economy class, you will have to make do with what you have. You could invest in an inflatable footrest or a flight hammock to help elevate your feet. If you are flying with kids, these make your life so much easier!

6. If possible, move seats

If the flight is full, moving seats is not an option. If not, be on the lookout for open seats. Sometimes there are whole rows that are open! If you’re that lucky, lift up the armrests and lie down across the full row.

7. Invest in a good sleeping mask

Many airlines will give you a sleeping mask for long, international flights, but honestly, they’re okay—not great. They block out most light but not all, which means you can’t rest peacefully.

Consider buying your own sleeping mask that will completely block out ambient light and allow you to have a good rest. Look for a sleep mask that sits away from your eyes—it should have eye cavities built into the mask. This kind of sleeping mask is preferred because they are not pushing on your eyelids. Your eyes remain unobstructed during the REM sleep, so you can sleep more deeply.

8. Bring your own gourmet treats

If airplane food does not impress you, bring your own preferred foods and snacks. Be mindful of your fellow passengers and stick to less aromatic foods. Snack ideas could include nuts, dried fruit,  sandwiches, veggie calzones, granola bars, grain salads, carrots, and celery sticks with 3 ounces of hummus, applesauce packs (3.4 ounces or smaller), etc. 

9. Pack daily essentials

As you prepare for a long flight, be sure to pack a travel toothbrush, toothpaste, eye mask, lip balm, hand sanitizer, mouth wash, and eye mask for each member of the family. As a bonus, include a travel-sized lotion because airplane air can be very dehydrating. Kits like these are often given to economy class travelers on long-haul flights, but it is not a given. If your airline does not provide them or you are unsure whether they do, be prepared and bring your own.

10. Pamper yourself

Before your trip, build up your stash of travel-sized goodies that you can treat yourself with on the flight. These could include perfumes, wipes, face spritzers, moisturizers, lotion, lip balm, or really anything that will make you feel pampered, and is small enough to pass through TSA.  

11. Invest in quality headphones or earplugs

Quality headphones are beneficial in a few ways:

  • With noise-canceling headphones, you will be able to drown out a loud toddler or a crying baby, (unless it’s your own);
  • You’ll be able to listen to your preferred music/ podcasts/ audiobooks in peace.

If you’d rather just sleep, some quality earplugs will be very helpful.

12. Pre-download your entertainment of choice

Most airlines flying long-haul flights will offer a variety of entertainment options. We have flown on various airlines, and we’ve always been spoiled for choice with a plethora of movies, shows, and music to choose from. Some airlines even offer a few audiobooks. But if your choice in entertainment is not mainstream, you’d be best advised to pre-download your preferred shows / movies / music / audiobooks / podcasts onto your tablet before your flight. You could pre-download:

  • Podcasts via Apple’s podcast app;
  • E-books via the Kindle app;
  • Audiobooks via Audible;
  • Netflix shows and movies while in Wi-Fi that can be played through the app later in airplane mode.

Even with a plethora of choices from the airlines, I personally recommend that you download your preferred choices because, after so many hours on a flight, the novelty runs out. We’ve been on 17-hour flights where we were thoroughly entertained flying out but bored with the options coming back. This is when we’d turn to our tablets and phones.

13. Dress comfortably

If you are flying on an international flight, dress as comfortably as you possibly can. Go for clothes that feel like pajamas—think comfortable yoga pants and a nice but comfy top. (Yes, it is absolutely possible to look great and feel comfortable at the same time.)

14. Dress in layers

Seasoned travelers know that thanks to those wild inflight temperature swings, you’ve got to dress in layers. This is especially the case for long-haul flights. By dressing in layers, you can easily peel them off if you’re hot, or add them back on if you’re cold. 

And don’t rely on the blankets that they offer in economy either! Be prepared and pack a sweater and/or a cozy scarf or wrap. 

15. Pack a little something for yourself

No matter how much you prepare, international flights can be hard on a body. Therefore, don’t be afraid to pack some melatonin or another over-the-counter sleep aid to help you nod off easily. 



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About The Author

Hi! We’re the Cheltens’. We visit South Africa 1-2 times per year. We want to share our experiences with you so that you may make educated decisions when you plan your next trip to the rainbow nation.

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