Long-haul flights are an unpleasant fact of travel, but there are ways to improve your next experience that — surprise! — don’t involve upgrading. International flights do not have to cost a fortune to be bearable, take it from the person who took 13 flights in 3 weeks. The key is to plan ahead and accept that yes, your flight is going to last 16 hours.
Here are some tips on how to not only survive long-haul flights but actually enjoy them.
1. How to get comfortable anywhere.
Come prepared for sleeping in uncomfortable situations.
On the topic of neck pillows, inflatable ones are the best for lightweight packers.
Always bring warm clothing.
Wear comfortable clothing and leave the jewelry in your luggage.
Make sure to book a flight that includes complimentary in-flight entertainment.
Communicate any dietary restrictions prior to your flight.
Enjoy the free alcohol, moderately.
Use flight search apps for research, but never purchase through the app.
Always do your flight searches in incognito mode.
If possible, make your own connections.
But, always allow plenty of room for built connections.
Research the airports your layovers will be in ahead of time.
Download Google Maps or CityMaps2Go before you leave the house.
Prepare, do your research, and enjoy the flight.
This is one place where upgrading would probably make life easier, but if you, like most people, don’t have a spare grand lying around for a business class seat there still are ways to get some shut-eye. An eye mask, set of earplugs, and neck pillow will all help you sleep away at least a couple hours, even if your flight is graced by the sonorous presence of angry small children and/or equally angry nasal passages.
I never travel with more than my backpack, daypack, and purse so I am hesitant to bring anything along that is only used once, like a bulky neck pillow. An inflatable neck pillow will hold its shape from Sydney to Los Angeles while folding down into a case the size of a soda can. Another interesting new invention in the sleeping-on-planes category is this lightweight, foldable neck support.
Airlines are notorious for over-air conditioning and there is no better way to stay awake for every dreadfully long second of your flight than by freezing your bum off huddled under the always-insufficient free airline blankets. A jumper will let you sleep like a baby and also makes a good pillow in a pinch. There is no reason to forget this, even if your trip is to the Sahara Desert.
There is nothing any frequent flier hates more than waiting for the fashionista in front of them to remove approximately 15 pounds of jewelry and complicated boots to go through security. An airport is not the catwalk; no one cares what you look like as long as you don’t hold up the line. I find that a pair of cotton joggers, sandals (with socks in my purse for cold toes during the flight), and a simple T-shirt make up the best outfit for in-flight comfort and ease. Don’t feel afraid to wear your PJs, either.
2. Organize your in-flight food and entertainment.
In this day and age in-flight movies should not cost extra on a long haul flight, but with the resurgence of extreme budget airlines, some are starting to charge for access to the latest blockbusters. Do yourself a favor and avoid budget airlines for any flight over 8-10 hours, the small savings are not worth the discomfort. Also, after you pay for an in-flight meal and a movie or two, you will have wasted any money you saved on the ticket.
Airlines servicing the long haul routes have seriously upped their culinary game and the food on most is, at the very least, palatable and often actually quite nice. However, the improvements to at-altitude dining will be lost on you if you can’t eat anything that is being served. Luckily, all you need to do is specific any dietary restrictions when you purchase your ticket and you will have a special meal delivered directly to your seat. They also bring out specialty meals first, so while your meat, gluten, and dairy eating compadres are waiting for the food cart to crawl its way down the aisle you can be happily munching away on your allergy-safe meal.
Once you’ve made the intelligent decision not to fly Ryanair you will be rewarded with complimentary wine and beer. Indulge, but do so with more caution than usual as drinking at altitude affects the body differently than drinking at sea level and you may find yourself waiting in line at customs with a nasty hangover.
3. Take your time reserving your ticket and save yourself stress and money.
Apps that check prices of multiple airlines are great for making sure you are getting the best deal as you can try different combinations of dates and airlines to find the cheapest airfare. However, never buy tickets through the app. Always go to the airline’s official website to purchase tickets so you have recourse if something goes wrong. Airlines are far more likely to honor tickets bought through their website than tickets bought through third-party websites.
If cookies are enabled websites will track what flights you search and, if you do not buy them, they will show you inflated prices the next time you search those flights. The idea is to make it seem like flight prices are going up in order to incite you to buy now before they increase more. By doing all your searches in incognito, you avoid being manipulated by algorithms.
Tickets through major hubs will always be cheaper than tickets that go through those hubs but on to smaller airports. You can save money if, instead of buying one ticket all the way through, you build your own connections by purchasing the major hub legs separately from the smaller airport legs. Using this method I flew from Darwin to Sydney to Auckland to Los Angeles to New Mexico to Hawaii to Portland and back through Los Angeles, Auckland, Sydney, and Perth for less than $1,300 USD. (Side note: this was for the previously mentioned 3-week trip to the US from Australia that included a wedding in New Mexico, a wedding in Portland, and my mom’s 60th birthday in Hawaii.)
An airline will honor connections they promised to get you through, but if you’ve made them yourself to save money, you’re out of luck. Make sure to leave yourself at least 4 hours of connection time in self-built connections. Remember, you’ll need to get your bags, re-check in, and go through security again. It may sound like a hassle, but you can seriously save hundreds of dollars. Let your wallet decide if it’s worth it.
4. Plan in advance in order to enjoy layovers.
Some airports are amazing for layovers (think Changi in Singapore), others… not so much (LAX). If you can, try to plan longer layovers in better airports, but if worst comes to worse bring a book or Kindle. But, seriously, try to fly through Changi, they have a free in-airport slide!
Almost all truly long-haul flights are international, thus when you land you will possibly not have cell phone service. Most airports have free WIFI nowadays, but just to be safe make sure you have an offline map app downloaded. This helps you know that you can make it back to the airport in time for your next flight if you decide to go explore Amsterdam while you wait. Don’t let yourself be caged by the airport walls, prepare, and you’ll be exploring in no time.
Long haul flights do not have to be an exercise in masochism; in fact, with the right planning, they can be downright enjoyable, all without costing you multiple months’ rent!