Sep 3, 2013

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How to survive a long-haul flight

If you are jetting off to a far-flung destination on the other side of the world, you are likely to be feeling excited and thrilled at the prospect of an exotic adventure in foreign climes.

However, amid all the anticipation, you may feel slightly daunted at the thought of the flight ahead, and wonder how you will get through all those long hours in the sky.

But there is no need to panic. There’s plenty you can do to make sure a long flight goes smoothly – and even that it becomes a relaxing part of your holiday.

Here we offer some top tips on surviving long-haul flights

Before you go

A little planning before your flight will allow you to reap the benefits when in the air.

Firstly, you need to consider your seat. If you’re going to be in the same place for several hours, you need to be comfortable. Therefore, it may be worth considering paying a little extra to upgrade for any benefits that are important to you.

Holiday companies such as Thomson now offer a premium economy upgrade where, for a fee, you can enjoy benefits such as luxury wide leather seats, extra legroom and a personal television screen in a dedicated cabin.

In addition, upgraded seats offer perks such as an extra luggage allowance and priority boarding. And upgrading may not cost as much as you would expect – the option with Thomson, for example, costs from £179 per person return.

If you really want to splash out and start your holiday in style, then business class will give you even more luxury on board. The revolution started when British Airways first introduced Club World back in the 1980s. And now this option frequently includes access to airport lounges, complimentary food and drink, and flat beds, ensuring you can get more than just 40 winks and arrive at your destination feeling refreshed.

Some aircraft, such as the Emirates A380, go one step further by offering luxuries such as showers and on-board lounges, while Qatar offers a sommelier service to match wine to your menu choices, designer sleepwear and food from celebrity chefs.

If you would like the chance to secure a cheap upgrade, look out for airlines that offer the opportunity to bid for business class seats when they are unsold. Air New Zealand have launched such a scheme for economy ticket holders and others look set to follow.

However, if you can’t afford to upgrade, then you can still get insider knowledge on which seats to opt for by logging on to  This website shows you which seats on your flight are the best to opt for – or avoid. Therefore you can ensure that you don’t end up seated by the toilets or in a seat narrower than usual.

It’s also important to make sure you get to the airport in plenty of time, rather than causing yourself extra stress by arriving at the last minute. That way, if you haven’t already reserved a seat you’re more likely to get a choice, you can have a leisurely stroll around the airport, pick up any last-minute bits and bobs, and board your flight feeling calm.

Finally, another option you may want to consider when booking your flights is splitting your journey so that you have a stopover in another destination to break up your time in the air. For example, if you were flying to Australia, you could consider breaking your journey and exploring Singapore, Bangkok, Hong Kong or Dubai, or a trip to New Zealand could include a stop off in LA. This would  see you get more holiday for your money as well as splitting a long flight.


Pack a survival kit

Packing a handy ‘survival kit’ to take on your flight will give you some home comforts while in the air. An eye mask, ear plugs, inflatable or travel pillow and a blanket will help you nod off – but make sure you have stowed your valuables away out of sight before you doze.

A small tube of toothpaste, toothbrush and face wipes will give you the opportunity to freshen up, while a small tube of moisturiser and eye drops will help combat the drying effects of the cabin air. Remember, though, that liquids in hand luggage are restricted to 100ml per item and need to be transported in a clear, sealable plastic bag.

Painkillers can also be handy to have just in case, and remember to pack any other medication that you may need to take along with your prescription.

Travel toiletries

Health in the air

You’re going to be airborne for a long time, so looking after your health while flying is important.

The low cabin pressure coupled with long periods of inactivity can increase the chance of deep vein thrombosis – a potentially fatal condition. To reduce the chances of this affecting you, wear flight socks, get up for regular walks and make small circling movements with your ankles.

Next, layer up. The air conditioning on a plane can fluctuate on a long flight, so wearing layers will ensure you’ve got the option to warm up or cool down depending on the temperature. Loose-fitting, comfy clothes are also a good choice.

Another good trick which will help when you land is to set your watch to the time of your destination. This will allow you to mentally adjust to the time zone of the place you are visiting and help combat jet lag.

Finally, make sure you drink lots of fluids to avoid dehydration and steer clear of alcohol, caffeine, salty snacks and heavy meals. While you may be tempted by the trolley passing by, being strict will help you to feel better during, and after, the flight.

Packed lunch


Beat the boredom

Keeping busy with a variety of activities while on board is essential to make the time pass and help you feel like the journey is going quickly.

On-board entertainment will usually be provided, so to check out the films that are likely to be showing, log on to your airline’s website. However, also downloading a selection of your favourite films or TV shows on to your laptop or iPad will ensure you don’t have time to get bored.

Hand-held games consoles, apps on smartphones, books, magazines and newspapers will all help to divert your mind and beat the boredom too. Between that, snoozing and eating, you’ll wonder where the time has gone and will be coming in to land in no time.

Taking the kids?

The thought of travelling with children on a long-haul flight can be a stressful prospect; however, there is plenty you can do to make sure the flight is more enjoyable and an adventure for them.

Cathy Toogood’s article ‘Take the stress out of travelling with children’ offers a variety of helpful tips for before and during the flight, while the TravelSupermarket team came up with their own tips in our collaborative blog post ‘Our tips for travelling with children’.

And, if the thought of a long journey with the kids is holding you back from booking your trip, research what facilities there are for children with different airlines. For example, Etihad Airways have just announced they are introducing a nanny service  to their long-haul flights to help keep kids entertained with 500 expected to be working on-board by the end of the year.

Mums and dads will be able to sit back and relax as the kids get involved with activities such as face painting, making hand puppets, drawing competitions and learning magic tricks.

Family at the airport

Look forward to your next long-haul flight!

With a little preparation and research, a long-haul flight really doesn’t have to be a daunting prospect casting a black cloud over your holiday. And definitely don’t let the thought of hours in the sky put you off booking a long-haul holiday in the first place.

Get into the mindset that the journey is the start of your holiday and the opportunity for time out and relaxation before you touch down.

Incorporating some of the above tips will help to ensure you land in your destination relaxed, refreshed and raring to go.

Do you have any tips on surviving a long-haul flight? Leave a comment below to share them.


  1. Sylvia Williams says:

    Dear Clare Walsh [Travel Supermarket blog]
    All tips that you gave for long-haul flights are good and pretty much standard for sensible passengers. My grouch is where you give tips for parents on how to survive when travelling with children but what about on how to survive for all the other passengers who are also travelling and are surrounded by these kids. Our flights have many times been an absolute nightmare because of their loud, noisy, crying and generally disruptive behaviour AND WE ARE TRAPPED AND CANNOT GET AWAY. I usually arrive at my destination absolutely exhausted and with nerves absolutely shredded [NO I don’t think I am an old grouchy/neurotic person or, if I am, there must be an awful lot of us around!!?] WHEN will the airlines do something about this and provide sections for patents travelling with children? After all, we too are paying full fares and should get some consideration also. Do you not agree? Sincerely, Sylvia Williams PS I have read many articles written in similar vein to mine so I am certainly not alone in wanting children-free transportation.

    • Anonymous says:

      Believe you me, it is just as stressful for the parents but I do agree with you that families should be put together so that those without children can have more peace. But please, just think of the parents. My daughter is flying from LA to us in London tomorrow. She is more concerned about how people will treat her and all the glares and tutting than anything else. The little boy of 4 is fine and will sit quietly but how do you entertain a 20 month old in a confined space for 10 hours? last time both children were sick too and 4 hours into the flight she just burst into tears with the stress of it. “In the old days” stewardesses used to take the children off for a little or walk a baby up and down but no longer. Perhaps if those travelling alone could actually spare a single parent half an hour and help out, it might be be a better flight for all. No-one’s stopping you!

      • Roger Childs says:

        Yes, noisy kids and babies can be a problem especially on long haul. Malaysia Airlines on their A380 have a small upstairs economy section that they promise is kid and baby free. Have used it several times and Malaysia are every bit as good as Singapore Airlines.

      • Anonymous says:

        I think you’re maybe missing the point. People DO feel for parents when their children are fractious, sickly or grisly. It’s when the parents don’t seem to bother when their kids are kicking back of seats in front or are being basically bratty. I’m a mum of two small children and my kids have got on plane and kicked the back of front seats and I’ve told them off THEN watched them like a hawk to try and ensure they don’t do it again! Some parents are quite happy for their kids to kick shout and scream as long as the kids are leaving them alone!!!

    • John Lang says:

      Agreed. Sometimes children seem uncontrollable by parents but I’ve never seen the crew intervene to ask what can be done with a child for the comfort of the other passengers. Another question: is it right to let young kids travel business class? There’s usually a very good reason why companies pay the extra. Best regards. J.L.

    • Peter sale says:

      I agree with this writer! I have done my share of traveling with my own and grandchildren from babies to teenager and understand the frustrations. Now I think airlines should offer some adult only flights or at least divided sections. There is nothing more annoying that having a child behind you kicking into your seat or constantly touching you. As for asking the parent to control it-FORGET THAT!

    • Jen Leach says:

      I have to agree totally- we travelled a few years ago from Heathrow to LA and had a child of about 2 who screamed the entire journey. It was a nightmare! Why don’t they put all the children in a small area?

    • Barbara says:

      Could not agree more the sooner there are separate cabins for people with and without noisy disruptive children the better.
      I will certainly fly with the first airline to offer it.
      I have had 2 flights ( 1 to Orlando and 1 to Sydney ) absolutely ruined by noisy screaming children and parents who could not care less

    • Inger Jönrup says:

      I wholeheartedly agree with Sylvia Williams. Most of my flight anywhere are ruined by children allowed to do whatever they want, as long as the parents are fine. All flights should be divided into sections where no children are allowed, a little like quiet parts of trains. Thank you for letting me know that there are more of us out there.
      Inger Jönrup. PS I am old and grumpy!!

      • Lennie says:

        I agree about children but would take it a step further.
        I don’t think they should be allowed on any flights.

        I think they should be made to run alongside>

    • Geoff says:

      I agree with you, I have had flights ruined by unruly children , whose parents lack all responsibility, even to the extent of lying down in the aisle, or looking over their seat top and making noises or faces at you, which their parents seem to think is hilarious.
      I believe its the parents that require attention.

      • Anonymous says:

        I agree with all this about children and how their parents can completely disregard other passengers discomfort at their precious offspring antics. However, it’s not just children. Just be unlucky enough ti sit next to the galley with the aircrew chattering all night whilst you are trying to sleep !

        • I have had the same experience.
          A drunk talking to the air crew. I was sitting next to the galley with the curtain ajar with the light straight into my eyes. Traveled from Manchester to Singapore, I got off the plane with red eyes due to no sleep.

      • Binky says:

        I agree with all this about children and how their parents can completely disregard other passengers discomfort at their precious offspring antics. However, it’s not just children. Just be unlucky enough ti sit next to the galley with the aircrew chattering all night whilst you are trying to sleep !

    • Completely agree about children and believe that if there were child-free areas similar to the old no smoking areas, some passengers would be prepared to pay a small premium. I find headphones or earplugs work well but they do not stop the child kicking the back of the seat, which seems to happen often. We travel a lot on Easyjet and often pay extra for extra legroom seats. These are usually rows 12 and 13 and are emergency exits so children cannot sit in them. I try to book row 12 as I then know that there cannot be a child in row 13. I am not grouchy either but some parents just seem incapable of keeping children under control.

    • Anonymous says:

      Well said,ourselves have just experienced a torturous 8hour journey back from America where we paid extra to reserve our seats and sit together but in front of us had two children probably about 2yrs + 4yrs which too no fault of there’s complained-cried and shouted at by there mother and in the seats directly behind had 2 teenage girls sitting with there father which continued to kick the back of our seats continuously for about 1 hour until I’d finally had enough and asked them politely if they could stop with there father saying absolutely nothing to them !!! I’m not saying. My own kids are perfect but they have manners and respect for other people which seems to be lacking in a lot of people ????

    • In a similar vein, a few years ago I contacted several Cruise companies and asked what ‘Adult only’ Cruises they offered.
      I was told “None. There is no call for them!”
      I suggested they ask their customers.
      Some now offer Adult only cruises!
      Unfortunately not one of them has given me any credit for the suggestion!

      • Peter Lodge says:

        John, I’m pleased that somebody else writes to holiday companies / cruise lines to make suggestions. I do it myself but have never had a success. I’m still waiting for a greater selection of ‘non-tipping cruises’ from companies other than Thomson whose range is a little limited.

      • Chloe Almey says:

        Young families need a separate section yes! but at what age is a child deemed old enough to sit in the adult section. I have a 14 year old daughter who will be flying New Zealand to London alone and she is more than mature and mannered. Would having many kids together too cause more havoc and when one cries the others start? Just some thoughts but agree totally.

        • Aidan Parkhouse says:

          In August 2014 I flew to Germany on my own to stay with my godfather. I was 13 at the time. Other than spending a little too much on duty free rubbish (scented candle) my trip was fine and the best holiday I’ve ever had. On my return flight there were some kids (2 brothers) who wanted to sleep, they didn’t make a fuss, their parents asked for blankets (which were retrieved from business class) and they slept. If they kicked the seat on front (which they did whilst asleep) their parents would apologize profusely. It was by no means a long haul flight at only 2 hours, but it got me hooked on travel. I should probably add that this was Lufthansa, who were amazing.

  2. Tony Willmott says:

    I have to admit that whilst I have flown many times long haul, I have until now had the chance to travel in BA Club World or First, having only ever made one transatlantic flight in Premium Economy.

    Now due to a massive change in circumstances, ie. not travelling on business & not getting air-miles I am now considering travel next summer to the US in economy. I have Multiple Sclerosis and one reason I usually travelled in Club when on business was a result of this (my employer did this to allow me more space).

    I will be fully researching the airlines & seatguru etc before making my booking for summer 2014. I live in hope I can find a cheap/good deal to secure at least a Club seat.

  3. Richard D-E says:

    I take an empty refillable plastic water bottle and fill it up air-side, then refill each time its empty when I get up from the seat. Another tip is to have something to clear your nasal passages if you have a cold. Its really painful when the air pressure changes.

    The last tip is to take homoeopathic tablets ‘No Jet Lag’ made in New Zealand but obtainable in ‘Boots Chemists’ Heathrow and other major airports. I used to travel frequently to New Zealand and found these really good.

  4. Peter Lodge says:

    The perennial answer to the question of long haul comfort always seems to be Pay, Pay Pay! At 6’2″ I am never going to be comfortable in cattle class, but there are better ways of spending an extra couple of thousand quid that blowing it all on a comfy seat that you will be sat in for a max of usually 12 hours. I just go for a stroll every hour or so to relieve the muscles and the boredom.

    I endorse the opinion that we should be protected from screaming babies though. It always amazes me just how many there are on my flights, yet why? Unless emigrating or visiting a dying relative, I can’t see any reason why babies need to be on long haul flights at all. Surely that trip can be put off for a couple of years, like most considerate folk do. If they have to be on, then I agree there should be a separate insulated area where they can all scream together.

    I also feel that there should be designated times when seats cannot be reclined. There’s nothing worse that having my knees crushed within 1 second of the seat belts sign going out. We all pay for our seats, yet the inconsiderate seem to have more rights than the rest.

    And finally, when you get on the aircraft, why does it seem that the extra legroom seats are always occupied by somebody about 5’3″ or shorter?

  5. Jansy says:

    I agree about the ‘children’ effect. I think there should also be tips for parents about respecting other travellers. The main one is that the seat in front belongs to the person sitting in it and is not a play thing for kicking, pulling and general entertainment. Yes I have travelled with children, and now grandchildren and know how difficult it can be to keep them entertained.

  6. Lee Kelly says:

    The best way for occupying kids on any flight is send them to play outside…

  7. Maria Pickford says:

    It’s all about attitude.
    If I was at home and someone told me to do nothing all day except watch films or read my book and they would bring coffee and food and alcohol whenever I wanted, I would think it was my birthday!!
    As someone who finds it hard to do nothing, I actually embrace the enforced, guilt-free relaxation that a long haul flight brings!

  8. Charlie Fairhead says:

    How Clare who writes above is SO correct ! I am nearly always usually the poor passenger who get’s “The Kicking Kid” sat behind me, constantly banging and kicking the back of my seat – it drives me almost to tears. I once went on a long haul flight which lasted over 7 hours with a tit for tat pushing competition going on between me and the teenager sat behind me who simply was not capable of travelling without having her feet permanantly stuck to the upper part of the back of my seat! After the flight I was drained because of the effort involved in giving as much as I got in return. I have tried asking politely if they wouldn’t mind packing it in but my politeness is seen as a weakness by both the kids AND the parents who believe that they are always in the right. I genuinely HATE flying and hope that the airlines bring out a cattle class for low lifes who insist on travelling like scum. In fact, I would genuinely prefer to travel with livestock !!!!

  9. rita baillie says:


  10. My long haul flights are to Australia, I always take a book and watch the in flight films or listen to the music, I very rarely sleep much and find the break when changeing planes gives me time to exercise and sit more comfortably. On my last trip I had to change planes in Singapore and again in Brisbane, I arrived at my destination with no adverse affects and enjoyed my months stay to the full. Maybe I’m lucky that jet-lag has no effect on me.

  11. Dan Robinson says:

    Wonderful tips if you can afford them aint everybody that can afford club class but we all know how easy it would be.Certainly the lady that highlighted the problem with unruly and noisy kids aint in the minority.I once had the pleasure of having my back being constantly kicked from behind and when I enquired as to why I found that the child had been dumped on the grandparents whilst the parents had a nice sleep. That didnt last for long I can assure you.I think the idea of having families with kids all together would be great,preferably on the wing seats,Im sure they could be installed. I know I only pay for transport but surely that should involve a stress free journey not getting wound up by other folks nuisance.

  12. If you are used to turning left and your circumstance have changed and you now have to turn right the best advice I can give (from personal experience) is don’t get hung up about it. Forget all the privileges of 1st and business class and concentrate on your reason for getting on the plane is to travel from A to B and nothing else. Sleep as much as you can (if possible) watch movies and just think about where you are going and how much you will enjoy it when you get there! The glamour attached to flying 50 years ago has gone and you are just catching a “sky bus”.

    My long haul flights used to be for demanding business meetings but now I know I can really look forward to a great holiday and seeing good friends again. My wife who travelled business infrequently has no problem with travelling economy because her experience of “privileged” flying was much more limited!

    I am flying to Hong Kong on Tuesday economy class. It will only take 12 hours and we will have a great time in a warm climate seeing good friends again I am really looking forward to it.

    I appreciate medical circumstances may require additional support hopefully the airline will be sympathetic to your needs

  13. Stephen says:

    Dear Sylvia,
    Why do the government ban using mobile phones why driving, and let mothers take children in the back of their cars? Which is more distracting?

  14. It’s not only children that can be a nuisance it’s adults to who encroach into your leg room by stretching out or hogging the arm rest especially if your sat in the four seat section.Another bug bear is reclining their seats when people or obviously still eating this happened toe on my last flight and I ended up with red wine all over me when I asked politely for the person to put their seat back to the upright position until I had finished eating all I got was no apology and a mouthful of abuse, eventually the stewardess had to intervene and only then did they put their seat back until I’d finished.

  15. Audrey says:

    In defence of families, not all children are unruly. Mine are actually quite good travellers, but they are children. Unfortunately it is not always possible to leave your kids at home and travel as adults only. I would support the idea of a family section, perhaps with stuff to occupy the kids. Recently travelled to Greece with Thomson, only 4 hour flight but no in-flight entertainment, and nil for the kids so no wonder if the kids become restless! However flights can be ruined by fellow passengers who overindulge in alcohol, or if unfortunate to sit next to an obese person or someone who constantly chatters at you. I think best just to show respect and hope that the others you are flying with do too.

  16. Does anyone have a cure for alergy to the “re-cycled air”? My companion and I recently sneezed all the way back from Colombo – on both of two flights.

  17. As well as wearing layers of loose, comfortable clothing, make sure your shoes aren’t too tight – though sandals may not keep your feet warm enough once the aircon kicks in. I find a sports bra without wiring is most comfortable on a long flight, especially if I’ll be trying to sleep sitting up. And if you want to be able to actually hear the movie (or indeed your own MP3 player)take your own headphones, the kind that go right in the ear and block out more of the engine noise.

  18. A lot of comments about children here, and putting them in a different part of the plane. On my last flight I sat next to a large (fat) passenger, any chance they could look at moving these people to a different area so they are not overlapping into my chair.

  19. KEV SAYS says:

    Kids are not the worst people to travel with, I would sooner put up kids than overweight people who not only fill thier seats, also want half yours, and the ones who have to recline their seats even on a shorthaul flight giving you even less room.

  20. Mr Jones says:

    This is crazy!!!! I’ve never read so much rubbish!!! We all were children once!! Ok I understand that sitting near children crying and misbehaving on a flight is annoying and to be fair if this is causes major upset then the air steward should try and get involved to either speak to the parents or try and help the parents! however from what I have seen is that the drunk adults thinking there more important then anybody else seems to be the order of the day!! The word is public transport, I was once on a flight to Cuba and someone decided to smoke in the toilet. court in the act was a middle age couple that had far to much to drink and thought they would get away with it!!! Perfect ending was the Cuban police/ military waiting for them on arrival, couldn’t thinking of a better country to land into to be arrested!!! Brilliant.

  21. do parents take their children on long haul holidays for their cildrens benefit or their own ? we stated in england till our youngest was 10 before we went abroad ! and even at 10 they still dont remember that holiday !

    • Ann Patterson says:

      For their own convenience I am sure of that’ what other reason could it be, Young children say under five would probably enjoy a train ride to a resort in their own country.

      • Or perhaps because they are visiting family they will otherwise not meet? Perhaps it’s the only opportunities the parents are going to get for that length of time off to do this? Perhaps there are older siblings who will enjoy it? Perhaps the child loves being active and the outdoors and your relatives happen to live near a mountain paradise.

        Realise I’m replying a couple of years later but some of the comments on this website are really winding me up. We’re about to travel long haul with kids for the reasons outlined above. We are considerate people. We make sure our children respect others. We have done our best to prepare so that our kids won’t get bored and upset anyone. We will also most certainly not be allowing them to kick the backs of anyone’s chairs. If they do upset a fellow passenger then it won’t be for want of trying on our part and it won’t be because they are badly behaved kids (bored, scared, tired or ill maybe?).

        I tend to find when I travel that it’s the younger adults and teens who are most annoying when they put their music up full blast through their headphones, take up more than their own leg room, read newspapers which take up more room than their seat, get too drunk, etc. etc. There are plenty of adults who don’t do this of course but it seems that kids on here are all tarred with the same brush so why not the adults!

        I agree completely with those people annoyed with kids kicking backs of chairs, etc. but some of the other comments are downright horrible, snobby or completely selfish.

  22. It is important to be comfortable on a long-haul flight, the last way you want to begin your holiday is uncomfortable and stressed. It can be worth paying that little bit extra to get some more leg room, or I’m sure if you can really afford it, travel privately!

    • Ann Patterson says:

      It’s not a little bit extra’ you pay for a better seat’ it cost €€ for any kind of upgrade.

  23. Richard says:

    Couldn’t agree more about seperate sections.
    Firstly one for fat people and tall people who should both pay more for larger seats (especially as they use more fuel and eat and drink more. I’m sick of them bulging into my seat and think they should get a smaller luggage allowance.
    Women (and men) of a certain age should all be put near the toilets for obvious reasons. I really don’t want to be woken due to their continence issues. Old people who smell could go in this section.
    Northerners and other working class people clearly need their own section due to loudness and drunken loutish behaviour.
    I’ll happily sit with the families.

  24. Ann Patterson says:

    When I travelled to Mauritius long haul recently, it wasn’t children who were the big problem’ It was freesing cold both ways, even though like everyone else ,I had over coat ,scarf & hat, & a thin blanked which was supplied by the airline which was BA.

  25. Maida Wells says:

    wow – to a lot of these comments. It seems if you are a child, Northern or an older passenger – you all have a problem – you shouldn’t be flying with the other ‘normal’ passengers – i’m seeing a pattern here, all these judgemental people have attitude problems, getting along with others and seriously hate children. No one who has a child wants them to cry continuously on any kind of journey and believe me when I say, that they do everything in their power to stop this from happening, I cannot believe anyone would suggest ‘putting them all together, and the elderly to be put near to toilets. come on try and act like the human beings that you are supposed to be and not the animals you are portraying!!

  26. christine mcguane says:

    Traveling back from Morth Carolina to heathrow a child was playing up would not sit still. I was astonished as on landing procedure everyone had seatbelts on etc. This 2 year old was standing on her seatduring the whole landing procedure parents or crew did not takea blind bit of notice

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