While flying first class offers the ultimate in comfort, most of the time we fly coach or economy. When the flight is short, we hardly notice. But on a long or overnight flight, irritations that are manageable for a couple of hours can become nightmarish.
After traveling extensively for over two decades, we’ve mastered the art of surviving a long flight in economy. We want to share our insider tips with you.
1. Always Bring Your Own Water Bottle
We recommend this even on short flights, but on longer flights, it’s essential. We were stuck on a plane for hours when the water ran out, and we learned our lesson. This may be something you’ve heard before. But trust us -- it is our number-one recommendation. You want to have water available all the time. You’ll be sitting pretty if you don’t have to give it another thought.
2. Take Along Your Favorite Snacks
Also make sure to bring your own snacks. While food is typically provided on long-haul flights, you may find it inadequate or inedible. We were once on a long flight that ran out of everything but pasta. The gentleman flyer next to us lost his composure, and the rest of the flight was uncomfortable for anyone within earshot. You don’t want to be that person.
So bring your favorite snacks, and even something heavier like a sandwich if you’d like. Include plenty of protein sources, such as edamame, jerky, and nuts, as well as your favorite munchies. Then, if there are delays or shortages, your favorite bites will be available no matter what.
3. Keep Your Essentials With You
This may seem like common sense, but you would be surprised how many people do not remember to keep essential items in a carry-on bag, purse, backpack, or briefcase.
Essentials are different for everyone, so we’ll just give you some ideas: prescriptions and over-the-counter drugs, laptops, phones, cords, chargers, adapters, electronic accessories, water bottles, snacks, scarves, and books or magazines.
No matter what happens during a long flight, you can keep yourself worry-free, comfortable, fed, and entertained.
4. Check Your Bag
Let’s face it -- no one likes to pay extra fees for checked bags. But there’s nothing worse than trying to get your stuffed-to-the-gills carry-on bag into an overhead compartment. This is especially true if you’re surrounded by other passengers who are tired and grumpy, dealing with their own issues, and shoving you and everyone else around them to get by.
If you have a credit card or loyalty status, chances are you’ll get at least one bag free. Many airlines allow a free checked bag for longer flights. But even if you have to pay for it, it’s better not to have to lug around a heavy carry-on. You’ll feel lighter and have more room for all your other comforts.
5. Go To Local Time
We had an uncle who frequently traveled from the United States to places all over the world, but he always seemed rested and energetic. We asked him how he did it, and he said he immediately put himself into the time zone he was heading. He set his watch to the new time zone and did whatever he would be doing there. If it was morning there, he would stay up and read. If it was bedtime, he would go to sleep. Your body adjusts more quickly if you tell it what to do. This also minimizes jet lag, since you’ve transitioned on the plane rather than at your destination.
6. Wear Comfy Clothes
A long flight in economy is not the time to wear those jeans you have to stuff yourself into or the cute shirt that keeps coming unbuttoned. Wear the most comfortable clothes you have, because unless you are willing to go into the plane bathroom to change, you’re going to be in them for a long time. And trust us -- you want to go into the plane bathroom as little as possible. Wear your comfy shirt, comfy pants, comfy shoes, and comfy everything. You will be glad you did.
7. Wear Compression Socks
We only evangelize when we feel that everyone would benefit from what we say, which is rare. So when we say to invest in compression socks, we really, really mean it.
Long flights can take a toll on even the most stalwart travelers. Compression socks have come a long way from the orthopedic medical thingies your grandma wore. They now come in a dazzling array of styles and colors. More importantly, they provide relief and comfort for your legs during a long flight in economy.
Read our detailed article to learn more about what compression socks are and why we recommend them.
8. Pack A Backpack Or Tote Bag
On an extended European excursion, we made a small film about the travails of exploring the world. The “Terrifying Tote Bag Sequence” that resulted from a visit to the Island of Lost Luggage still haunts us today.
Checked bags can get lost, and you may be unsure of whether or when they will return. So we recommend packing an extra set of clothing, undergarments, toothbrush and paste, and small versions of anything you might need if your bag does not show up at the end of your flight. In addition to the essentials mentioned above, pack some extras like Chapstick, adhesive bandages, a nail file, pajamas or a T-shirt and sweats, and other items to keep you comfy if you have to wait for your bag.
9. Choose The Seat You Want
Some people are more comfortable with an aisle seat. They know they can get up to walk around, grab something in the overhead, or visit the bathroom without stepping over anyone. Others prefer a window where they can create their own little cubby, pillow and all, all tucked in. Those of us who want to sit next to either of these people generally end up in a middle seat. We’ve learned to make the best of it, and we know that if we want to lean on someone or step over them, it’s our traveling companion and they just have to deal because, well, we took the middle seat.
Know what you prefer, and make sure you get it. A long flight is not the time to deal with seat envy or regret.
10. Be Mindful Of Your Sensitivities
If you’re sensitive to light, bring a sleeping mask. If you’re sensitive to noise, bring noise-canceling headphones (or at least earplugs). If you need a soft pillow to cushion your head, bring a travel pillow with you. If you get cold, don’t count on getting a blanket onboard -- bring a versatile scarf, sweater, or sweatshirt (remember, you can carry your garment separately and do not have to use up packing space).
Think about what makes you comfortable and what makes you uncomfortable. Bring the items that meet your needs. You’re the one who knows what makes you feel pampered, so do what it takes to pamper yourself on a long flight in economy.
11. Take Advantage Of The Free Time
One of the few times we get a large chunk of “me time” is when we’re on a long flight. Even if we’re traveling with a companion, we don’t have to go along with their program. If you want to take advantage of the in-flight entertainment, you can watch the same movie as your partner -- or not. You can watch something they would never watch with you at home. Or you could listen to music that you and you alone find appealing, or enjoy your own favorite entertainment on your computer or handheld device.
Assuming you’ll be awake for some part of the flight, take advantage of it. Play that game you enjoy, watch the movie no one will go with you to see, or read the book that’s been sitting on your nightstand for months. You deserve it.
These are some of our expert tips for not only surviving, but relishing a long flight in economy. We’ve used them ourselves many times, and we’re sure that they can help you enjoy your next long flight. Bon voyage!