11 tips for surviving a long-haul flight in economy

Nov 2, 2019

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We don’t have to tell you this, but flying in economy isn’t exactly a glamorous or enjoyable experience.

Sure, it’s totally fine for quick domestic flights, but being contained in a small seat that doesn’t have much recline, pitch or legroom for more than a few hours really starts to take a toll on your body (and, let’s be real, your mind). Luckily for you, we’ve rounded up some of our favorite tips and tricks so you can walk off your next long-haul flight feeling fresh as a daisy.

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Choose your seats wisely

Don’t pick your seat assignment blindly. We recommend checking Seat Guru before you click “confirm” — after all, you don’t want to end up smack in the middle of a 2-4-2 configuration or right next to the lavatory, do you? You may also want to consider selecting an exit row seat (just know the pros and cons) for more legroom. But unless you have status, you’ll probably have to pay for the privilege.

Check in early

Didn’t get 22A? Don’t panic. But don’t wait until you get to the airport to check in for your flight, either. During the (usually 24-hour) check-in period, watch the seat map and refresh it regularly — something better could easily open up at this time, and if you’re able to score a window or aisle seat, the quality of your flight will be significantly better.

Get comfortable

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: Comfort is key when traveling, especially toward the back of the plane. More likely than not, you’re going to want to get some shuteye, so wear clothes that resemble (or at least feel like) pajamas, without actually being, you know, pajamas. You still want to look at least somewhat presentable.

Dress in layers

Travelers should always dress in layers, but this is especially true if you’re on a long-haul flight. Nothing, after all, is more uncomfortable than wild inflight temperature swings. And don’t expect airlines to give you more than a bolt of thin fabric in coach as a stand-in for a blanket, so consider investing in a cozy scarf, wrap or cape that you can easily slip on and off, wear as a sweater or curl up under when you’re trying to sleep.

For men and women, we love Jet&Bo’s “Make Travel Luxurious Again” travel set, which includes a travel wrap, socks and a sleep mask that pack away in a zip-up case that easily fits in your carry-on. And did we mention everything is made of 100% cashmere? You’ll be more comfortable (and feel more extravagant) than travelers flying in the front of the plane. Well, almost.

Bring your own amenities

On that note, you’re going to want to come prepared. Don’t just show up for your flight with only your bags in tow. Many travelers, including The Points Guy himself, have been known to save first- and business-class amenity kits for trips in the back of the bus.

But you can always put together your own. Whether it’s a great neck pillow, the aforementioned travel set, your favorite sleep mask or a footrest (economy can be uncomfortable for short people, too!), bring items with you that will make you feel “at home” as much as possible. There are a few items that you’ll always want to keep handy, so be sure to create an amenity kit with hand sanitizer, lip balm, tissues, ear plugs and either toothpaste and a toothbrush or, at least, a bottle of mouthwash.

As an aside, I flew seven flights in coach in four days and believe me when I say the foot sling was a game-changer.

Drink water

When you think you’ve had enough water, drink some more. Flight attendants — especially in coach — are somewhat notorious for not handing out enough water, but don’t be afraid to ask for what you need. Air on planes is known for being incredibly dry, and it can really start to mess up your body. You’ll be able to start your trip on the right foot if you’re hydrated and taking care of yourself, so pack a reusable water bottle — like the lightweight Vapur bottles that collapse and lie flat when empty — and fill it up after security.

Bring snacks

Airplane food isn’t exactly a gourmet dining experience (unless, of course, you’re sitting at the pointy end of the plane). So, pack some of your favorite snacks from home to do away with those pesky hunger pains. Just be mindful of your fellow passengers, please and thank you, and stick to less, well, aromatic foods

Take care of your skin

Remember what we said about air on planes being really dehydrating? Same principle applies for your skin. Do a moisturizing face mask, apply your favorite creams and oils — whatever you need to do to keep your skin feeling good. You’ll likely never see any of these people again, so put your pride aside and focus on your wellbeing.

Drown out the sound

Splurge on the best noise-canceling headphones money can buy, and then drown out all the gloomy sounds of economy. Slip on the downright luxurious Bang & Olufsen Beoplay H8i or classic road warrior Bose QuietComfort 35 Headphones II and say goodbye to the engine roar, howling babies (and their parents) and the whoosh of the lav toilet flushing. You can thank us later.

Bring some backup

Like we said, you’ll likely want to get some sleep on the long flight (and if nothing else, it’s a good way to pass some time). If you can’t fall asleep easily naturally, it’s not a bad idea to bring a little help with you. Whether it’s melatonin, a dose of Benadryl or something a little stronger — prescribed by your doctor, of course — being able to fall asleep easily can make a world of difference.

Stock up on entertainment

It’s no secret that many airlines’ inflight entertainment systems aren’t exactly the most entertaining. And they’re certainly not reliable, especially if you’re enduring the long haul in coach. So, download that podcast you’ve been meaning to listen to or every episode of the television series you’ve been wanting to binge. If that’s not your style, there’s always a good old fashioned book that could use some love.

Related: The best starter credit cards

Will your long-haul flight in economy to the other side of the world be the best one of your life? Probably not. Will it be at least bearable — or dare we say comfortable — with these tips in mind? Absolutely.

Featured photo by Caiaimage/Agnieszka Olek/Getty Images.

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