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Top travel tips and tricks: how to survive long-haul flights

When you live in the UAE, long-haul flights come with the territory. If you plan well, pack long-haul flight essentials, wear the right clothes and know how to pass the time, it doesn’t have to be a total nightmare. Here's some tips and tricks on how to survive long-haul flights, as well as answers to some common long-haul FAQs to stay relaxed, refreshed and rearing to go when you land…


1. What clothes should I wear on a long-haul flight?

This is easy – whatever’s comfortable. You won’t survive a long-haul  Remember a plane can get cold, so you want comfortable, loose-fitting layers that you can easily take on and off. You’ll also spend most of the time sat in your seat, so anything with a tight waist band or itchy label is a no-no. An extra pair of socks or slippers are a good idea, and bear in mind your feet might swell at high altitudes, so tight-fitting shoes are not sensible. Also, take a little bag to store your jewelry in your hand luggage while you’re in the air.

2. How do I reserve the best seats on a long-haul flight?

Reserving a good seat on a long-haul, especially if you’re in economy, is one of the best ways to make sure you survive the flight. Think ahead, do your research, and book early.

Lots of airlines – including some of the bigger airlines – charge for seat selection. And while it may be irritating to pay for a seat, it’s often worth it. If it’s essential you arrive well rested or that you sleep on board, consider paying for the seats with maximum legroom.

To get the best seats follow these rules:

  • If it’s more leg room you need, choose an exit row. If they’re not available to reserve online, ask at the check in desk.
  • To avoid children on the plane, book further to the back. Families are usually given the bassinet seats at the front of the plane.
  • Choose an aisle seat if you want to move around a lot in the air. While window seats might offer you (relatively) more privacy on a short-haul flight, 10 hours is a long time to be hemmed in by two other people.

Some airlines make you wait until just a few days before departure to reserve your seat, but if not, it’s best to get in early.

Reserve the best seat to make sure you're comfortable for the flight

3. What’s the best travel pillow for a plane?

Technology has pretty much revolutionized the travel accessory market in recent years. This is good, because sleeping on a plane is not always easy. This is where your long-haul flight essentials come in handy. There are vibrating travel pillows, pillows designed for various sleep positions, pillows with headphone jacks, and more. See some of the best travel pillows here. While you’re at it, get a good sleeping mask, ear plugs, or noise-canceling headphones. Miniature toiletries such a toothbrush and toothpaste can also help you feel ready for sleep.

4. What are the hand-luggage essentials for a long-haul flight?

The more you pack, the more you have to take care of and find space for. On a long-haul you need every inch of legroom you can get, so pack your long-haul flight essentials (pillow, eye mask, ear plugs, water and a shawl or light blanket), and make sure your hand luggage fits into the overhead lockers. Try to take one cabin bag and one smaller handbag which can fit neatly under the seat in front of you so you have the hand luggage essentials to hand.
Read our list of some interesting cabin bags on the market for some inspiration.

5. Take your own food and drink on the plane

One of the most common flight questions is ‘How many meals are served on a long-haul flight‘? The answer is it depends on the airline and route. On most long-haul flights you’ll get one main meal, plus at least two large snacks, and as many small snacks as you ask for. Most airlines are quite strict when it comes to the number of main meals served on long-haul flights, but there’s always tons of small snacks available on board.

Your body clock can take a bit of a hit on a long-haul flight and your meals might be served when you’re not expecting them. To avoid getting hungry, pack some slow-energy release snacks like nut bars or dried fruit in your hand luggage. You can take a sealed bottle of water on to the plane if you’ve purchased it after you passed through the security gate. It seems minor, but one of our best tips for how to survive a long-haul flight, is to drink water, even if you don’t fancy the food.

Take your own food and drink to avoid getting hungry on the plane
How to survive a long-haul flight – plan your meals

6. Move around the plane

Doing gentle exercises in your seat or going for a walk up and down the aisles is absolutely necessary on a long-haul flight. As well as helping to keep you sane, it’ll reduce your risk of developing deep vein thrombosis (DVT). You need to keep the circulation flowing in your legs, so it’s recommended you get up at least every two hours.

7. Drink water. All the water.

We know the lure of free drinks is appealing, but the best thing you can do to survive a long-haul flight is stick to water; it’s really important you stay hydrated. You could take your own flask or empty bottle and ask the cabin crew to fill it up for you if you didn’t want to wait for the regular trolley runs. The other important reason for staying hydrated is it helps stop your skin from tightening up or feeling dry. Decanting some of your favorite moisturizer into a handy travel bottle would also help with this.

8. Relax!

Take advantage of the time you have on a long-haul fight to switch off and relax. Watch a movie (or three), read the book you haven’t yet had the time to get stuck into or get your guidebook out and start planning your itinerary. Or if you’re flying home for your annual visit to see friends and family, do as little as possible before the craziness of your trip really begins!

9. Find new friends

Flights can be a great way of meeting interesting people heading the same way as you. If you’re bored, you could always strike up a conversation with the person sitting next to you or the person queuing for the bathroom. Admittedly they may not be a friend for life, but if it kills half an hour, that can only be a good thing! Best case scenario is you find a kindred spirit and someone you might actually see again after you step off the plane.

10. Pick a good airline

If you’re an old hat at flying long haul, you’ll know how to tell a good long-haul airline from a bad one. Do some digging and look for reviews of what other passengers have said about the different carriers. You might feel loyalty towards one particular airline, but they might be notorious for offering bad long-haul flights.
In general, the best long-haul airlines will have seats wider than 17 inches, but work out what’s important to you. If you’re looking for good food, talk to other passengers about what they think of British Airways or Cathay Pacific. Or if space is important to you, look up the leg room measurements and reserve yourself a good seat.
Air New Zealand, Virgin Atlantic and Singapore Airlines consistently rate well for long-haul flights. The Telegraph Travel Awards 20118 awarded Singapore Airlines as the best long-haul airline, with Emirates Airlines as a runner up.

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*Updated July 2019. Prices correct at the time of publication but may be subject to change and/or availability.