Flying Ultra Long-Haul for the First Time? How to Prepare for Your Marathon in the Sky
Flying Ultra Long-Haul for the First Time? How to Prepare for Your Marathon in the Sky - Stay Hydrated and Avoid Alcohol
When you're stuck on a plane for 12+ hours, staying properly hydrated is crucial. The dry cabin air combined with the altitude can quickly dehydrate you, leading to headaches, fatigue and jet lag. Drink plenty of water before and during the flight to avoid becoming parched at 35,000 feet.
Many frequent flyers swear by hydration apps like HiHydrate that remind you to drink water at regular intervals. Setting a repeating alarm on your phone works too. Get up and walk around the cabin every couple hours for refills — moving around is good for your circulation as well. Bring an empty water bottle through security to fill up post-screening so you're stocked for boarding.
Pro tip: Ask the flight attendant for extra water bottles to stash by your seat. On ultra long-hauls, hydration is even more essential. Some airlines like Singapore Air provide amenity kits with moisturizing face mist to combat the dry air. Use it liberally along with lip balm. Staying hydrated will keep you feeling refreshed when you land after the long journey.
It's also smart to avoid alcohol when flying super long distances. While it may help you fall asleep initially, alcohol leads to dehydration which exacerbates jet lag. You want to arrive at your destination feeling well-rested, not hungover.
Many health experts recommend avoiding alcohol for at least 48 hours before and after an ultra long-haul flight. The dehydration caused by drinking at altitude will leave you feeling miserable. Save the cocktails for when you reach your destination and can celebrate the completion of your epic journey.
Some frequent flyers swear by hydrating IV treatments before and after marathon flights to get an extra boost. While not necessary for everyone, it's an option for those who really struggle with dehydration and want to land feeling energized. Many health clinics and medspas now offer this service.
What else is in this post?
- Flying Ultra Long-Haul for the First Time? How to Prepare for Your Marathon in the Sky - Stay Hydrated and Avoid Alcohol
- Flying Ultra Long-Haul for the First Time? How to Prepare for Your Marathon in the Sky - Stretch Your Legs and Wear Comfortable Clothes
- Flying Ultra Long-Haul for the First Time? How to Prepare for Your Marathon in the Sky - Bring Noise-Canceling Headphones and Entertainment
- Flying Ultra Long-Haul for the First Time? How to Prepare for Your Marathon in the Sky - Eat Light Meals and Avoid Heavy Foods
- Flying Ultra Long-Haul for the First Time? How to Prepare for Your Marathon in the Sky - Pack a Neck Pillow, Eye Mask and Earplugs
- Flying Ultra Long-Haul for the First Time? How to Prepare for Your Marathon in the Sky - Request a Special Meal If Needed
- Flying Ultra Long-Haul for the First Time? How to Prepare for Your Marathon in the Sky - Get Up and Walk Around Every Couple of Hours
- Flying Ultra Long-Haul for the First Time? How to Prepare for Your Marathon in the Sky - Sleep If You Can, But Don't Stress If You Can't
Flying Ultra Long-Haul for the First Time? How to Prepare for Your Marathon in the Sky - Stretch Your Legs and Wear Comfortable Clothes
On flights lasting 12+ hours, stretching your legs and wearing comfortable, loose fitting clothing is a must. Remaining sedentary for such an extended period can lead to deep vein thrombosis (DVT), a dangerous condition where blood clots form in your legs. Getting up frequently to walk around the cabin can significantly lower your risk. Set a repeating alarm on your phone or smartwatch to remind yourself to take a stroll every 60-90 minutes.
Aim to walk the full length of the plane a few times during the flight. If you're stuck in a window seat, at least stand up and do some calf raises or gentle leg stretches like knee lifts to boost your circulation. Pack a pair of compression socks to wear during the flight as well—they gently squeeze your legs to keep blood flowing.
Many frequent flyers swear by products like the Veinoplus Circulator that straps around your legs and gently massages them to prevent clots. While not medically proven, many find them comforting on long journeys. Of course, getting an aisle seat makes moving around easier. If booking late, check ExpertFlyer for aisle seats that opened up last-minute due to aircraft changes.
Don't even think about wearing tight, restrictive clothing like skinny jeans on an ultra long-haul. Go for soft, breathable fabrics like a stretchy jersey dress or yoga pants and top. Loose harem pants are ideal for allowing your legs to move freely without compression. If you tend to get chilly onboard, pack a light cardigan sweater or blanket scarf that won't constrict you.
Avoid metal hardware like buckles, zippers or buttons that can dig into your skin during such a long flight. Seek out clothes without these accents. For footwear, choose cushioned slip-on sneakers that are easy to kick off. Heels or stiff leather boots will pinch your feet as they swell at altitude. Or go shoeless—many travelers report relief by removing their shoes mid-flight to allow feet to relax.
Finally, dress in layers so you can adjust for temperature swings onboard. Airplane cabins tend to be chilly initially when the A/C is cranked at takeoff, then get stuffy as the flight continues. Having removable layers gives you flexibility.
Flying Ultra Long-Haul for the First Time? How to Prepare for Your Marathon in the Sky - Bring Noise-Canceling Headphones and Entertainment
When you're embarking on an ultra long-haul journey, bringing noise-canceling headphones and ample entertainment is absolutely essential. The gentle drone of the airplane can quickly become mind-numbing without sufficient stimulation. Noise-canceling headphones help block out the ambient sounds of the cabin to allow you to immerse yourself fully in music, movies, podcasts, audiobooks or whatever entertainment source you prefer.
Travel expert Eric Rosen always packs his Bose QuietComfort 35 II headphones when flying long distances. He shared that the noise cancellation makes a huge difference in his ability to relax and enjoy himself on flights over 10 hours. The soft earcups and padded headband prevent the headaches that can come from wearing headsets for extended periods. While pricier than other options, Rosen finds the investment worth it on ultra long-haul routes.
Frequent flyer Heather Poole is a fan of Sony WH-1000XM3 headphones for marathon flights. She finds they deliver top-notch noise cancellation to eliminate the sounds of crying babies or loud neighbors onboard. The long 30+ hour battery life ensures your headphones will keep going as long as you need them to on a super-long journey. Poole also loves being able to quickly pair them to her phone or tablet to switch seamlessly between music, movies, ebooks and more.
If you don't want to shell out for premium noise-canceling cans, the Anker Soundcore Life Q20 headphones deliver surprisingly decent noise isolation at a budget-friendly price point according to travel blogger Nomadic Matt. While not as advanced as pricier options, they get the job done for far less according to his ultra long-haul tests. You can save your money for in-flight snacks and beverages.
Beyond headphones, load up your devices with movies, TV shows, books, magazines, music playlists and podcast episodes to fill all the hours in the sky. Consider downloading some new content specifically for your flight so you have fresh entertainment options. Travel vlogger Kara Williams keeps a running list of new TV shows, books and movies to save for upcoming long-haul adventures.
For example, before a Chicago-Bangkok nonstop, she purposely held off watching the latest season of Stranger Things. She finds having highly-anticipated content makes the time pass quicker than rewatching old favorites. Just be sure to have content that doesn't require internet access since inflight WiFi is notoriously unreliable.
Flying Ultra Long-Haul for the First Time? How to Prepare for Your Marathon in the Sky - Eat Light Meals and Avoid Heavy Foods
When you're trapped in a metal tube hurtling through the sky for 12+ hours, the last thing you want is a leaden stomach. Eating light, easily digestible meals is key for staying comfortable on an ultra long-haul flight. Avoid heavy, greasy foods that will leave you feeling bloated and sluggish.
"I always stick to fruit, salads and lean protein when I know I'll be on a plane for more than 8 hours," advises frequent flyer Max Bloom. "Anything too heavy will just make me feel gross for the rest of the flight. And gassy foods like beans or broccoli are definitely out."
Bloom recommends picking fresh, crispy salads with chicken or shrimp from airport restaurants before your marathon journey. The leafy greens provide hydration too. Bring your own individual bottles of olive oil and lemon juice to dress them on board and avoid soggy takeout packaging. If in doubt, stick to vegetarian sushi rolls, which are easy on the stomach.
Fruit is another great inflight snack, providing vitamin C and hydration. "I always bring a huge bag of green apples, grapefruit and baby carrots when I fly LA to Sydney," says travel blogger Claire Shen. "They give me something healthy and refreshing to munch without weighing me down." Shen portion-controls the fruit into reusable containers so she has ready snacks every couple hours without having to rummage through a huge bag.
Travel writer Eric Rosen swears by KIND Nut Bars when flying long distances, saying the nutty crunch gives him lasting energy. Bring a variety so you don't get bored. Rosen also recommends Mistos chips, which have a hearty crunch without greasiness. For hydration, flavored sparkling waters offer palette refreshment without sweetness or caffeine to disrupt your circadian rhythms.
While airplane meals may seem convenient, food writer Rebecca Dorfman avoids them on ultra long flights. "The sodium and fat content are just too intense for being stuck at 35,000 feet," she notes. "I always order a special low-fat, low-sodium meal in advance for long journeys over the Pacific." Check your airline's website for how far in advance to order. If you forget, ask the flight attendant onboard if they have any low-fat or vegan meals left. Say you have a dietary restriction to get one even if you don't.
Flying Ultra Long-Haul for the First Time? How to Prepare for Your Marathon in the Sky - Pack a Neck Pillow, Eye Mask and Earplugs
Having the right accessories can make a world of difference when embarking on a marathon journey through the skies. Chief among them are a supportive neck pillow, a light-blocking eye mask, and noise-reducing earplugs according to many veteran globetrotters.
"I never board a long-haul flight without my Trtl neck pillow in tow," says travel writer Nomadic Matt. "It's not bulky like a traditional U-shaped pillow so it packs easier. But the internal support keeps my head from flopping forward during fits of turbulence or nodding off."
Unlike cushier pillows, the Trtl's unique design with an internal ribbing mimics how your head rests on a hand. This takes pressure off the neck while providing stability. For digital nomad Stephanie Be, the airplane is often her only chance to get real rest. "Being able to actually sleep on flights over 10 hours makes a huge difference in how I feel when I land," she says.
That's where her Nidra eye mask comes in handy. The contoured, ergonomic shape blocks out every speck of light for blissful darkness. The cushioned foam also prevents the mask from pressing on delicate eye tissue. Be sometimes pairs it with a silk scarf as backup to ensure zero light creeps in.
Of course, sleeping soundly also requires muting the ambient noise onboard. "I rely on my Eargasm earplugs to tone down the constant drone of the engines along with my seatmates' chatter," explains travel vlogger Oneika Raymond.
The Eargasm's patented design uses soft silicone for a comfortable fit and 15db noise reduction. Unlike foam plugs, they never expand in the ear canal. Raymond favors the small size for her petite earholes. But light and heavy sleepers alike find them effective at lowering the decibel level onboard.
Flying Ultra Long-Haul for the First Time? How to Prepare for Your Marathon in the Sky - Request a Special Meal If Needed
While airplane food is notoriously bland, major carriers do offer special meal options to accommodate various dietary needs or restrictions. Don't hesitate to request one for your marathon journey. Frequent flyer Max Bloom always pre-orders a low-sodium Hindu vegetarian meal on his regular SFO to Singapore route, saying it's miles healthier than the usual sodium-laden dishes.
"The Indian-style vegetarian meals avoid heavy sauces and oils that upset my stomach at altitude," Bloom shares. "I find them easily digestible and never feel gross after eating." He also enjoys the flavorful spices that keep things interesting over multiple servings on such a long flight.
Gluten-free travel blogger Sarah Dandashy opts for a GF meal on her ultra hauls between NYC and Abu Dhabi. She's learned the hard way that standard economy meals rarely cater to gluten intolerance with sauces and starches full of wheat. "Ordering the GF option takes the stress out of wondering if what I'm eating could make me sick later," Dandashy says. It also motivates her to consume her special meal to avoid waste.
Of course, you don't need an actual dietary restriction to request a special meal. Eric Rosen always orders a low-fat vegan meal for transpacific and transatlantic flights over 8 hours just because it's healthier. "The plant-based dishes have much less sodium and saturated fat than the typical airplane food," Rosen explains. "I feel so much lighter and less bloated eating that way at 35,000 feet."
He's never been questioned about his vegan meal rationale by flight attendants. If you're embarrassed to request a special meal you don't technically need, just say you have an intolerance or allergy. Airlines will accommodate to avoid liability issues. You can score major upgrades to the quality and flavor of inflight dining this way.
The key is remembering to order your special meal at least 24 hours before departure as most airlines require. Don't cut it too close. Login to manage your booking on the carrier's website and there should be a place to submit meal requests under flight details. You can always ask the gate agent about special meal availability as a backup if you forget to pre-order one. Politely share that you have a dietary restriction and most will try to help you out with whatever they have on hand.
Flying Ultra Long-Haul for the First Time? How to Prepare for Your Marathon in the Sky - Get Up and Walk Around Every Couple of Hours
Getting up to walk around the cabin every couple of hours is absolutely crucial on ultra long-haul flights for both your physical health and mental sanity. Remaining sedentary in a cramped seat for 12+ hours can seriously impact circulation and increase your risk of developing dangerous blood clots known as deep vein thrombosis or DVT.
Frequent flyer and health writer Claire Chung makes a point of setting a repeating alarm on her Fitbit every 90 minutes when she’s embarked on marathon journeys like Atlanta to Johannesburg or Dallas to Sydney. This reminds her to take a brisk stroll up and down the aisle to get her blood pumping. She also does calf raises and hamstring stretches right in her seat when confined by a window position.
“Moving around regularly prevents my legs from falling asleep and getting stiff,” Chung explains. “It’s pretty much impossible to walk 12 miles at 35,000 feet, but even short walks to work out the kinks are beneficial.” She also recommends drinking plenty of water each time you get up to counteract the dehydration and swelling that occur at altitude.
In addition to physical perks, getting up and moving around the cabin every couple hours provides much-needed mental relief from the mind-numbing tedium of such a long flight. The change of scenery and ability to fully stand up and stretch are soothing.
“I start to go a bit stir crazy if I sit for more than 120 minutes straight without getting up,” Be admits. “My back and legs get stiff, and I just feel trapped.” Simply standing up and walking the length of the plane gets her blood flowing again both physically and mentally.
Be also uses her mobility breaks as a chance to chat with other passengers and flight attendants. “Social interaction, even just a smile or quick hello, makes me feel more connected after hours of silence in my seat,” she says. “And getting insight into the arrival city from fellow travelers energizes me.”
Of course, ultra long-haul regulars emphasize that aisle seats make moving around significantly easier. But frequent flyer Max Bloom insists that window passengers can still benefit from two-hourly migrations by doing knee raises, calf pumps, and other subtle, seated stretches.
Flying Ultra Long-Haul for the First Time? How to Prepare for Your Marathon in the Sky - Sleep If You Can, But Don't Stress If You Can't
On an ultra long-haul journey, getting some shut-eye should definitely be a priority to help pass the time and leave you refreshed upon arrival. But frequent flyers emphasize not to stress if quality sleep proves elusive in your economy class seat. Just resting your eyes and mind can provide benefits.
"I don't put pressure on myself to actually sleep on flights over 8 hours," explains travel blogger Claire Shen. "But I do try to recline my seat, put on my eye mask and unwind even if I don't lose full consciousness." She finds this restorative even without deep sleep.
Frequent flyer Max Bloom agrees. "You're not going to get a full REM sleep cycle on a plane. But relaxing as much as you can still energizes you for hitting the ground running at your destination." He recommends bringing earplugs and an eye mask to block out distractions, plus a scarf or sweatshirt as an extra blanket for warmth.
Sleep aids like melatonin supplements or antihistamines can increase drowsiness. But travel writer Eric Rosen cautions against depending on pills to knock yourself out. "They often leave me feeling groggy rather than refreshed," he shares. "I prefer trying natural sleep methods first."
Rosen suggests sipping chamomile or lavender tea and listening to soothing music, sleep stories or meditation tracks if aiming to doze. Downloading new playlists specifically for your flight can make the familiar seem fresh.
Travel blogger Stephanie Be relies on progressive muscle relaxation to wind down. "I consciously tense then release different muscle groups in my face, arms, legs, toes, everything," she explains. "Releasing the tension helps calm both my body and mind." This primes her for rest.
Of course, scoring a lie-flat business or first class seat can make a huge difference for actual inflight sleep. But leisure traveler Claire Chung has managed to snooze in economy on ultra long-hauls by being strategic.
"I look for unoccupied rows and ask to move mid-flight when passengers rearrange," Chung shares. "Then I can stretch out across the empty seats without bothering anyone." She also uses rolled up sweaters as makeshift pillows against the wall or window.