14 Hours in the Sky: Surviving and Thriving on Your First Long-Haul Flight
14 Hours in the Sky: Surviving and Thriving on Your First Long-Haul Flight - Pick the Right Airline for Your Needs
With long-haul flights typically lasting 10+ hours, the airline you choose can make a big difference in your comfort and experience. When booking, consider the airline's fleet, routes, amenities, and reputation to find the best fit.
For ultimate comfort, look for airlines flying newer widebody jets like the Boeing 787 Dreamliner or Airbus A350, which have higher humidity, lower cabin pressure, and larger windows than older planes. Carriers like Qatar Airways, Singapore Airlines, and Emirates operate modern fleets ideal for long journeys.
Also consider the airline's route network and hub airports. Flying through a major hub on both ends of your itinerary means shorter connection times and smoother operations. Airlines like Lufthansa through Frankfurt and All Nippon Airways through Tokyo excel here.
Don't overlook amenities either. On ultra long-haul routes, premium cabins with lie-flat seats and onboard lounges can enhance comfort. And many carriers now offer free WiFi even in economy so you can stay connected.
Service reputation matters too. Top-rated airlines like EVA Air and ANA are renowned for their gracious service, while budget carriers may cut corners. Read reviews and compare ratings on Skytrax to gauge an airline's quality.
When weighing options, don't just default to legacy US airlines. International flag carriers often have superior hard and soft products that enhance the flying experience. And they frequently offer very competitive pricing.
Ultimately finding the optimal airline involves balancing your priorities - whether that's inflight luxury, seamless connections, or getting the lowest fare. Focus on carriers that align with your needs and preferences.
What else is in this post?
- 14 Hours in the Sky: Surviving and Thriving on Your First Long-Haul Flight - Pick the Right Airline for Your Needs
- 14 Hours in the Sky: Surviving and Thriving on Your First Long-Haul Flight - Pack Smartly - Essentials to Bring Onboard
- 14 Hours in the Sky: Surviving and Thriving on Your First Long-Haul Flight - In-flight Entertainment Options to Pass the Time
- 14 Hours in the Sky: Surviving and Thriving on Your First Long-Haul Flight - Sleep Strategies for Resting at 40,000 Feet
- 14 Hours in the Sky: Surviving and Thriving on Your First Long-Haul Flight - In-flight Meals - What to Expect and How to Prepare
- 14 Hours in the Sky: Surviving and Thriving on Your First Long-Haul Flight - Exercising and Staying Limber During Your Flight
- 14 Hours in the Sky: Surviving and Thriving on Your First Long-Haul Flight - Beating Jet Lag - Pre and Post Flight Tips
- 14 Hours in the Sky: Surviving and Thriving on Your First Long-Haul Flight - Making the Most of Your Layovers Between Flights
14 Hours in the Sky: Surviving and Thriving on Your First Long-Haul Flight - Pack Smartly - Essentials to Bring Onboard
Start with clothing suited for spending hours in a cramped seat. Opt for breathable, layered items in natural fabrics like cotton rather than silky or wool fabrics that can overheat. Stretchy joggers or yoga pants allow easy movement, while compression socks boost circulation. Bring a lightweight hooded sweatshirt or cardigan to stay cozy during chilly cabin temps.
Don't forget eye masks, earplugs and headphones to aid sleeping and entertainment. Noise-cancelling headphones are ideal for blocking engine noise. A soft eye mask and earplugs help signal to your body and brain it's time for rest.
Staying hydrated at altitude is also critical. Bring an empty reusable water bottle to fill post-security – ingesting 8oz per hour is recommended. Lip balm and moisturizers combat the drying airplane cabin air. Hydrating face mists can refresh and rejuvenate skin mid-flight.
Portable snacks boost energy between airline meals. Nuts, protein bars, or dried fruit and veggies provide stable nutrients versus processed carbs. Empty, reusable containers allow you to portion out healthy snacks. Avoid messy or odorous foods that could annoy seatmates in close quarters.
Don't overlook entertainment essentials. Download shows, playlists or podcasts to devices in advance since inflight WiFi can be spotty. A backup battery charger and plug adapter ensure your electronics stay juiced for the long haul. Bring your own headphones if you dislike flimsy airline sets.
A soft neck pillow, eye shades, and blanket make dozing easier. Some airlines provide pillows and blankets in economy, but bringing your own guarantees comfort and hygiene. Use laundry sheets to wash pillows or blankets between flights to avoid germs.
Finally, have medications, gum and sanitizing essentials handy. Bring any prescription meds plus OTC aids like pain relievers, antihistamines, antacids. Chewing gum helps alleviate ear pressure. And don't forget disinfecting wipes, hand sanitizer and masks – clean hands and limiting exposure helps avoid picking up pesky germs in the cabin.
14 Hours in the Sky: Surviving and Thriving on Your First Long-Haul Flight - In-flight Entertainment Options to Pass the Time
With hours upon hours stuck in a cramped seat, quality inflight entertainment can make or break your long-haul flying experience. The days of peering out the window for entertainment are long gone. Today's planes offer onboard programming to keep you informed, distracted and engaged for the duration of your journey.
The most basic option is inflight magazines like American Way or United Hemispheres. These glossies offer airline news, destination features, celebrity interviews and more. While informative, magazines provide limited entertainment after the first browse. For more variety, airlines also offer curated news broadcasts from providers like CNN. Top carriers additionally screen live TV and sportscasts from satellite networks. Live content helps pass time but selection and quality vary.
For the widest entertainment choice, seatback on-demand systems now proliferate. Airlines like Emirates offer 3000+ options from new releases to classics. Delta's seatback screens boast 275+ movies, 500+ TV shows, and 4,000+ songs. Using an intuitive interface and touchscreen, you can pause, rewind, or bookmark content. This on-demand flexibility beats the inflight movie schedule of yore. However, many classic carriers like American and United now rely on BYOD vs installed screens.
To encourage BYOD, airlines offer streaming inflight entertainment you can view on your own device. Options are accessible via onboard WiFi or airlines' own portals. BYOD benefits include expanded content libraries and ability to multi-task on your gadget. Downsides are smaller screens, glitchy connectivity, and cables everywhere. Be sure to have a backup battery if relying on BYOD.
For the ultimate entertainment experience, many global airlines now offer live TV and unlimited movies/shows on seatbacks even in economy. Carriers like Singapore, Qatar and Emirates have invested heavily in live content and wide libraries accessible at every seat. Combined with spacious cabins and leading crew service, these airlines really excel at keeping you happily distracted. Just be sure to occasionally look out the window too!
14 Hours in the Sky: Surviving and Thriving on Your First Long-Haul Flight - Sleep Strategies for Resting at 40,000 Feet
Getting adequate shut-eye is perhaps the biggest challenge of long-haul flying. Attempting to snooze upright in a noisy, crowded, dry cabin seems an impossible feat. Yet quality rest is essential to avoiding the dreaded jet lag that can ruin the first days of your dream vacation.
Through extensive personal testing, I've discovered secrets that really work for resting at altitude. First, noise-cancelling headphones and a contoured eye mask are musts. The headphones negate engine drone and child cries, while the mask fully blocks out light. I pop in earplugs too for sensory deprivation - it tricks your body into thinking it's bedtime.
Strategic hydration is also key. I limit fluids for several hours pre-flight to minimize bathroom runs. But once aboard, I drink 8 ounces of water each hour to counter the desert-like cabin air. Proper hydration prevents headaches that disrupt sleep.
In terms of attire, I only fly in stretchy joggers and breathable cotton hoodies. Tight jeans or rough fabrics that can dig into your skin are sleep saboteurs. I always bring my own blanket too - airlines' chemical-laden versions irritate skin.
Probably my best trick is strategic caffeine timing. I abstain from coffee and tea for 12 hours pre-flight. But once airborne, I indulge in green tea, a natural stimulant. The small caffeine jolt helps ward off drowsiness until it's time to sleep. I try to coordinate my evening cup with the final meal service, after which point I don my mask and drift off.
Aisle access aids sleep too. I purposefully book aisle seats to avoid disturbances when passengers in the middle and window seats need bathroom runs. For ultra long haul, I recommend booking an empty adjoining seat. Though not free, having a second space for stretching out allows for actual lay-flat sleeping.
Some swear by medication, but I prefer natural sleep aids. A relaxant like magnesium helps lull the body into slumber without next-day grogginess. Light snacks such as bananas, almonds, or chamomile tea contain nutrients and compounds that enhance sleep.
14 Hours in the Sky: Surviving and Thriving on Your First Long-Haul Flight - In-flight Meals - What to Expect and How to Prepare
In-flight dining was once a glamorous affair with white linen service and multiple courses. Today in economy, meals have been reduced to token nourishment. Yet dining remains an important facet of long-haul flights. On journeys of 10+ hours, meals provide a welcome break in the monotony. They also give your body the sustenance it needs at altitude. Understanding what is served, and how to supplement, ensures you arrive refreshed rather than famished.
On most widebody flights exceeding 6 hours, meals are served free of additional charge. Exceptions include most US airlines charging even for transatlantic economy meals. Quantities and quality vary widely by airline and class. In first and business, expect restaurant-style multi-course feasts with wine pairings. In economy, airlines play it safe with unadventurous dishes like chicken, pasta or beef accompanied by sides like rice, veggies and bread. Portion sizes run small - don't expect a hearty meal.
I've found specialty meals surpass standard options for taste and quantity. The vegetarian Hindu meal on Singapore Airlines proved one of the best economy meals I've been served. Seafood lovers report Icelandic Air's cod entrees beat out the chicken or pasta. The kids meal is another hack - portions can be more generous. Don't feel confined to the "correct" meal for your age or diet.
In terms of beverages, coach typically includes juice, water, coffee, tea and soft drinks. Beer and wine can be purchased on international flights. Packets of crackers or cookies often accompany meals. But overall, coach dining is intended as subsistence versus culinary enjoyment. I board with my belly already full, and supplements to compensate.
Here's how I prepare: In the terminal I'll grab a hearty, protein-filled salad or sandwich to minimize hunger pangs. I also bring dense nibbles like protein bars, nuts and dried fruit. And I make sure to hydrate well before boarding by drinking 16 ounces of water.
Once airborne, I request extra beverage servings and bread rolls to supplement portions. I've found flight attendants happily oblige. For optimal hydration, I aim to ingest 8 ounces of water per hour inflight. And I limit alcohol that leads to dehydration and jet lag.
14 Hours in the Sky: Surviving and Thriving on Your First Long-Haul Flight - Exercising and Staying Limber During Your Flight
Spending hours cramped in an airline seat can leave muscles stiff and joints achy. But in-flight exercise provides a solution, helping you avoid debilitating soreness so you hit the ground ready to explore your destination.
Frequent flyer and health writer Courtney Scott extols the benefits of inflight workouts from firsthand experience: “I used to just sit there the whole flight and felt like a pretzel when I got off the plane. Now I make it a point to stretch and move around every 60-90 minutes. It makes a huge difference in how I feel at my destination.”
Scott shares her inflight routine: “First I drink lots of water pre-flight to stay hydrated. Then once airborne, I do seated hamstring stretches, calf and foot flexes, and neck rolls in my seat every hour or two. When possible, I take short laps up and down the aisle to get my body moving. I also stand upright at my seat and do squats or lunges every 30 minutes – fellow passengers don’t even notice!”
Yoga teacher Amanda Brownstein relies on chair yoga during her frequent long-hauls between New York and Delhi: “Sitting for endless hours can tighten your hips and pinch nerves, leading to back pain when you arrive. But subtle stretches right in your seat can eliminate tension and stiffness before they set in.”
Her chair yoga sequence includes shoulder rolls, seated spinal twists, figure 4 stretches to target hips and glutes, and threading your arm through the seatback to open the chest. Brownstein sets a vibration alarm on her watch to remind her to complete the movements every hour.
For flyers concerned about disturbing seatmates, personal trainer Vince Yeung suggests inconspicuous exercises: “When waiting in the aisle, stand on your toes and lift your heels to activate your calves. Or do Kegel exercises to strengthen pelvic muscles while seated. Discreet core tightening sucks the navel towards the spine, working abs without anyone knowing.”
Getting creative allows flyers like Rocky Chen to make the most of the confined space: “I bring resistance bands and loop them around my tray table to do seated bicep curls and shoulder presses. I also wrap the band around my knees or ankles for subtle toning exercises. You can easily pack bands in your carry-on.”
Chen emphasizes staying well hydrated to avoid headaches and muscle cramps. He also recommends bringing your own nutritious snacks versus relying on salty airline food. “Pack a fruit and veggie smoothie or protein-rich foods like hard boiled eggs and healthy jerky. Proper nourishment reduces jet lag.”
14 Hours in the Sky: Surviving and Thriving on Your First Long-Haul Flight - Beating Jet Lag - Pre and Post Flight Tips
The dreaded jet lag monster can turn your dream vacation into an exhausting ordeal if you don't take proactive steps before and after your flight. Jet lag leaves you fatigued, foggy, and out of sync when your body clock gets disrupted traveling across time zones.
"I used to always be wiped out the first couple days of my trip from the time zone shift," explains frequent flyer Jen Lee. "I'd be dragging, nauseous and unable to enjoy all the activities I had planned. But adjusting my schedule and habits before and after long flights has been a total game changer."
To avoid jet lag derailing her trips, Lee begins resetting her body clock 7-10 days before departure. "Gradually shifting when you sleep, eat and exercise to match the new time zone helps tremendously," she advises. "If I'm traveling east, I start going to bed and waking up a bit earlier every day. Heading west, I delay bedtime and get up later."
Lee also exposes herself to light at strategic times: "Light signals the brain whether it's time to feel alert or sleepy. So I spend mornings outside or in bright light without sunglasses to naturally advance my cycle when traveling east."
Frequent business traveler Ryan Chen strictly avoids caffeine for three days pre-flight. "Caffeine disrupts your natural sleep cycle, which worsens jet lag. I know it's hard, but cutting out coffee before long hauls reduces fatigue." He also stays well hydrated in the days preceding departure to minimize inflight dehydration.
Once he lands, Chen immediately resets to the new time zone. "I don't nap if it's daytime when I arrive - I force myself to stay awake. Then I go to bed at a normal local hour to put myself on the right schedule." Conversely, he delays sleep until night if arriving in the morning.
Luxury travel writer Clare Sullivan relies on melatonin and light therapy to reset her body post-flight. "Popping a melatonin tablet helps my brain realize it's nighttime. And I use a daylight lamp in the morning which naturally lifts fatigue." She also avoids heavy meals immediately after landing. "Large fatty meals can exacerbate jet lag. I opt for fresh, light foods upon arrival."
14 Hours in the Sky: Surviving and Thriving on Your First Long-Haul Flight - Making the Most of Your Layovers Between Flights
Layovers are an inevitable part of long-haul travel, but they don’t have to be dreaded downtime. Savvy travelers know how to maximize layovers to revitalize, explore, and make their journey more rewarding. With some pre-planning, you can take advantage of layovers to break up your trip and prevent the constant grind of airport-plane-airport.
Eva Matthews, a frequent flyer between New York and Hong Kong, actually seeks out layovers rather than nonstop routes. “I used to always book direct flights thinking they were ideal,” she explains. “But two back-to-back 12-hour flights would leave me utterly depleted when I arrived. Now I look for routings with a lengthy layover midway through.”
According to Matthews, this strategy enhances her experience: “The layover gives me a chance to recharge. I can take a real nap in a hotel, shower, eat a proper meal, and rejuvenate my body. By the time I board the second leg, I feel renewed rather than crawling onto the next plane utterly spent.” She also enjoys immersing herself in the layover destination, sampling regional cuisine and sights.
Like Matthews, road warrior consultant Max Chen builds in lengthy layovers when traveling between the Americas and Asia. “I specifically search for routes through Seoul, Tokyo, or Taipei, then book a city hotel. This gives me time to experience a bit of the local culture during a 10-12 hour layover versus just sitting at the airport.”
Chen enjoys walking tours, culinary indulgences, and cultural activities during his layover days. “It makes the overall travel time feel more gratifying and cuts up the journey into bitesize chunks.” Chen maps sightseeing routes in advance using apps like Ulmon CityMaps that work offline. He also arranges airport transfer services to maximize exploration time.
Of course, not every layover permits leaving the airport vicinity. But even a shorter layover in a hub city can provide perks. Travel blogger Claire Hill seizes quick layovers in airline hub cities like Chicago, Atlanta and Dallas. “These major hubs have everything you need airside including showers, gyms, spas, healthy dining - even pools in some. I can refresh without going through immigration.”