I’ve taken a lot of I’ve-been-on-this-plane-forever flights through the years, and while the ever-shrinking legroom and lack of amenities are frustrating, here are some tips from me and some of my fellow travelers, on how to survive long flights in economy.
Updated January 2020
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What to Wear on a Long Economy Flight and Still Look Stylish
This is crucial. When choosing your flying ensemble to avoid belts, ties or big buttons, anything that can pinch, poke or constrict. Plush fabrics with stretch are ideal such as fleece, soft cotton or cashmere, any material that inspires you to hug yourself.
My go-to ensemble is a pair of black yoga pants, ballet flats, a sports bra (no irritating hooks or under-wires thank you), a silky tank top and a yummy cashmere sweater to top it off. Warm or cold, I’m prepared.
I also take my shoes off for the duration and put on warm footies. I recommend the ones with the little treads on the bottom so you don’t slip when walking around the cabin.
Set up Your Seat Before Take-Off
The seats in coach are shrinking but you can make the best of a bad thing by spending a few moments setting up your space. Think about what you’ll want throughout the flight and have those items easily accessible from the get-go.
I put water and my DOP kit (more on that later) in the seat pocket in front of me.
Make Yourself Comfy
Since my lower back suffers the most on long trips I use a travel pillow for support. I also bring a lightweight throw to drape over an armrest (they’re impossibly skinny) to make it wider and comfier and if the cabin gets too cold I have a blanket handy.
Are You A Neck Pillow Person?
I’m not a fan of neck pillows; they don’t work for me. I always seem to have a stiff neck afterward. That said, fellow writer Vicktoria Urbanek of Chronic Wanderlust swears by her Ostrich Pillow and has been using it for five years.
“The Ostrich Pillow Light has to be my favorite travel accessory to help me survive long flights in economy. It’s not a neck pillow as many would think, but a fluffy circular pillow that you use just like those sleeping masks. The great thing is that it blocks light completely, gives you a bit of sound protection and because you wear it around your head, you can rest your head comfortably on any surface, wall or window.”
A stranger on a plane I sat next to was using the J-Pillow and said it was incredibly comfortable. *Note to self: Try one of those.
Another tip….. I use my carry-on bag as a footrest—it makes a world of difference on my back to have my feet elevated.
I’m pretty laid back when it comes to germs but for travelers who worry about what’s been left behind by previous passengers, A Taste For Travel founder Michele Peterson suggests the following:
“One of the best things to do to help avoid contact with microorganisms during a flight is to wipe down your tray table with an alcohol-based or antiseptic disinfecting towelette. Wet Ones and Clorox produce disinfecting wipes in travel packs of 20. If you have space in your carry-on, another good option is Green Works, a biodegradable version. Also be sure to turn on the small air vent above your seat as the airplane’s air is circulated through a HEPA filter creating an invisible protective barrier around you, helping you to stay healthy during the flight and post-trip.”
Long Haul Flight Essentials: Bring First Class with You
Surviving long flights in economy means treating yourself to a little luxury. Make your own customized comfort kit for the flight.
Visit my Insatiable Traveler Amazon Store where you can find everything below in one place to create your own comfort kit.
Here’s what’s in mine.
- Travel toothbrush and toothpaste ( Tip: Buy travel sizes by the pack it’s so convenient.)
- Lotion: I put a small amount in a tiny plastic travel container and during the trip, I regularly apply it to my face to combat the dry plane air.
- Lip balm
- Travel-sized eye drops (Systane is fantastic).
- A few Ibuprofen packets
- Face wipes to freshen up before landing.
- Sleep mask if I am flying during the day.
- Melatonin to help me sleep
- Earphones I use the Aiwa Prodigy One Premium Earphones. They’re comfortable and fit into my pocket. They do an amazing job of canceling ambient noise in the plane. Lena Dre from Salut from Paris has been using Skullcandy’s noise-canceling headphones after receiving them for her birthday. ” I have to say they are a real game-changer, I finally can fully focus on films and tv shows while flying without being distracted by the noises around me. I am using them for a year and travel time passes so much faster!”
- A tiny flashlight (a lifesaver if you drop something on the floor or need to search your carry-on bag in the dark)
- Daniel James from Layer Culture, adds Evian Face Mist to his in-flight kit. ” I love it because on most plane journeys my skin tends to get very dehydrated. The great thing about the mist is that it sprays micro-droplets of mineral water that refresh and help care for your skin without the use of harsh chemicals.”
Visit my Insatiable Traveler Amazon Store where you can find everything below in one place to create your own comfort kit.
Consider Your Food Choices
It’s no secret that plane food on average is not the best in the world. I usually eat the desert because that’s what ends up having some flavor. But, my thighs don’t support this strategy.
In conversation with Nina Ragusa of Where in the World is Nina, who is a vegetarian, thinks vegetarian or not, surviving economy means “We have to take all the wins we can get and an easy win is ordering vegetarian meals. Or vegan, or any other specialty meal. For starters…the number one gross thing about airplane food is the mystery meat, so this is an easy way to avoid that plus you get fed first! Take the win and run”
Speaking of food, I always pack snacks for long flights. Granola bars, homemade scones, trail mix, they’ve all found their way into my bag. During a 16-hour flight when breakfast is a distant dream, you’ll be happy you thought ahead.
Curate Your Own In-flight Entertainment
Most carriers have a myriad of movies, TV shows, games, and the like, but even with a lot of choices, there may be nothing that interests you (think Netflix on a bad day). I schedule a half-hour prior to every trip to delete anything I’ve already used and download new books, movies, podcasts, and music.
A few times I’ve waited to watch a TV series I like so that I can binge an entire season on a long journey. And if you’re stuck in an airport with delays, your library of goodies will be a low-cost lifesaver.
Mindfulness Apps Are Good Too
If you’re looking to practice a little mindfulness, Ingrid whose been doing so for 22 years says “Meditation recordings and apps help me diminish travel stress and relax enough to sleep. I recommend mindfulness meditation by Jon Kabat-Zinn and Thich Nhat Hanh. The Headspace app also offers easy guided meditations.”
Don’t Sit Too Close to the Restrooms
Sometimes you don’t have a choice but when you’re booking flights, you’ll do yourself a big favor if you avoid sitting too close to the bathrooms, especially on a long-haul flight, you could come to regret it says Theresa McKinney from Fueled by Wanderlust. “I’ve been stuck near the bathrooms once or twice, and while it’s convenient, you get the occasional unpleasant waft and hear the constant sound of flushing. In addition, there are often people standing right over you in the aisles while waiting for their turn. On one recent flight, a girl was wearing a large shirt over barely existent shorts. I could not turn to my right without a very “cheeky” view. Avoid this situation by either paying for seats or checking into your flight as early as possible.
Literally Surviving A Long-Haul Flight
I used to think that doctors’ warnings about blood clots forming during extended flights were a tad overstated until two close friends had it happen to them. One on a flight from Los Angeles, another on a really long flight from India. Both were hospitalized, both were put on blood thinners and from now on they always have to be careful. A way to avoid such an unhealthy predicament is by making sure to get up at least a few times during your flight and to wear compression socks–clots tend to form in the legs first and then travel to the brain or heart where it’s really bad news.
I was using QUXIANG Copper Compression Socks and I did not like them because they were itchy. Retha Charette of Roaming Nanny, on the other hand, loves hers.
“I recommend PRO Compression. I’ve been using them for travel and running for over four years now. I love my PROs because they’re super high quality and don’t stretch out like other brands do. Some of my socks are 3 or 4 years old and I can still use them!
Nothing makes time fly faster than enjoyable conversation, and while it’s more the norm to stay in your own lane and not fraternize with your seatmates, Story at Every Corner’s Jyoti Baid prefers to strike up a conversation. “I sat next to a 70+ gentleman, a lawyer who was heading for a marathon in Rome. I found he started running at 45 when he saw an older man running down a path surrounded by beautiful women. Now he is ranked top 10 in the world in his age group. I learned so much about running and tuning the body. “
Bonus: Bring a Bag of Candy For the Flight Crew
This is something I read about and since adopted. I bring a large bag of individual packs of M & M’s with me on every flight. As soon as I board the plane I give it to the head flight attendant and tell her that it’s meant to be shared with the rest of the crew. It will make their day and that good karma inevitably results in a nicer, friendlier flight.
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97 thoughts on “Guide: How to Survive Long Flights in Economy”
A big yes for having your own in-flight entertainment. It kinda sucks being stuck with movies you don’t like, and then you have to choose the least bad one, haha.
It’s so true! Nothing more disappointing on a long-haul trip than being bored.
A good thing to know – even in Economy in Europe you are protected against delays and cancellations, and often can get flight compensation from the airline. All you have to do is to request this compensation. Rules are the same both for budget airlines and full service airlines like KLM, Air France and Lufthansa.
Great advice. Thank you, James. 🙂
Snacks are key! ESPECIALLY if you’re flying super low budget and the airline doesn’t feed you (looking at you, Norwegian Airline). Thanks for sharing!
OMGG yes to the snacks! Because those little meals are SO SMALL
When I first get to my seat, I take out a wet wipe and wipe down the arm rests, seat belt buckle, and seat tray.
Thanks for the tips, the blanket idea Im sure to put at use, in all whenever I travel I always source out new advice to make my flight comfortable.
Fantastic! I’m glad you found it helpful. 🙂
Thank you that was very helpful. I enjoy traveling but learned some good ideas from you.
Oh good! So glad to have provided some info you feel is helpful. Thanks very much for letting me know.
I don’t really travel, but if I start to I’m adopting all these tricks. Thank you.
Lovely! Short and on point! Great advice! thanks
Pack of M&Ms for everyone! Sending out the perfect vibes. Though.. I wouldn’t give em to the person on the adjacent seat who kept playing irritating songs on his cellphone and glancing at me every now and then in one particular 3 and a half hour journey -.-
Oh no, he sounds like a nightmare. LOL
Yes. I was planning daggers all along
Yes. I was planning daggers all along the way. Lol
Agree on the snacks. I also make a peanut butter & jelly sandwich for long flights. It sees me through in a pinch and if I don’t need it, it’s not a big waste. Also have a pair of compression socks packed and put on my feet as I settle in.
Great ideas! Thank you.
Great post; I’ll be back!
I’ve been flying for 30+ years and the only thing I haven’t done from your list is give flight attendants a pack of M&M’s – great tip.
Yes, the seats have definitely shrunk over the years on most airlines (I haven’t put on that much weight!). The smallest I’ve found so far is on Cathay.
I was lucky, the only two times I’ve been on Cathay I was able to go biz with my miles. Loved it up there but have never done coach. Sad to hear they’re tiny. I feel that way about KLM.
Business Class – what dreams are made of 😉 I’ve not flown with KLM…yet.
Yep! Used up ALL my miles. Lol
Thank you so much! Travelling tomorrow and packing today. Yes, I am a procrastinator… 😂😂
Been there my friend. More than once. Lol
this was a very good read. this will definitely come in handy this year as me, my fiancé, and my parents go to Greece.
Oh good! I’m glad you find it useful. How exciting, I haven’t been to Greece yet.
Love this! I am definitely going to buy a pack of sweets/chocolates for the crew on my next trip.
Glad you found it helpful! Let me know how it goes if you do. 🙂
The more you travel the more you know what you’ll need ! Snacks and TV shows are the best !!
So true! Hopefully my piece will give some people a head start 🙂
Thanks for sharing! These will be useful on my 9 hour flight to New York in a few weeks 🙂
Oh good! I love it when posts offer immediate practical use. Let me know how it goes.:)
This one is so good
Thank you so much!!!
My pleasure….Susan Portnoy!!
wish I have read this earlier:) great tips! love the simplicity of your blog btw.
Thank you very very much. I’m glad you like it. I hope you return. 🙂
Glad you think so! Thank you.
if you have some spare time, could you read my poem 🙂
This is so helpful. I travel quite a bit and i can always learn a thing or two more. lol at the DOP kit 🙂 thanks for sharing.
I completely agree with the “being your own snacks” idea. Food selection on commercial flights aren’t always the best!
Especially nowadays where everything is packaged and processed.
Great advice! I will keep these tips in mind next time I go to Italy. (May I add: do enjoy your glass (es) of wine!) 🙂
Thank you! Let me know how they work for you. 🙂
Thanks for the tips! I will definitely use them. I am going to use the tip of setting up my seat before take off as I don’t want to be uncomfortable during the plane ride or having to set it up how I want to when we are flying! I really like the idea of giving candy to the flight attendants.
Nice. Just in time for my upcoming trip, short flight but probably transferable lol…
om tolelet om
Hydration is number 1 tip to avoid jet lag. Nice article.
Very true. It helps a lot. 🙂
This post… Especially the point about the candy… Is amazing. Thank you for sharing- I will be using this in 2.5 months!!! (the count down begins)
Good! I’ve taken a lot of long flights too! Living in Argentina is impossible to be near. Another thing I do is walking or moving. Not drink things with gas, only water. Lot of water!
It’s really work well for me
You mentioned Melatonin which some folks swear by as a sleep aid. I thought that this is what you meant. Sorry.
Hahahaha…l-lysine. But for me, the trick to beating jet lag is to take Benadryl about an hour (or more or less, depending upon how long the flight will be and how many time zones I cross) after taking off. I’m not sure about taking an amino acid. I tend to think that there might be more going on with the addition of a nutrient. It might seem harmless, but I don’t know. Sorry…Anyway, an antihistamine keeps me out for at least 3 hours.
Hmmm.. could you be mistaking this for another article. I’ve never talked about L-Lysine. I have a few friends that use Benadryl too but I find that I have a huge hangover with it. Great that it works for you. :))
Nice tips! I also like the candy idea. I don’t think everyone thinks of the attendants, they will appreciate kindness in any form.
I agree. I have to admit, I haven’t thought about them the same since. It’s a great idea. I’m glad I read about it.
Very helpful post, Susan. I have a number of long flights coming up next year and these ideas will be a big help.
Glad you found it helpful Robin. It all really works well for me. :)))
Sorry again…but I just released that I typed ‘l-lysine’ and not ‘l-tryptophan.’ I might be the best reason why wordpress should include a ‘confused old woman’ emoji! Sorry about that! 😉
Nice Post. Nice Blog. I Followed You.
Thank you so so much!
I won’t be taking a long flight, but this will be my first flight. I’m going to Las Vegas next week. These are some gret tips.
How exciting! I hope you enjoy it. There’s much of this that works no matter how long the length of the flight.
Thank you for sharing. My hubbie travels a lot and I will share you tip about the candy, but I’m afraid they wouldn’t last to be a gift to the crew. I likes candy, specially chocolate with caramel.😉
You’re most welcome. Let me know if your hubbie tries it. And I agree.. chocolate and caramel are an awesome combination. 🙂
Glad you enjoyed it.
Good tips thanks for sharing. Flying isn’t what it used to be now it often feels like a cattle car.
SO true and unfortunate. I’m glad you found the tips worthwhile. 🙂
Great post, and very timely. My spouse is leaving fom Australia for the UK next week. I’m sure your post will be inspirational for a couple of tips that might decrease the insanity that usually goes with long haul flights.
I was hoping that I might catch those who were trying lying over the next few weeks. Hopefully, they will find this info worthwhile. 😉
I love your ‘Bring first class with you’ section, Susan.
That’s great Elen! I’m so glad you did. Thanks for letting me know. 🙂
I aim for the clothing comfort you describe but try to look at least dressy casual. Too many people look like they’re on the way to the gym or to clean their garage. It’s possible to be comfortable and at least a little bit classy. There are yoga pants that are revealing and yoga pants that could be mistaken for dressy trousers.
I put on compression socks before the flight. They really help keep my feet from swelling. I also tend to wear ballerinas, and I slip them back on to walk in the cabin.
Although I take toiletries, the only thing I actually use is lip balm.
A blow-up neck pillow doesn’t take as much space as one that’s full of pellets (why do people bother with those for 2-to-3-hour flights?). It’s great for keeping your head from suddenly dropping down (I also use one on long roadtrips–when I’m the passenger of course). The little flaps on the back of the seat are good for keeping you from slumping into your neighbor.
For snacks, I bring an assortment of raw vegetables cut into sticks (carrots, peppers, cucumbers). Usually some fruit, too. It helps keep your intestinal transit moving when you can’t move for hours on end. Remember to throw away leftovers before landing–you can’t bring fresh fruit or veggies into the U.S., for example.
I like your candy idea, but if everybody does it, the flight attendants will be like nurses at hospitals–“oh no! Not more candy!” I suppose they could redistribute it in turn. Think what a good-humored flight that would be.
I used to take half an Ambien for transatlantic flights but once I had a child with me I needed to be alert the whole time. Half a pill was just enough to help get past the cabin noise and fall (and stay) asleep, but not sleep so hard as to be groggy 7 or 8 hours later.
Thanks for such a thoughtful comment and all the great information. :))
Bribery goes a long way……:0)
I love this! I’m about to take a long flight and I will definitely use the tips. Thanks!
Great tips! Love the idea of a small flashlight in case you need to look through your stuff in the dark. I always hate turning on the overhead light when the cabin is dark.
Good tips! It’s definitely the little steps and little micro-preparations that the later hours of those crazy-long flights tolerable or not.
“Micro preparations”.. Love that. Glad you liked the tips. 🙂
Thanks for the Tips!! 🙂 Especially the candy bag.
Nice tips.. Thanks for sharing 🙂
Never thought of the bonus point of candy bag yet..
Awesome suggestions. Merry Christmas!
Yay! Glad you think so Diana!
Great ideas! Love the one where you bring candy to the flight crew! Smart!!!
Glad you found them useful! Please share if you have any friends and family traveling this holiday. 🙂
Isn’t it though? I really thought it was smart and it works!
Glad you think so! Please share if you think friends or family might appreciate the tips. 🙂