5 Great Tips: How to Survive Long Flights in Economy

View from Plane window
Photo: UpSplash

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 that will teach you how to survive long flights in economy.

What to Wear on Long 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, Iโ€™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.

FYI – This page includes affiliate links which means if you purchase something I will make a small commission at no additional cost to you.

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 a bottle of water and my DOP kit (more on that later) in the seat pocket in front of me.

Since my lower back suffers the most on long trips I use a cushy travel pillow for support. I bring a  lightweight silk travel 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.

Many planes have adjustable headrests that bend in on each side offering a little lip on the right and left to support your head. Once I’m seated I tweak accordingly.  It’s not much but often just enough to make sleeping a little easier, especially if I’m on the aisle or in the middle (God forbid) and don’t have the cabin to lean up against.

Immediately after takeoff, I use my carry-on bag as a footrestโ€”it makes a world of difference on my back to have my feet elevated.

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 for your own comfort kit.

Here’s what’s in mine.

  • Travel toothbrush and toothpaste
  • 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 (Many people like the big noise-canceling earphones. They’re great but I find them too awkward to carry around. I have a good friend and travel professional that swears by her Bose Quietcomfort Headphones if that doesn’t bother you. 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. Plus, they’re a lot less expensive.
  • A tiny flashlight (a lifesaver if you drop something on the floor or need to search your carry-on bag in the dark)

Pack Snacks

I always pack snacks for long flights. Granola bars, homemade scones, trail mix, theyโ€™ve all found their way into my bag. During a 16-hour flight when breakfast is a distant dream, you’ll be thrilled 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 you’re interested in (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.

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.

For more travel tips you might like

Global Entry: Why it’s Best Travel Investment You’ll Make All Year

Follow This Strategy and You’ll Never Say “I am Jet lagged” Again

Trip Planning: Important Links And Information At Your Fingertips

Make Traveling Easier with These 7 Great Mobile Apps

Pin to Share

Don't dread your next trip, these 5 tips will tell you how to survive a long flight in economy. Everything you need to know and then some.

93 thoughts on “5 Great Tips: How to Survive Long Flights in Economy

  1. batoolzquotes says:

    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 -.-

  2. Still a Runner says:

    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.

  3. Image Earth Travel says:

    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.

  4. sophiAaa says:

    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.

  5. us4p says:

    Good! Iโ€™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

  6. The Puget Sound Papers says:

    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.

    • Susan Portnoy says:

      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. :))

  7. Peppermint4Tea says:

    Dear Susan,

    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.๐Ÿ˜‰


  8. Chris & Paul Riley says:

    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.

  9. francetaste says:

    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.

  10. Laura says:

    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.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *