Tips for flying long haul

I am a seasoned long haul traveller – I fly from Sweden to South Africa two or three times a year, I have done Johannesburg to Hong Kong, Zambia  to Australia – you name it I have flown it. Sometimes I can have three or four connections, other times it is just one flight. I always fly cattle class…..sorry… economy.

I have learned many things over the years and so I thought I would share them with you.

  • Dress comfortably. Jeans are fine but wear comfortable ones with a bit of stretch because you swell during long flights. Choose shoes that are easy to get on and off – laces are best because you can lace them loosely over your swollen feet when you land and then tighten them when the swelling subsides. Remember also that you will probably have to take your shoes off during security checks so the easier your footwear is to get on and off the better. Don’t choose shoes that are too clumpy because they will have to go under your seat during the flight and you won’t have much legroom anyway. Take a spare pair of socks (more about that later) and underwear in your bag. Dress in layers – planes delayed on the runway become unbearably hot and once you have been in the air for six or seven hours it gets really cold.
  • Drink lots of water before you board. I usually drink about a litre and a half of water while walking round the airport but stop about an hour and a half before I am due to board so I don’t keep having to rush to the loo once I am on the plane. If you are flying a large 747 (almost 500 passengers) or Airbus, they start boarding at least an hour before departure and then it is another hour before ascent has stopped so  you don’t want to be busting to pee while waiting to take off.
  • Walk as much as you can before you board. Take half an aspirin every four hours or so the day you fly and about a day after. And if you feel the need, wear special support socks – this is all to avoid deep vein thrombosis (DVT) caused by long flights and sitting still. Stretch your legs and flex your feet during the flight.
  • Take with you – earplugs, eye mask, travel toothbrush, and a rich moisturizer. I use Elizabeth Arden 8 hour cream on my lips and in my nose (which really dries out in that dry air). Remove all your makeup before you board the plane. Those plane toilets are tiny and there is usually an impatient queue outside wondering what you are doing in there. I also take spare socks with me because men always pee on the floor of  the loos on planes (turbulence or booze – I really don’t want to know) and you also walk around a lot in your socks. There are all kinds of things spilled on the carpets.
  • Different airlines have different little packages they give out. So you are not guaranteed socks or a toothbrush or a mask in your little package – or a package at all.  Speaking of that – lots of passengers in business class don’t use their gorgeous Molton Brown and Elemis gifts so I whip one or two up as I pass when I disembark because cattle class disembarks after business class.  Airline staff usually don’t mind because they can’t regift them once they are opened.
  • Order a special meal. Airline food is usually unhealthy and not very tasty. But special meals mean you get fresh food AND you are served first. I usually choose vegetarian or low cholesterol/fat/calorie as they are tasty and fresh and you don’t have to wait for 400 passengers to be served before you. You have to book your special meal about 72 hours in advance so don’t forget. This is free of charge.
  • These days I usually fly British Airways and they allow you to book your seats way in advance for a small fee. Now if I am flying 15 000kms I don’t mind paying a little extra to make sure I have a nice seat. I always choose a window seat over the wing, far from the toilets (noisy, flushing, the light shines in your eyes whenever someone opens the door) and where the crew sits (talking) or the galley (passengers ambling past wanting snacks or water or drinks). You used to be able to get lovely emergency exits with oodles of legroom but now you have to pay extra to sit there.
  • Take a pashmina with you – it can be a scarf and a blanket. I avoid airline blankets because they always smell of vomit. If you don’t believe me – smell one the next time you fly long haul!
  • Remember that if you are flying to the US, for security reasons, your luggage has to be unlocked. If it is locked they will break the lock. Or you can buy a suitcase with a universal lock that they have keys to open. I am not sure of the exact name of the lock but a Google will help you. If you are going to and from Africa, have your luggage wrapped in plastic as a security measure. Remember also when you return from certain countries, the airline sprays you with bugspray/disinfectant before you take off. It’s no biggie – just to prevent things like malaria-carrying mosquitoes getting into Europe. This always happens on planes from Africa to Europe so don’t be offended or alarmed!
  • Take an extra t shirt and underwear on the plane. When there is turbulence you can sometimes spill something on your shirt and clean knickers always make you feel fresher. If you can’t do that, turn your undercrackers inside out on the second day. If you are still travelling the day after, turn them back to front (nope I am not kidding!)
  • Remember the 100ml rule and take tiny containers of all liquids in a see through pouch. Muji has nice little containers. I usually save up all the sample sizes I get and use them then.
  • Wetwipes are a must – for your face, your hands – anything!
  • I also always take chewing gum to keep my mouth fresh. It also helps to take sweets to suck on if you find your ears pop or are painful on takeoff.
  • I don’t drink alcohol on a plane but I do take a sleeping tablet after supper if it is an overnight flight. Daytime longhaul flights are not so fun but then a book helps.
  • Don’t take scissors, tweezers, metal nail files on the plane or they will be confiscated.
  • If you are travelling as a couple it helps to book the aisle and the window seat. The seats in the middle are usually the least popular so if the plane is not full you will have more space if no one has booked that seat. And if someone does sit there, you can offer to swap the middle seat for the aisle or the window so you can sit together anyway. This one has never failed me.
  • Never take tight connections, even if the computer offers you one. Rather spend more time at the airport than miss a connecting flight because there was not enough time to get from one plane to another.
  • If you are flying overnight, pull down the windowshade so the sun doesn’t wake you at the wrong time (particularly if you are flying across timezones). Also fasten your seatbelt, preferably over your blanket. This is so the crew don’t have to wake you during the night to fasten it if there is turbulence.
  • Two lovely additions from the wonderful Cloudberry – take a face spritzer and an inflatable neck pillow. Thank you Cloudberry! I recommend Caudalie eau de Beauté but take a small bottle otherwise it will be confiscated
  • For the sake of your fellow passengers, wear a good antiperspirant….and don’t get drunk (which happens more quickly at altitude).
  • Avoid trying too many strong perfumes or colognes in duty free before boarding – you don’t want to asphyxiate those around you.
  • Check that your home insurance has good all-risk insurance and travel insurance.
  • Keep copies of all your paperwork (passport, important phone numbers, booking references) in your handluggage and in your suitcase.
  • Don’t travel with cheap fountain pens which may leak at high altitude. Good ones like Montblanc have never leaked for me but the cheapies have caused a huge mess.

Author: Janet Carr

Fashion, beauty and animal loving language consultant from South Africa living in Stockholm, Sweden.

6 thoughts

  1. I love these tips. I will definitely order a special meal next time I am flying long haul!

  2. I’ve never thought about the food option. I’m going to start doing that. Thank you for the great tips.

  3. We just returned from a trip that had a total of 48 hours travel time, with 3 flights and time zone changes. For the first time, I wore cargo pants on the plane and I am now converted! I kept my passport and boarding passes in one pocket, my small travel wallet in one, and my iPhone in another. No need to open up a bag to access any of these items when needed, such as in the immigration queue, and easily stashed once used. Because the pockets were deep and on the front of the leg, they fitted comfortably even on the 14 hour flight. I may not have looked elegant or chic, but it was oh so practical!

    Another tip is to use the ultra thin panty liners. Replacing them every few hours helped make me feel a bit fresher and it takes almost no space to store a few in a bag (or pocket).

    Put on earphones when you want to sleep. They really cut down on the noise around you. Even if everyone is quiet, the plane itself can be quite loud. If you have the money, the special noise canceling earphones are amazing, but even the free ones given out by the airline can help.

    If taking multiple connections, try to get your luggage booked all the way through. This saves a lot of angst.

    Finally, with an 11 hour stopover at LAX, we booked a half day room at an airport hotel where we had a nap, a wonderfully restorative hot shower and a ‘meal’ at the associated ‘restaurant’ (inverted commas as not sure if either term is correct for what they were).

    When all else fails, remind yourself that you are sitting in an armchair thousands of meters in the air and someone is bringing you snacks. It is still a miracle.

  4. All very good tips, Janet!

    The is nothing else to be added apart maybe that anything that could be tight -like shoes, socks, belts… have to be worn slightly loose, especially if one tends to get swollen with altitude.

    I travel by plane about three times a month with long hauls (Asia, the USA, Australia…) about every eight weeks and l can agree with you that being well equipped is the quarantee of a good flight. That’s why l find your list very, i interesting for people who are not used to long flights and who may ignore the basic rules if them.

  5. Ha ha! I don’t miss flying for a living.

    I would include two other items:

    – a face spritzer
    Jurlique used to do a lovely one called ‘Aromamist – Energiser Blend sadly discontinued, but the Rosewater one is nice. I found it useful to block out the aroma of botty-burps from other passengers.

    – an inflatable neck pillow

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