Enduring Long Flights


Many people are reluctant to explore destinations on the other side of the world because they dread the long flight it takes to get there.  Over the years, I have taken many ‘long’ flights (over 6 hours) in coach and I have created my own ways to deal with them.  Here are a few things I do to make the long flights more bearable.


1. Noise canceling headphones


It’s hard to relax or sleep with lots of background noise so I use Bose noise cancelling headphones.  I keep them on for most of the flight even if I’m not listening to music or a movie.  They reduce the background noise to let me concentrate on reading or even sleep.  Remember to take extra batteries, though, because one battery rarely lasts the entire flight.


2. Choose your flights with comfort in mind


Not all flights are created equal.  The entertainment systems on different planes, for example, vary a lot.  Some flights might show certain movies to everyone at preset times while others give you the option of selecting one of many movies to watch at any time.  If prices are competitive, I try to find a flight that offers more leg room, more entertainment options and available aisle seats towards the front of the plane.


3. Choose the right amount of layover


Long flights can sometimes be broken up into shorter segments using connecting flights.  If you are stressed about making connections, you won’t be able to get comfortable on your flights.  Give yourself enough time at connecting airports to make your connecting flight even if a flight is a little late.  Similarly don’t choose a flight with a very long layover if you can help it.  Minimize the elapsed time from destination to destination without risking a missed connection.  For example, even if a 1 hour layover is offered, I will choose a 2 hour layover to give me more peace of mind but I rarely choose longer than 2 hours if I have a choice.


4. Select your seats


Almost all carriers will allow you to select your seats in advance.  If you don’t preselect your seat, you have a chance of being assigned to a middle seat where you have the least chance of being comfortable.   I always select aisle seats.  On most long flights there’s not much to see out the window for 95 percent of the flight anyway.  Sitting on the aisle gives me the option to get up whenever I want rather than waiting for the person in the aisle seat to wake up.


5. Neck pillow


Unless you have the luxury of traveling in business or first class, you will want to sleep sitting up.  The seat only goes back so far and the headrest does not always align with my head so I carry an inflatable neck pillow to create a more comfortable position to sleep in.  I like the inflatable versions because I can change the size to fit the seat.


6. iPad for reading


I used to take 3 or 4 paperback books to read on a long flight and then I switched to a Kindle electronic reader but both of these options require a reading light.  Your fellow passengers will not appreciate the light if they are trying to sleep.  The backlit iPad is a good solution as it allows me to read in a dark plane when I cannot sleep.  I load it with 3 or 4 books before I leave home and load more when I need them.


7. Take your shoes off


Your feet typical swell during a long flight so your feet will be more comfortable without footwear.  I usually take off my shoes as soon as I get settled in my seat and leave them off until its time to land.


8. Stand and walk


When I sit for a long time, my back starts to hurt so I get up, walk around the plane and even stretch sometimes.  It helps the circulation in the legs too to straighten them out now and then.


9. Drink plenty of water


I drink plenty of water on long flights to keep from getting dehydrated.  The dry plane air combined with diuretic drinks such as coffee, soda, beer and wine tend to pull the water out of you so you need to drink lots of water to keep your joints hydrated.  Don’t worry about having to go to the bathroom more.  You need to walk anyway.


10. Arrive in the evening


When you have a choice, choose a flight that arrives at your destination in the evening instead of earlier in the day.  This allows you sleep at the right time of day soon after arriving.  It might be tempting to arrive in the morning to get an extra day to explore but you will be tired and a good night’s sleep in the destination’s nighttime will help you get over jet lag and adjust to the new time zone faster.  If you need help sleeping, this is the time to take a sleeping pill.


A long flight in coach will probably never be a wonderful experience but it can be more bearable with a little planning and a few activities on the plane.


May your travel and your photography both be rewarding!


      Roger Nelson