Mistakes Travelers Make On A Long-Haul Flight

Travel experts share their top tips for making those hours on the plane less miserable.
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On the list of ways people want to spend their time, sitting on a plane for hours on end is probably not very high. But long-haul flights are a necessary reality if you need to travel far.

“A long-haul flight can certainly be daunting and stressful,” Casey Brogan, a consumer travel expert at Tripadvisor, told HuffPost. “Airports and security lines definitely generate traveler anxiety, especially with new guidelines and ever-changing restrictions. But it is important to remind ourselves that the journey to get there is not the vacation, and relaxation awaits you.”

In addition to focusing on the positive light at the end of the tunnel, there are also many ways to make the flight a little more pleasant. An easy approach is to understand what not to do.

With that in mind, HuffPost asked travel experts to share the common mistakes travelers make when it comes to long-haul flights — and their advice for avoiding these pitfalls.

Wearing Uncomfortable Clothes

“The most common mistake people make on long-haul flights is not dressing properly,” said Phil Dengler, co-founder of The Vacationer. “Since you will be sitting in the same seat for six or more hours, it is essential to be as comfortable as possible.”

Avoid heavy and restrictive clothing and instead choose soft fabrics and stretchy garments for peak comfort and coziness. Wearing layers is helpful for the shifting cabin temperatures. And don’t forget to invest in some compression socks for health and comfort during long-haul flights.

“While I’m usually a proponent of dressing nicely on flights, the super long-haul ones are the ones where I see many people make the mistake of dressing too cute and then winding up uncomfortable,” said Gabby Beckford, founder of the travel site Packs Light. “I always get compliments on my flight fit ― matching top and bottom neutral sweats. Or, I recommend bringing a comfortable flight fit to change into once you reach a cruising altitude.”

In addition to wearing comfortable, stretchy clothes, you’ll also want to avoid wearing tight, restrictive shoes when you fly.

“Loosen the laces so you can slip on and off to get comfortable,” Brogan advised. “At the end of the flight, you’ll probably find that your feet have swollen. This is normal and another reason to choose comfortable footwear.”

Choosing A Seat By The Restroom

Your seat selection can make a big difference in the quality of your flight experience. If you’re looking for a more peaceful time, consider choosing a seat that isn’t in a high-traffic area.

“Sitting near the restroom may sound convenient, but it’s never fun to be in that row when a line forms outside the restroom,” said Paul Jacobs, general manager and vice president at Kayak North America. “Sit far away and use the walk to stretch.”

Watching The Clock

As the saying goes, “A watched pot never boils.” Similarly, time will seem to move a lot more slowly during a long flight if you keep staring at the clock.

“Once you’re on board, set your watch to the time of the place you will be landing in, but try to avoid looking at it and counting down the hours,” Brogan advised. “Similarly, don’t look at the ‘where are we’ map. You’ll land soon enough!”

Forgetting To Double-Check Upgrade Options

Don’t assume you can’t afford to upgrade your seat on a long-haul flight. Check the upgrade options when you check in for your flight online.

“I always check in as soon as the option is available ― 24 hours before flight time via the airline app,” Beckford said. “When you do that, you will see what seat options are available. Often on the day of the flight, upgrades will be drastically reduced in cost.”

“For example, on my flight from Cape Town to Newark, originally upgrades were $3,000 ― but on the day of the flight, those same upgraded seats were $700,” she noted. “That little upgrade will definitely make a 14-hour flight more enjoyable.”

Noise-canceling headphones, comfortable clothing and a nice neck pillow can make all the difference on a long flight.
Enes Evren via Getty Images
Noise-canceling headphones, comfortable clothing and a nice neck pillow can make all the difference on a long flight.

Traveling Without Sleep Essentials

“You should bring good earplugs or noise-canceling headphones if you plan to sleep,” Dengler said. “Additionally, a good sleep mask can make a huge difference. Finally, I recommend finding a good neck pillow before flying.”

He noted that “not all neck pillows are created equal,” so do your research and find the one that works for you. “Get the ones that attach to the headrest,” Jacobs said. “It’s a total game changer.”

Flying Without Entertainment

“Before your flight, download movies, music or podcasts to your devices like phone, iPad or laptop and ensure they are fully charged before traveling so you have guaranteed entertainment options,” Brogan said. “On a recent flight, my in-flight entertainment was not working properly, so I was glad to have downloaded movies to my iPad as a backup for the hours in the air.”

Your entertainment doesn’t have to involve a screen either. Bring a book or magazine or do crossword puzzles for entertainment.

“You should always have something to do on a long-haul flight,” Dengler said. “At times, that may be sleeping, but I recommend always having access to entertainment.”

Overlooking Seat Options

“Be sure to select your seat in advance,” said Ravi Roth, a travel expert and host of “The Gaycation Travel Show.” “You don’t want to end up stuck in a middle seat on a long flight. Most airlines do not charge a seat fee for economy, but if you can splurge I say go for comfort plus or economy plus. Extra legroom is key.”

Paying for business class is not feasible for most people, but maybe you’ve saved up enough to compromise with a premium economy ticket.

“Select a window seat if you plan on sleeping,” Dengler said. “Pay extra for an exit-row seat if you will be more comfortable with extra legroom. It really comes down to what time the flight is and whether or not you plan to sleep.”

Figure out which seat position you prefer before booking a long flight.

“Window or aisle ― you really need to decide what is more important to you,” Jacobs said. “You can lean on the window ― or have the freedom of getting up and stretching whenever you feel like it. I prefer the aisle any day.”

Boarding Without A Sleep Game Plan

“It is important to figure out what you will be doing on the flight,” Dengler explained. “Is it a red-eye flight where the goal will be to sleep? Or is it during the day when you will need to stay occupied?”

Try to sleep when it’s nighttime at your destination, rather than your origin. And if you’re planning to sleep during the flight, avoid caffeine and try to walk around the airport to tire yourself out before boarding.

“Watching movies can make you sleepy, so instead log on to Wi-Fi and work or shop when you need to be awake,” Jacobs suggested.

Jet lag is very real, but there are different tactics for making the time change easier to manage, even after a sleepless red-eye.

“Do not take a nap once you land at your destination,” Roth said. “Power through so that you sync up your body with the local clock. You will adapt much better to the new time zone.”

Don’t put too much pressure on yourself, however. It’s not the end of the world if you can’t quickly adjust.

“Don’t force yourself to sleep just because you feel like you should,” said Laura Ratliff, senior editorial director at TripSavvy. “I’m a big fan of an arrival ‘espresso nap’ ― I down a quick espresso, draw the curtains, and force myself to sleep for 25-30 minutes. It helps me get through the day without being bleary-eyed, and I am just tired enough to sleep at night.”

Feel Obliged To Talk The Whole Time

“When traveling with colleagues, you don’t have to sit next to them,” Jacobs said. “A long flight is a long time to make small talk.”

Unless you need to do collaborative work during a flight, choose your own seat on a business trip if possible and try to put some space between you and co-workers. You’ll have plenty of time together at the airport and then your destination.

“Plus, no need to have your colleagues see or hear you sleeping,” Jacobs said. “Sit separately ― it’s not rude. They will appreciate it too.”

Relying On Plane Food

Unless you’re sitting in business class, you’re not guaranteed a lot of meal and snack choices, so if you’re particular, it’s best to eat just before the flight or come prepared with your own food.

“I always bring my own snacks on long-haul flights, and I have never regretted it,” Dengler said. “Food options can be limited, so this guarantees I will be able to eat what I want and when I want.”

Neglecting Self-Care

Being on a long flight might feel like some sort of alternate reality where time and rules don’t apply, but it’s still important to take care of yourself and your body when you can.

“Get up to walk around and stretch every few hours,” Brogan said. “Your legs will thank you once you arrive!”

Don’t forget to stay hydrated and take any vitamins and medications that are part of your daily routine. You’ll feel much better during your trip if you do what you can to take care of yourself during the transit process.

“On long flights, I have a little ritual of brushing my teeth, washing my face and applying lotion about an hour before landing,” Ratliff said. “My favorite lotion is Le Labo’s Rose 31 — the fragrance helps boost my mood a little, and now, it’s become such a habit that I associate that smell with getting off the plane and exploring a new place!”

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