9 Effective Ways to Survive a Long-Haul Flight in Economy

On my most recent trip, I started off with a 14-hour flight in Economy Class from Toronto to Shanghai. Even though I ended up with the dreaded middle seat, I found that this flight was actually a lot more bearable than my previous long-haul flights to Asia, due to tweaking a few things related to my long haul flight routine.

Here are my tips to make your long-haul flights more bearable!

1. Put a reminder in your phone to check-in exactly 24 hours before the flight to pick the best seat

Last year on my Los Angeles to Sydney flight, I had an opportunity to upgrade to exit row for around $280. Since the ticket itself was $562, I didn't think it was worth the 50% price premium for leg room. Boy, do I regret that decision - the 15 hour flight was excruciating to sit through! If you have the opportunity to upgrade to an exit row or premium economy for around $200-300, do it. It's worth the extra sleep.

To ensure you get first access to upgrade and seat selection opportunities, put a reminder in your phone to check-in exactly 24 hours before so that you're first in line. If you're even keener than that, you can of course pay to select your seat in advance as well.

If you aren't able to afford to upgrade or simply don't see the value in upgrading, then I recommend choosing your seat position wisely. This is dependent on personal preferences. Tall people prefer the aisle seat to stretch out their legs as well as grab their cabin luggage faster. Many people prefer the window seat to for sleeping, although I personally don't always find it easy to sleep on planes unless I'm lying down. If you can sleep in the window seat - more power to you! Window seats seem to be popular on long-haul flights and tend to get snapped up quickly.

The middle seat is not so bad if you're flying with someone in the aisle seat. That way, you don't feel awkward about asking them to get up each time you need to go to the bathroom or stretch on the airplane. Another option for couples or friends is to take up both the window and aisle seats, and hope that no one sits in the middle. This hasn't worked for me so far, but I'm still staying hopeful!

2. Stretch before the flight

Since you'll be sitting for 14 hours straight in Economy, stretching and encouraging blood flow to your legs is very important. Linked here is an article with a number of useful stretches to do pre-flight.

3. Bring a sleeping eye mask and ear plugs

On both flights to and from Asia, I had very annoying neighbours who would turn up their screens to maximum brightness while I was trying to sleep. I found that putting on an eye mask blocked out any light disturbance and went a long way in helping me sleep.

Similarly, I'm quite sensitive to noise as well, especially the snoring of other passengers. I always carry around ear plugs when I travel to block out the noise, and this is especially true of noisy airplanes.

4. Stand up periodically and stretch on the plane

The most effective method of surviving a long haul flight is to periodically stand up for 15-20 minutes at a time, as well as stretch. Since my boyfriend was sitting in the aisle seat, I didn't feel too bad about asking him to get up so I could stand up and stretch my legs.

Throughout the flight, I would also stand near the (somewhat) open area in front of the bathrooms to stretch. This included touching my toes, doing lunges, and stretching my hamstrings. For those that find stretching on the plane in front of hundreds of people embarrassing, don't - you likely won't see them ever again. Plus, they probably won't notice as a) it is usually dark on the plane, b) they're asleep or c) they're watching their screens!

To preserve modesty, you may want to have your back to the wall or side of the plane, rather than having your backside face the passengers. Otherwise, you should stretch away! Moving your legs and toes throughout a long-haul flight promotes a lot more blood circulation and will make you feel ten times better getting off the plane.

5. Pack lightly for your carry on

Nobody ever talks about getting OFF the plane. When the seatbelt sign goes off, thousands of passengers start unbuckling themselves as quickly as possible and maneuvering their luggage from the overhead compartment. If you limit your carry on to a backpack or purse that can fit underneath the seat, you'll be able to exit the plane much faster rather than wait for people to unload.

6. Wear comfortable clothing and shoes

What is considered comfortable clothing varies from person to person, but for starts I would recommend wearing clothes that cover most of your skin (i.e. long pants, long sleeve shirt) as the plane can get quite chilly. In general, looser or elasticized clothing is more comfortable. For shoes, I generally stick with sneakers or running shoes.

7. Drink water

You can always ask the flight attendants for water - sometimes they will give you a whole bottle! I experienced this on Fiji Airways, where we ended up getting a giant bottle of Fiji water to ourselves because we had requested it so often.

8. Keep a toothbrush, toothpaste and moisturizer near the top of your luggage

If your flight is over 10 hours, you're likely flying through a time you'd usually be brushing your teeth right before sleep. Sticking to this routine on the plane can not only encourage sleeping, but can also help you not feel as gross coming off the plane. Similarly, moisturizer can keep your skin from feeling dry throughout the flight. By keeping these items near the top of your luggage, they become easy to access in between meals.

9. Trial and error

It took me several long-haul flights over the years to finally figure out the combination that worked, but I would say the most important tip is to try a few different solutions to figure out which ones work for you. For example, I tried using a neck pillow a few times, but found that it didn't dramatically improve my quality of sleep. I find having a glass of champagne also positively affects my sleep, but not more than that.

Taking pills (either sleeping pills or antihistamines) can have mixed results, so use with caution.