How to survive long haul flights solo and in economy

The ultimate guide for solo travelers on long haul flights

Long haul flight in economy
taking off from Australia, another 24 hours to go

Long haul flights, a necessary evil for work and for play. The truth is I love both airports and long haul flights. I live exactly on the opposite side of the planet from my home country and so I’ve had to make the 23+ hour flight more than a dozen times. These days any flight under 15 hours I consider to be a “short hop” these days 😂. In the years of flying back and forth to Australia and various trips to the US, I’ve become a bit of a ninja in the ways to make these flights more enjoyable, from seat selection to avoiding screaming toddlers on flights. Read on for some of the tricks I’ve gathered over the years – I hope these can be useful to you as they have been for me

Choose the right airline

Not all airlines are equal. As the price war rages across all major routes, many budget airlines have introduced “no frills” long haul flights for excellent prices.

A cheap fare may be attractive, but how many hours will it add to your flight? What are the facilities like? Is it an airline you have heard before? (Recently when purchasing my last flight to Australia, I could have saved £300 on a return, it would’ve take 42 hours instead of the usual 23 hours)

If you are booking your flight with an airline that you have little knowledge of – get online and look at reviews from other travellers, websites like Trip Advisor  and Airline Quality  all have detailed reviews from passengers across most routes.

Price over quality, or visa versa, is an individual choice but it is definitely worth mentioning however, that you can get some cheap fares are with great airlines, do your research.

Seat Selection

I’ve finally cracked the perfect (free) seat in Economy, its taken years but I’ve found the holy grail (if you are under 6 feet in height). When you get to the airport, its definitely worth asking the airline staff if you are able to move seats if you are not thrilled with the ones you have been assigned. Usually, a smile and being polite will get you a different seat, but probably not an upgrade 😉

If you have the luxury to pre book your seats prior to flying do so, study the plane lay out – as most people tend to travel in couples or groups the likelihood of finding yourself with an empty seat next to you in a centre aisle is quite high, especially towards the back of the plane.

Basic Level

Aisle Seats! If you don’t have the luxury of pre booking your seat, always try to ask at the check in desk for an aisle seat. Having an aisle seat will always mean a little bit more space and not having to climb over other people if you want to get out of your seat. (Window seats aren’t necessary for long haul flights)

If you can get an exit row, go for it! They go tend to cost extra particularly on long haul flights but if you are tall, its certainly worth the extra money so you can actually sit without having your knees around your head.

Ninja Level

Towards the back of the of the plane near the galley (not the toilets) the aisle seat on a centre back row of a section that backs onto a wall. There is:

  • More storage space, you can use the space behind the seat and the wall for the airlines pillows / blankets etc. This results more leg room!
  • Your can recline for as long as you like because there is no one behind you.
  • More than likely there is no one sitting next to you.

I have an entire free row of seats to myself…Woo hoo! Very rarely have I had an entire free row to myself, personally I don’t think its all cracked up to be. Have you tried sleeping across multiple seats? Super uncomfortable!

What to take in your carry on

The make or break list, that’ll be a difference between an awesome flight and an uncomfortable one. Now, assuming you have your ticket, passport, and house keys you will also need:

  • Sleeping Mask (treat yourself to a proper sleeping mask that blocks out all of the light)
  • Ear Plugs (or noise cancelling headphones)
  • A jumper and a large scarf (that doubles as blanket)
  • Toiletries: Hand sanitizer, toothbrush, toothpaste, mints, deodorant, mini face wash or wipes, moisturiser, lip balm – I’ve recently discovered the joys of sheets masks on flights, not only do they do wonders for dehydrated skin, the reaction from fellow passengers is hilarious!
  • Neck Pillow: I personally don’t use one, but many folks find these easier to sleep with on a flight.
  • A pen
  • Chargers and adapters
  • Sunglasses (It can get surprisingly bright in the air)
  • A change of clothes (also handy if your luggage goes missing)

Eating on the plane

One of my life rules is: “Always go vegetarian on show days and on flights”

You definitely don’t want a dodgy stomach on any flight, let alone a long haul one.

The vegetarian / vegan meals on a flight are much tastier than they used to be, AND always arrive at your seat a good 40 mins before the main service on the plane.

If you aren’t a massive fan of plane food, bring your own! Nuts, Energy bars, pre- prepared salads and smoothies are all readily available at most airports these days.

To drink or not to drink?

Free booze on a flight (yay!) of course all the advice you will read tells you not to drink alcohol, but providing you are drinking lots of water, treat yourself to a couple of cheeky G&T’s. Don’t go overboard though, at altitude every single serve of alcohol feels like a double or triple, and the air in the cabin will dehydrate you quickly.

Speaking of drinking water – yes, drinks loads of it. It very easy to get dehydrated on the flight and being hydrated also assists with the fight against jetlag at the other end.

Bring a large empty bottle with you through airport security, top up in the terminal, then keep topping up on the plane.

Entertainment

Keeping yourself amused for 20 odd hours on a flight is no easy feat, particularly if you are travelling by yourself. Bring your own entertainment with you on the flight to supplement the in-flight entertainment system or in the event there isn’t one.

  • Download your favourite Netflix series / BBC series onto your tablet
  • Before you fly, get on the airline website and check out what movies / TV series they are showing.
  • Bring your favourite book or treat yourself to a new one.
  • Load up on magazines at the airport (if that is your kind of thing)
  • Get some work done (if you are on a work trip) although who would want to do that 😉
  • Start a travel journal.

Sleep!

Sleeping properly on a flight can be an elusive beast…

  • Starting shifting your sleep pattern before you fly – I’ve discovered Jetlag Rooster A free app that suggests when/what time you should go to sleep before and after you arrive at your destination.
  • Ear plugs in (or if you have noise cancelling headphones even better)
  • Sleep mask on!
  • Use your scarf or blanket, the cabin will get chilly (usually when you’ve just dozed off)

Move!

This is where the advantage of having an aisle seat comes in – being able to get up and move around whenever you like.

Stretching your legs is vital on long haul flights to avoid DVT (Deep Vein Thombosis) caused by sitting down for too long in the same position. I recommend some light stretching at your seat (there will often be examples of this in the back of the airline magazine) , and walking a few laps around the cabin, if you have zero level of embarrassment  (like me) do some deep stretching at the rear of the plane.

If you have any other handy hints – please leave a comment below.

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  1. Pingback: How to beat Jet lag | Meet me at the Pyramid Stage

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