Tray Tables away

travel tips and tales for mature travellers

Flying, Luxury travel, overseas getaways, Travelling with kids

6 great tips for surviving long haul flights

survive long haul flight
Long haul flights suck, they truly do. You spend much of the time alternating between wanting to have an aneurism and die and ripping the door of its hinges and jumping. And if you live somewhere like Australia, New Zealand or Canada then you have no choice but to do them if you want to go, well, almost anywhere !
I’ve done dozens in the past 10 years or so, and I think I’ve learnt a thing of two, so I’m passing on my very best tips in the hope of saving a few lives or at least a bit of sanity. Here are my top 6 tips for surviving long haul flights !

1. Select your seats !

Sounds logical right ? And yet I hear so many people complaining about their seat allocation and see arguments and angst on the plane over who sits where. With so many people checking in up to 48 hours prior to departure and group bookings taking entire sections of the plane turning up early doesn’t cut it anymore!

Extra tips on how selecting your seats can help you survive a long haul flight;
  •  if you are tall or large or have mobility issues or a back problem or just want more comfort splurge for those exit row seats ( although do remember the seat rests are usually not able to go up so you have to weigh that up). That extra $100 or so will be a lot less than medical bills trying to fix a problem that could also ruin your holiday.
  • If travelling as a couple and the row is a trio you have a good chance of a spare seat in between if you book the window and aisle ( which is our preference anyway). It doesn’t always work but we have managed to score that extra bit of space a few times. ( see photo above)
  • Forget the front ! Sure you might be first off the plane (although you wont be as that will be the 1st & Biz lucky ducks). You will however be last to board and we will all be waiting there together at the baggage carousel! On top of that there are usually screaming babies near the front and any spare seats are likely to be at the back. 
  • Use SeatGuru when booking your flight and check out the seating configuration of your plane. Some things I have discovered over the years  include ;
    • Qantas run 5 economy rows at the back of the upper deck on the A380 and you get the Biz crew and some of the trimmings PLUS no bassinets !
    • Emirates have a couple of ‘twos’ at the back of their 777-300’s which are much better for couples than a triple or quad throughout the rest of the plane

survive a long haul flight

2. Take a full size pillow

I do get a few funny looks but I’ve been happily dragging a full size pillow around for years. It doesn’t fall down the gap between my seat and the window like the little puffs of marshmallow they give out on the planes and its great on the tray table too. On my last trip I even purchased an expensive latex one – still a lot cheaper than business class! ( I pack an extra pillow case. Don’t pick white.)

Sleeping on my pillow

3. Drugs & alcohol

If a few wines and/or a sleeping pill helps you get a few hours sleep – go for it ! If a flight is longer than 6 hours then I will often take a Dozile or 2 which are available over the counter in Australia and don’t leave me with any fuzzy hangover effect. This will usually ensure 4 or 5 hours of decent rest which is still not a lot on a 14+ hour flight but enough to make things a little more bearable. ( note* don’t be that person that the flight has to turn back for. Know your own body and its limitations and talk to your GP if you are unsure)

4. Arrival times are even more important than departure !

Many long haul flights arrive into Australia at 6am or thereabouts ( hence why they are called Redeye’s). This is often due to cheaper landing fees, curfews or any myriad of other mysterious reasons the airlines have but what it means for the passenger is the terminal is usually chaos, the passengers are all straight out of The Walking Dead AND you have to try to stay awake ALL DAY in order to reset your body clock. Yuck !

Also arriving at your destination early in the morning will usually mean you are walking the streets for several hours before your accommodation is available. Sure it sounds so fabulous having that croissant in Paris whilst you wait but the reality is you will want to sell one of your kids to get your hands on that room on the day. 

5. Dress appropriately

This sounds like a no-brainer yet on last weeks flight a woman in front of me wore stilettos and a tailored linen dress for the whole flight. Crazy town !

I like to try to be comfy, safety conscious and a little chic ( I hope). My go-to outfit is usually a black sleeveless knit or jersey dress with a bamboo draped cardigan and leggings and a black or pink cashmere wrap if leaving a cold climate – these are removed and put in my cabin bag upon arrival in a hot climate. I wear sneakers or loafers and change into comfy socks on the plane. The cashmere wrap has been around the world a hundred times and has served as a scarf, a sarong, a head covering, wrap and blanket. One of my best wardrobe investments ever!

6. Don’t hand back anything if you aren’t finished ( blanket, headset)

I get that airlines are trying to run as efficiently and cost effectively as possible but what is the point of taking my headset off me 40 minutes from landing when the movie will keep running up to the gate. I just say “sorry I’m not finished’ and amazingly they let me keep it.

Ditto for the blanket. Forcing everyone to suddenly be exposed to the sub arctic temperatures in the cabin may ensure they are wide awake buts its quite a cruel and unnecessary thing to put customers though to save 5 minutes of someones time later. Sorry, again I paid for it and I’m not finished with it. 

7.Pack your carry on thoughtfully

You wont need to worry about the headset if you’ve packed your own. Ditto for the blanket ( although your pashmina might do). I always carry a good hand cream and my makeup basics ( mineral powder, mascara, lipstick) in a clear ziplock bag and in fact a few extra ziplock bags too. Don’t forget your phone/iPad charger –  most newer planes have charging points), anti-bacterial wipes, a hairbrush, toothbrush and change of clothes in case your bags go missing ( learnt that one the hard way).

So these are some of my very best tips. I hope they help make your next trip a little more bearable and ensure that you too can have a bit more success with surviving long haul flights!

If you have any great tips you’d love to share with readers please leave them in the comments below.


  1. kathymarris

    Yes these all are great tips for the agony of long haul flights. My last flights to Italy and return weren’t too bad as I planned well, except we took pot luck with the seating. On the return flight we managed a row of 3 seats to ourselves which was a bonus. I normally take a Temaze so that I get at least 4 hours sleep, otherwise I barely sleep at all. I also wear those compression socks now to prevent DBT and swollen legs.

    • sandra

      I am super vigilant with seats as you would have seen but getting 3 seats each is a dream !

  2. budgettraveltalk

    Love all your tips. I feel well armed for our next flight!

    • sandra

      Glad they have helped. Its still horrendous but every little piece of help is worth it

  3. My Feet Will Lead Me

    Great tips and I’m soooo in agreement on the sleeping pills! If I know I have at least 6 hours of flight, I take a good sleeping pill (especially if it’s an overnight flight). Ironically, I can always sleep fine on early morning flights but never on red eyes when I actually NEED to sleep. Thanks for the tips! My thing I always bring is my neck pillow but I use it under my butt like a donut pillow except it’s for my sore tailbone. Works like a charm, haha.

    • sandra

      Its weird the way the body refuses to co-operate sometimes isnt it. You always see everyone on early morning flight fast asleep lol

  4. Lots of great tips here. I am a big fan of the Travel Essence from Australian Bush Flower Essences for mitigating jet lag.

  5. Great tips here. I am a big fan of the Travel Essence from Australian Bush Flower Essences to help with jet lag.

  6. John

    Wow, I’ve never bought to take a proper pillow ! It does make a lot of sense

  7. Anonymous

    I really enjoyed reading this. So,e good tips and funny too !

  8. Kate

    Don’t tell everyone about that section on the top deck of the A380! That’s the best spot. Let’s keep it a secret. 😉

    • sandra

      And now it sounds like QF are planning to get rid of it, for their London routes at least. They must of heard us ! ;-(

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