Boarding a long flight is a mixed bag. The promise of the destination on the other end keeps you excited about new places, people and possibilities. Sitting on a plane all day is no small task, but it’s all part of the greater travel experience.
In case you were wondering, the longest commercial flight currently operating is from New York to Singapore on Singapore Airlines. The scheduled flight time is no laughing matter at a whopping nineteen hours. There are a handful of international flights that sit around the seventeen-hour range, but anything in double digits definitely counts as long.
It is worth noting that no matter the length of a flight, it will be worth it in the end. The same thing we find brutal (the length) is the very thing that takes us far! Exploring the world takes courage and spirit, and a day in the air is something that simply must be braved.
Naturally, some of us will have a harder time on long flights than others. But we can all agree that a long flight is rarely the driving force behind someone’s travel fever (unless you’re in it for the points, then, by all means, enjoy racking them up). Though we’d rather focus on the good times and let the travel hardships fall to the dusty corners of our minds, we’re going to face this head-on.
Today, we’d like to share some advice on how to best set yourself up for a day in the sky. Because if you have to take them, you might as well make your next long flight as pleasant as possible.
Now, let’s talk tactics!
Stretch Before You Sit
Your body was built to move, and staying sedentary for so long on a flight is bound to take a toll. Here is a simple stretching routine that can be done anywhere. It takes about ten minutes, and all you need is a wall. If you can squeeze in a last-minute stretch at your gate, we promise your body will thank you. Here’s how to mitigate that sitting soreness:
- Quads: From a standing position (holding a wall for support), bend your right knee and reach back to grab your right ankle with your right hand. Pull your heel close to your glute and keep your knee pointing toward the ground. Feel the stretch in the front of your quad. Hold for thirty seconds. Repeat with the left leg. Do each leg twice.
- Calves: Standing directly in front of a wall, place the ball of your foot on the wall and your heel on the floor. As you lean your hips closer to the wall you’ll feel a stretch in your calve muscle. Hold for thirty seconds. Repeat with your other leg. Do each leg twice.
- Neck: Tuck your chin to your chest and feel the gentle stretch in the vertebrae at the top of your spine. Moving slowly, roll your head to the side so your right ear is close to your right shoulder. Then roll back through the original chin-to-chest position on your way to the other side. Spend two minutes gently exploring this motion in your neck. Keep both shoulders down for a maximized stretch.
- Shoulders: Move your shoulders in big circles. Start by moving them forward, then shrugging them up by your ears. From there, roll your shoulders down your back and lengthen through your spine; enjoy the sensation in your shoulders and the sides of your neck. If you’d like to add breath into the movement, inhale as you shrug your shoulders forward and up, then exhale as you press them back and down. Complete ten circles, keeping them slow and intentional.
- Chest: Facing the wall and standing about six inches away, extend your right arm to the side and place your palm flat against the wall at shoulder height (so your arm is parallel to the floor). From there, shuffle your feet and turn your body to the left - away from your outstretched arm. If you have open shoulders, you’ll probably rotate about 90 degrees. Stop when you feel a stretch in the front of your shoulder opening up your chest. Hold for thirty seconds. Repeat with the left arm. Do each arm twice.
Pro Tip: Numbers three and four can be repeated anytime during the flight, right from your seat.
Of course, drinking enough water is an important checklist item for every day, but it goes double for a day spent at altitude. A reusable water bottle is an absolute must for long travel days. Limiting alcohol consumption before a flight is another way to keep your hydration in check. And let’s be honest about these long flights, you’re going to have to use the bathroom at some point anyway; don’t fool yourself into limiting water as an attempt to avoid this.
Pro Tip: Show up to the airport with your water bottle half full. You’ll have to finish it before passing through security, so this guarantees some extra hydration. After you’re through the dance that is TSA, refill your bottle for the flight.
What to Bring
Here’s a list of long-flight essentials:
- Reusable water bottle. For the reasons discussed above. Emphasis on the reusable though; we all have to do our part for the plastic problem our world faces.
- Scarf. A scarf is a nice versatile item for a flight; ball it up to create a pillow, unfold it to use as a blanket/shawl, or roll it up and use it for support behind your back.
- Compression socks. Quality socks are an essential plane item, and compression socks are ideal for flying. Don’t save your favorite pair for a vacation day, wear them on the plane! We recommend a backup pair too (we’ll tell you why below).
- Baby wipes. These can be a lifesaver whether or not you have kids. Long flights are just easier if you have a way to combat unexpected stickiness. Enough said.
- Snacks! The only thing scarier than “hanger” is the idea of being hangry on a plane. Avoid overly salty items as they will contribute to dehydration. Some of our favorites are fruit, nuts, granola bars, and chocolate!
- A comfort item. If you’re nervous about flying or are traveling solo, bring along a comfort item. This could be a card from a friend, a photo of a loved one (yes, pets count), a favorite book, a stuffed animal, a playlist - anything! This can help with flight anxiety or lonely travel days.
Ain’t That Just Swell
Some people experience swelling while they fly, most commonly in the hands and feet. Set yourself up for success by removing any rings, you can store them safely in a zippered pocket of your personal item. Compression socks have been shown to help contain swelling. Also - loosen your shoelaces!
Reset and Refresh
You probably learned long ago to travel with toiletries in your carry-on for fear of lost luggage. The secondary benefit is having them on hand for this next travel hack! At the halfway point, treat yourself to a mid-flight refresh. Stretch your legs and head to the bathroom, spend a few minutes brushing your hair, wiping your face and neck with a baby wipe, or brushing your teeth. Then change into your extra pair of socks! You’ll head back to your seat feeling like a new woman, and it’s a fun way to commemorate the halfway point of your flight.
Pro Tip: This is also an opportunity to revisit the stretching routine above!
Occupy Your Mind
Of course, there are many ways to pass your time on a flight. Maybe you’re knocking out some work, enjoying a novel, or are a movie buff who can handle a quadruple feature. However you are passing the time, we understand that the enemy here is time itself.
Trail runners who prefer the great outdoors sometimes must suffer through a treadmill session. When this happens, they often play phycological games with themselves to keep their mind occupied and off of their covered distance/time. You can bring the same attitude to your flight.
Geography buffs rejoice with the flight tracking feature that accompanies most long flights. Like treadmill statistics, you can play around with looking and not looking at the flight tracker. Pick a geographical point along the way, and resolve not to look at the tracker again until you think you’ve reached it. Put your geography skills to the test by timing this out in different ways and treating the tracker as a game.
The Imaginary Ancestor
This is an exercise in perspective and gratitude. It works well for long travel days but can be applied to many areas of life. When something in today’s world feels especially taxing, imagine being able to bring one of your ancestors along. You don’t have to go back far in your family tree before you realize that the annoyances of today pale in comparison to the experiences that are available to us.
Who was the first person in your family to even get on a plane at all? If your grandmother’s grandmother was with you on this flight, how amazing would she find it? What questions would she pose? How would you explain things to her? Use the Imaginary Ancestor as a thought experiment or journal prompt. It’s a helpful reframe for when your optimism is running dry.
Are you heading to a far-off destination soon? How are you feeling about the long flight? Whether you're headed to New York or New Zealand, we know it’ll be worth the trip. If you’re heading to another hemisphere, the excitement of adventure will surely overshadow the cumbersome journey.
Besides, if sore legs are the trade-off for seeing the world, so be it.
Sounds like a small price to pay to satisfy your wanderlust.