It can be challenging to take a long haul flight in economy class. Leg space can be limited, and you can’t fully recline your seat. Some people find it the least enjoyable part of their holiday, especially when flying from the United States or Europe all the way to Southeast Asia or Australia.
You can, of course, upgrade and fly in business class, where you can get a lot of extra space and the luxury of being able to properly recline your seat. However, for most of us, business class fares can cost as much as (or more than) our entire vacation budget, and are out of the question.
So if you have a long haul flight soon, try these tips on how to enjoy your time down at the back of the plane.
1. Find out what strategy works for you
If you’ve flown long haul a few times, you may already have a preference for what flights you prefer.
For instance, what time of day do you prefer to fly? Some people prefer to fly overnight, trying to sleep away the flight. Other people prefer a daytime flight, enjoying the chance to catch up on back-to-back movies.
What about if there’s a stopover along the way? Some people want to stay overnight in a hotel, to break up the journey and have a decent rest (often in combination with daytime flights). On the other hand, you may be one of those people that are keen to get to their final destination as quickly as possible.
Reflect back on previous flights you’ve taken and consider what you’ve preferred. If something has worked well for you, and made the long flight more bearable, try and book a similar long haul flight this time, even if you need to pay slightly more. This is especially important if you are flying with children or flying with your dog.
2. Pay extra to choose your seat
If you’re trying to save money on your flights, it’s tempting to not pay anything extra to choose your seat, a requirement on many airlines these days. However, this is a bad move when flying long haul.
You probably have a preference for what seat you prefer, and this is especially important on long flights. The world is split between flyers that prefer a window seat (with the chance to sleep against it, without being disturbed) and those who prefer to sit next to the aisle (handy for stretching your legs during a long flight).
To ensure you don’t spend eight hours or more on a flight squished into the middle seat, paying the cost of a meal to pick your seat is a small price to pay to help you survive a long flight.
3. Research your long haul flight in advance
When flying some airlines, as well as being able to choose your seat online in advance, you can also find out about the planned meals and the movies currently being shown on flights, whether for a cost or included in the fare.
This will answer your question of whether one or two meals are being served, and help you decide whether to eat before the flight (and whether you should take some snacks). You may also find out that you’ll finally catch that movie you’ve been meaning to watch — something to look forward to and make the long haul flight more enjoyable!
However, don’t always count on enjoying the included entertainment on the flight. Screens can sometimes be broken. It always pays to have a back-up option, such as a good book (or bring a Kindle!). You’ll be thankful after a long flight with nothing else to pass the time.
4. Sleep on overnight flights
The best way to pass the time on overnight flights is to try and sleep for part of it. This will also help ensure that you arrive refreshed at your destination. It’s a lot harder to sleep on a flight when you’re in economy class, rather than enjoying a lay-flat bed in business class, but it still is worth the effort.
If you already know that you find it hard to sleep on flights, plan ahead and take along things to help you sleep. Earplugs and an eye mask are long haul flight essentials, as well as a thick scarf that you can use as a blanket (here’s why you shouldn’t use the blankets in planes).
Most pharmacies can also sell you products to help you sleep. Often these are enough to nudge you towards getting some shut-eye, or at least spend the long flight dozing on and off.
5. Change your time zone when you board
To help adjust to the time zone of your destination, if you’re flying long haul across multiple time zones, it’s best to start that adjustment earlier rather than later.
After you board the flight and you’re waiting for departure, change the time of your watch and phone. If it’s a single flight, change the time to the time at your destination. If you’re flying multiple legs, change the time on each leg.
Changing your time zone early will help to start syncing your eating and sleeping habits as soon as possible, instead of an abrupt adjustment when you arrive at your destination.
6. Arrive at your final destination in the evening
Even if you manage to sleep when flying in economy, there’s still one type of flight that it’s best to avoid: those overnight flights that arrive at your final destination first thing in the morning, especially after a change of multiple time zones.
If you arrive first thing in the morning, often you’re not yet able to check into your hotel to either have a nap or a shower. Then you’ve got to get through the whole day without falling asleep, not ideal when you’re trying to sightsee in a foreign country.
It’s better to time your final flight to arrive in the late afternoon or the evening. At least then you can be certain you can immediately check into your accommodation. And if you want, you can go straight to bed, trying to sync up your body clock with the new time zone by having a full night’s sleep.
7. Avoid short overnight flights on full-service airlines
One final tip for flights in economy: if you’re taking a short overnight flight (around seven to eight hours), it’s usually better to fly with a budget airline rather than a full-service airline.
This is because when the flight takes off on a budget airline, you can immediately start trying to get some sleep. On the other hand, if you’re flying on a full-service airline, they will soon be doing the drink service and then the dinner service, despite the late hour, making it difficult to sleep.
Not to mention they generally turn the cabin lights on two hours before arrival, due to the breakfast service, usually at a very early time of the morning. The lights are generally switched off for no more than four hours, sometimes even less.
While the seats may not be as comfortable on budget airlines, the lack of disturbance in the cabin can make for a better chance at sleeping. Then spend the dollars that you’ve saved on a nice meal before your flight departs.
All photos by Aleah Taboclaon. Text by Shandos Cleaver.
Have you been on a long haul flight? What other tips can your share?