The art of surviving the long haul flight

Emirates A380

On Tuesday I will make the 30+ hour journey from Manchester to Auckland. As something I have done countless times, you might say I’ve become quite the experienced long haul flyer. But it doesn’t seem to come any easier. In fact, once the novelty wears off it all becomes a lot harder – suddenly the inflight entertainment system isn’t interesting, you have seen all the movies, the food is overfamiliar and the duty free has been bought before.

I am a frequent flyer with Emirates; I have a Silver air miles account with them. Although Emirates is a first class airline, unfortunately this has not prompted many benefits other than access to the Dubai business lounge. So not much hope for an upgrade there.

Other than praying for the miracle of the free upgrade, all frequent flyers end up creating some rituals to help survive the (double) long haul flight, and here are my own. Above all else, preparation is really the key.

  • Toiletries and cosmetics. My must-haves include wipes, toothbrush/paste, tissues, sweets, moisturiser, hair brush, dry shampoo, painkillers and various digestion aids (you never know with the food they serve). I even bring my own hand wash.
  • If doing more than 1 flight, bring a change of clothes, or at least underwear – you will feel much fresher changing half way. Sometimes the airports will have showers (e.g. Dubai) so bring a small towel and a small bottle of shower gel (under 100ml).
  • Bring as many different forms of entertainment as possible. I bring a book (easy read), sudoku, iPhone with music, laptop, magazine and notepad. Strangely when I get onboard I never want to do what I expect. Sometimes I spend the whole flight just doing the sudoku, other times I will watch Disney films back to back. So give yourself as many options as possible. I would love to have a Kindle or iPad in these situations!
  • Sleeping on planes is rough in economy. Many airlines provide small pillows, but if not you may want to bring one for yourself. Create a playlist of relatively relaxing music that you can play whilst you doze. Ear plugs (or ear phones that block sound out), eye mask, thick socks and even more comfortable trousers also help. However, my personal favourite is valium – lots of people shy away from it but in small doses it really helps me relax.
  • Chose your seat. Many airlines will let you do this after booking online – check out sites like and decide where is best for you. Everyone has their own preferences. I like to be on an aisle seat near the front so there is no long wait to get on and off the plane. Think twice about getting a leg room seat unless you are very tall – they are usually narrower across the hips and so not necessarily more comfortable. Plus you will often find yourself near kids, and you can’t watch your personal tv when taking off or landing.
  • Bring a selection of snacks – plane food is not the best as we all know, but sometimes you might find yourself hungry when you least expect it. Make sure you are not taking anything that they will confiscate half way through your journey.
  • If you can, bring a small amount of appropriate currency for any airports that you stop in on the way. For me this Dubai and Sydney. Sometimes it can really help even if it is buy a bottle of water or a sandwich – credit cards can have a nasty fee that is not worth it. And you should be buying water whenever you can.
  • Talking of drinking, I wouldn’t do it. Yes the alcohol is often free and some people can cope with a few, but one glass of wine on a long haul flight probably equals 3 glasses on dry land. Not in that it will make you drunk, but in that it will severely dehydrate you. Fizzy drinks and caffeine are also bad ideas. Don’t give in.
  • Before you get on the first flight, set your watch to the time at your destination. Try to think of the time in the way from that point onwards. But don’t try to plan your sleep patterns accordingly. I tried to stay up for as long as possible once and it just made me exhausted. Just sleep whenever you can.

Hopefully some of the above might help anyone having to go through the same long haul nightmare as me!

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