Originally written for Priority Pass
Sometimes it’s not the journey, it’s the destination – especially when the destination is a sun-drenched beach on the other side of the world. But you need to get there first, and it seems like it’s going to take you a while.
Singapore Airlines takes the prize of world’s longest flight, with nearly 19 hours in the air while you’re flying from Newark in the United States to Singapore. That’s bound to be eclipsed soon though, as airlines and aircraft manufacturers are working on the next major nonstop air route: Sydney to London, estimated at over 20 hours. That’s all 8 of the Harry Potter movies, if you can’t get much sleep on a plane.
Flying for 20 hours is disorienting, but with the list of hacks we put together you may be able to make the next long-haul flight more manageable and touch down ready to start your holiday.
Pick your seat
If you are flying economy, we recommend reserving your seat as soon as possible. Window seats are a great choice for more than the obvious reason. They offer a solid surface to nap against, passing beverage carts won’t wake you up, and you only have to get up when you want or need to. Plus, you can control daylight when you rest.
If you value legroom more you may want to go for an aisle seat, so you can stretch and move around more easily. And, if you want to avoid being sat next to children, you should probably avoid the front of the plane sections. This is where many airlines prioritise children’s seats on long-haul flights.
Getting an upgrade is the best way to ensure a comfortable journey, however. With extra legroom, reclining chairs and better-quality food and drink, the trip will go much smoother.
Wear comfortable clothing
The trick to staying comfortable at high altitude is layering. That’s because temperature fluctuates at 30,000ft, and adding or removing light, loose fitting layers helps you adjust your own temperature and remain comfortable.
Some airlines have blankets at the ready, but you’ll never regret bringing a hoodie – which can easily double as a pillow. And, since lots of plane seats aren’t extremely comfortable after a while, you can offset this by wedging a jumper behind your lower back.
Then, when the seatbelt sign goes off, so should your shoes. Your feet and ankles can swell at high altitude, restricting blood flow in your legs. You may also want to consider compression socks to keep your circulation going. And, since you won’t get steady, predictable temperature on a long-haul flight, it may be best to avoid shorts.
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate
Aeroplane air gets very, very dry. You may not realise it on short flights, but when going the distance remember to pack an empty, refillable water bottle, preferably containing a built-in filter. As soon as you’re through airport security, fill it up.
Coffee is dehydrating, so it’s best avoided. Green tea is a better alternative as it gives you a little energy boost without the dehydrating effects. Some airlines even offer specific herbal teas to help you rest.
On a long, overnight flight, you may receive a sleep mask and a tube of moisturiser, but you may want to bring your own if you have a mask or brand you prefer. Skin will dry out, so having some travel-sized moisturiser in your bag will suddenly seem like a great idea up there.
Salty foods also tend to retain water, leaving you bloated and even more dehydrated. Avoid the pretzels and crisps and pack your own protein-rich snacks to keep you feeling full for longer, like cereal bars, nuts and dried fruit.
As for alcohol, a beer or cocktail is a great way to relax, but it’s important not to overdo it and to moderate your alcohol intake carefully. Alcohol acts differently at altitude than on the ground and can have an effect much quicker than you expect.
Bring your own… entertainment
A long-haul flight is anything over 6 hours. That’s a lot of time to kill. In fact, it’s enough time to binge an entire season of Game of Thrones (10 hours), or a full season of Friends (12 hours). You can read Crime and Punishment on a 10-hour flight, or listen to the full first season of Serial in just over 8 hours.
Every major airline has in-flight entertainment and lets you choose from a variety of films and TV episodes, but you’re probably better off bringing your own. Books can be bulky, but a Kindle or tablet can hold content in a much smaller device. As for podcasts, movies and binge-worthy shows, download as many as you can and load up your device in advance.
Travelling drains your phone’s battery, so always keep a portable charger with you. A cable should let you use your device while it’s charging, no matter where the plug is at your seat, but you can’t be sure there will be one. After your phone, a power bank is the most useful device to have, as it lets you charge on the go and extend your phone’s battery life for hours.
The hand luggage issue
Don’t make the mistake of prioritising hand luggage small enough to fit under the seat in front of you. It’ll only cause discomfort on longer flights. Instead, your best bet is always an over-the-shoulder holdall.
It’ll give you ease of movement through the airport and access to your stuff on board. The trick then is to pack small, zippable packing cubes inside your holdall; for example, one for electronic leads, one for toiletries and so on.
On long flights in particular, it might seem like a good idea to throw everything but the kitchen sink in a carry-on bag in case of every possible emergency. After all, it’s a long flight, and who knows what you might need?
But remember that anything you need to put under the seat in front of you means less legroom. Pack light and stick to the in-flight essentials: a tablet instead of books or a bulky laptop (plus a charger!), headphones, water and snack, medication and essential toiletries.
Some airlines provide headphones, but they are never as good as your own. Always pack your own headset to drown out the engines or noise from fellow passengers. Even if your screen is off, they’ll dull the continual roar of the engines, as well as blocking out screaming babies or flight attendants serving a meal while you’re trying to sleep.
Noise-cancelling headphones reduce steady droning sounds like airplane engines. At least, the best ones can. The vast majority reduce very little actual noise. The best ones tend to be small and light and you can somewhat-comfortably sleep with them on (at least, better than with many other options). Most importantly, they reduce an incredible amount of noise.
You could just use earplugs (which many airlines provide in amenity kits). However, those rely on getting a good seal between the plugs and your ear canals which, on some people isn’t easy. Plus, even if you get a good seal, the sound of an aircraft engine probably isn’t going to be reduced as well as it would be with a good pair of noise cancelling headphones.
Don’t rush your loo break
Not only is sitting around in the one location for long stretches not the most exciting way to spend your time, on long-haul flights in particular it could have serious health implications. Low cabin pressure, combined with long periods of inactivity, can increase the chances of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) – a type of blood clot that develops in deep veins, particularly in the legs.
The best way to reduce the risks of DVT on long-haul flights is to keep the circulation flowing. Those precious minutes up and out of your seat when you go to the toilet count. Take time to stretch before and after and run through a few gentle exercises, like pointing your toes to stretch you calves and drawing circles with your feet to move your ankles.
No, you don’t need a filter mask
Airplanes can be notorious hotspots for illnesses like cold and flu. But while disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer are often used to fend off unwanted germs, the idea of a germ-ridden, recycled, in-flight air supply remains one of the most widely propagated urban myths about airline sanitation. It is assumed that everyone on board breathes in each other’s germs, thanks to the cabin’s “recirculated” air supply. In reality, however, the air you breathe on a flight is thoroughly clean.
Fresh air from outside the plane is continuously drawn into the cabin via compressor stages in the jet’s engines, which compress the very cold, thin air from outside until its pressure matches that of the cabin. Then, the air is passed through High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters, which remove a minimum of 99.97% of any airborne particulates, bacteria and viruses, and combines it with some recirculated cabin air. But that air has been cycling through HEPA filters too!
Recirculating cabin air is also continuously released from the plane via outflow valves, so air inside the plane is constantly being replaced by the fresh air from outside. In fact, the average airplane’s cabin air is completely refreshed about 20 times per hour. By comparison, the air in the average office building (also typically HEPA-filtered) is refreshed just 12 times per hour. In other words, the air you breathe at cruising altitude is cleaner than just about any you’re liable to find on the ground.
Ultra-long-haul flights, anyone?
Long regarded as an aviation holy grail, nonstop flights between London and Sydney could soon become reality. Before, no planes could manage the distance of around 10,600 miles (or 9,188 nautical miles) but things are changing. Australian airline Qantas is already carrying out test flights.
The idea of spending close to 21 hours on a plane might not appeal to many, but neither do layovers. Since Qantas launched its London to Perth route in 2018, flights have been 92% full on average, proving there’s a market for such nonstop journeys.
Now, there are speculations that the soon-to-be-launched Boeing 777-8 will be able to do 8,730 nautical miles. If Qantas go ahead with a London to Sydney route, it’s likely to be with a tweaked version of it. We look forward to seeing what lies ahead!