8 ways to handle a long-haul flight

PHOTO: A jumbo jet is pictured in this undated stock photo.Getty Images
A jumbo jet is pictured in this undated stock photo.

The world’s longest flight, from Doha, Qatar, to Auckland, New Zealand, tops 16 hours, a tough amount of time to be stuck in a crowded tin can for even the most patient of people.

What to do? Same thing you’d do on a New York to Los Angeles flight: Make yourself as comfortable as possible. Here are some tips — obvious and obscure — for handling long-haul flights, gathered from folks who fly a lot.

1. Upgrade with your miles

If you’ve got the miles, use them for an upgrade, even if it’s only for a better or bigger seat in economy, because a single extra inch can be worth it. Don’t have any miles? The perfect time to join an airline miles program is right before a long-haul flight.

2. Take only what you can stow overhead

Some folks board a plane looking as though they’re carting all their worldly goods with them, which is a mistake on two fronts. First, more and more airlines limit passengers to a single personal item with a carry-on (and some even charge for carry-ons), and excess belongings will sometimes be taken away and checked. Second, you don’t want to give up an inch of precious leg or foot room, so take only a carry-on that will fit in an overhead bin.

3. Keep moving

Moving isn’t easy these days, since many airlines forbid or discourage aimless wandering down the aisle. Too bad, because moving is generally agreed to be good for your health during long plane rides. But you can still make some moves in your seat to loosen up ankles, feet, knees and thighs. One airline, United, recommends some helpful exercises, including neck rolls, foot pumps, shoulder stretches and more. Also, I know a fair number of people who wouldn’t think about boarding a plane without donning compression socks.

4. Entertain yourself

You’ve got your phone, so you have instant entertainment (books, movies, TV shows) available, but did you remember your charger and ear buds? Keep them in a carry-on or on your person.

5. Take food and drink

Chances are the airline will feed you if the flight is long enough, but confirm in advance to be sure. Even so, it never hurts to toss in some goodies such as energy bars or small snacks like fruit and nuts. Also, take an empty water bottle through security and fill it afterward. The last thing you want to do if feeling peckish or in need of hydration is to wait for that slow-moving drink cart.

6. Use sleep aids

A lot of people swear by those U-shaped neck pillows; others like to take eyemasks. You should not expect a free blanket (though they are sometimes available for a fee). You could take your own blanket, but that’s bulky, so consider dressing in layers, with sweater or jacket. Planes get chilly.

7. Use serious sleep aids

Some people like to take sleeping pills on planes, but since I’m no doctor, I’d strongly suggest you check with a health care professional first. As far as alcohol goes, be careful not to overindulge; airlines have no problem kicking people off planes for bad behavior.

8. Do something useful

If the flight seems like it’ll never end, put your mind to what will happen after you land. Draw up a list of things to do and see (or add to it); if visiting a foreign land, use your phone to look up some useful phrases. Find the nearest drugstore in case you’ve forgotten something vital. Or answer that last email from work. You’ll get a frisson of accomplishment, and maybe the time will pass a little bit more quickly.

Rick Seaney is the CEO of FareCompare, a website that curates the best deals on flights from around the world. Any opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author.