How to Survive a Long Flight

Last year I took a 15-hour flight with United from Beijing to Washington D.C. As you can imagine, it was not fun. The seats were small and cramped, the aisles so narrow that you couldn’t get to the bathroom without bumping into a person or two. They only allow one checked bag for free, so the overhead bins were overflowing with large carry-ons and duty-free purchases. I sat next to an elderly lady who played Sudoku the entire time, all the while muttering “6…6…6…5…5”. All but one of the flight attendants only spoke English, which isn’t usually a problem for me, but on this flight I ended up having to translate for most of the Chinese passengers sitting around me (not cool). They brought around water exactly three times (once every 5 hours!), and the food sucked.

But I survived. And I want to help you survive too.

Before the flight:

1. Lay off the coffee- The extra perk you get isn’t worth the chapped lips and dry throat on the plane. Besides, you want to sleep as much as possible, right?

2. Wear comfortable clothes– And that includes underwear! No thongs! You don’t want to be the girl (or guy) who’s lifting their ass up every few minutes to undo their super wedgie. I always bring out my Lululemon yoga pants for long flights, despite all the protests that yoga pants should only be worn when doing yoga. Free upgrades are super rare now, so no reason to dress up for that either. My feet swell a lot, so I usually wear shoes half a size to one size bigger than normal on flights.

3. Go au naturel- This means no makeup, no contacts, no hair gel. Makeup will turn dry and cakey after a few hours on the plane (just look at the flight attendants), and your eyeballs will dry up and get super irritated if you wear contacts. Hair gel ends up looking like dandruff. Super gross.

4. Plan your sleep schedule- If you’re arriving at your destination in the morning, you should try to get as much sleep as possible, with aid from medication if necessary. If you’re arriving at night, make sure not to sleep too much on the plane (I find three hours to be more than enough to keep me refreshed). This is the best way to get over jet lag quickly or skip it altogether.

5. Book an aisle seat online- Yes, aisle seats can be annoying, but it’s not as annoying as hesitating to go to the bathroom because the person next to you is asleep. Not drinking water is not an option either; you’ll be a wreck when you land.

What to bring on the plane:

1. Throw/blanket- The airplanes ones are always flimsy, and more often than not, grimy. And with the planes getting fuller, there’s often a shortage. It sucks to be cold on a long flight, so this is a must.

2. Eye mask- You’ll need one in case the person next to you decides to read. Darkness also helps you stay in deep sleep longer.

3. A good airplane pillow- And not those soft donuts they sell at the airport convenience stores. Those have poor support for the neck, and when your chin inevitably droops to your chest, you’ll wake up to killer neck pain. I found this super awesome pillow at Osim that ties around the neck and supports the chin so the head doesn’t move at all. The downside is, it only fits women and not men (unless you happen to have one of those super skinny giraffe necks).


My plane blanket, neck pillow, and self-heating eye masks.

4. Skincare/personal hygiene products- Yup, even men need moisturizer on planes; no one likes to have dry, flaky skin. A small tub of Vaseline will take care of most of your needs on a plane. If you don’t want to bring a toothbrush and toothpaste, at least bring a little bottle of mouthwash. For more tips, check out my post on Airplane Beauty.

5. An e-reader- I was one of those die-hard “paper is better” advocates until recently, when I moved to a place where good English books are relatively rare. I’m also a pretty fast reader, and for a 15-hour flight I’d need to bring at least three books to keep me occupied. So on my last trip back to the states, I got a Kindle Paperwhite. It’s smaller and lighter than an iPad, and doesn’t have that harsh backlight that makes your eyes hurt after a while. This is nice to have on the plane, both for variety (sometimes you just don’t feel like reading what you brought) and for the fact that you don’t have to be that annoying guy with the reading light on while everyone else is trying to sleep.

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My new best friend! It’s almost like reading paper…

6. An empty water bottle-I used to just buy a bottle of water after I’ve passed security and bring it on the plane with me, but more and more airports are starting to set up security right before you enter the gate. Depending on the airport, you may or may not be allowed to bring a water bottle in. Why do you need to have your own water? Don’t planes provide water? Yes, but you really want to be dependent on flight attendants bringing around water for your hydration needs, and besides, what about wasting all those plastic cups? I like to have some water on me so I can drink whenever I’m thirsty, and not have to wait for someone to bring it.

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I got the Ecuo Can because it’s good for both cold and hot drinks, and completely leak-proof.

7. Good headphones/earphones- If you’re planning on watching movies, definitely bring your own. Those awful headphones provided on the planes cause headaches and doesn’t fit anyone’s head properly. You can find those double-prong connectors at most music specialty stores.

8. Bring a soft carry-on case- Because of all the check-in restrictions and no limitations of duty-free shopping, the overhead bins are almost always overflowing. If you have a hard case with nowhere to put it, it’s a pain for the flight attendants and everyone involved. With a soft case, you can keep it under your seat and have everything you need nearby.

9. Snacks- Is it just me, or is airplane food getting worse? While some airlines provide pretty good fare, some airplane meals are just inedible. Rather than risk a stomachache later on, it’s a good idea to bring some snacks in case you want to pass on whatever mush they’re serving you.

10. Warm socks- Some airlines (like Etihad and Cathay Pacific) provide little bags with amenities like toothbrushes, eye masks and socks. For everyone else, it’s a good idea to bring your own socks so you don’t have to keep your shoes on to stay warm.

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My panda airplane socks lol

11. Aromatherapy oils: Ok, I admit, this one is a little weird. But who hasn’t sat next to someone with horrible breath? Or sat in front of a person with smelly feet and decided to take off their shoes? And oh god, if the person hasn’t washed their hair in a while…(excuse me while I throw up). I usually bring some with me to dab under my nose in case something like that happens, which is quite often. Also, the smell of lavender will also help you sleep. Make sure to put the oil in an opaque glass bottle with a volume of less than 100mL; aromatherapy oils are expensive, and you don’t want TSA confiscating it. For the manly men, if aromatherapy oils are too girly for you, vaporub works just as well!

After the flight:

It’s always better if you can arrange for the day you land to be free of any and all obligations. Even if you’re on vacation and eager to get started, it’s best to get rested so that you’re not haunted by fatigue for the rest of the trip. Getting over jet lag should be your first priority, the Eiffel Tower will still be there tomorrow!

That’s all I can think of for now, I’ll update if I think of anything else!