Long-haul and international flights are a different animal than short domestic ones. I've found I have a different style of packing, dressing, and showing up at the airport when I am flying internationally or going to be on a plane for over 5 hours.
Here are my top 17 international and long-haul flight tips, from someone who has taken her fair share of plane rides over the years!
Tips for International Flights
Get An Airport Lounge Pass
Whenever I fly internationally, I always spend time in a lounge. The super-fast Wi-Fi, free snacks, drinks, oversized chairs, quiet cozy corners and sometimes even beds or showers can really make a difference. If I am not in a lounge I am always spending money charging my phone, grabbing a bottle of water, a sandwich, etc and it adds up to more than a lounge pass would anyway.
I personally use Priority Pass and I love it! It lets me use lounges at just about every airport in the world
Show Up Early
If you can, show up nice and early for your international flight. There is nothing more stressful than running through the airport trying to catch a plane. Plus, long-haul flights are generally harder to re-book than shorter domestic flights. It's just not worth the added stress.
I like to show up early for flights, especially long ones, so I can make sort of a ritual out of it. I can take my time through security, get the most out of my lounge pass, and spend some time disconnecting from the world. It's almost like a meditative process.
Bring a Blanket or a Scarf
I find the temperature on planes to be either freezing cold, or strangely hot, but never in-between. No matter what I am wearing I will either bring a blanket, comfy sweater, or over-sized scarf to cozy up with on the flight. If it's cold, I don't have to use a nasty airplane blanket, but if it's really warm, I can use what I brought as a pillow.
Temperature aside, I like to make myself as cozy as possible when I fly and I love the feeling of a soft sweater or scarf wrapping around me like a hug. It adds that element of calm on a long-haul flight that I really appreciate.
Pack Healthy Snacks
Pack something relatively healthy that you know and love. Everyone loves comfort food, but bonus points if it's also healthy. Think along the lines of raw nuts and protein bars.
Even if I am flying business class knowing they will have tempting treats available for me, I still pack a healthy snack in my carry-on. I don't want to over-indulge on the plane and feel sick for the duration of the flight, so just having a healthy and familiar option will usually help to keep me in check.
Don't Forget Your Headphones
Sure, a flight attendant will give you a free (or cheap) pair of headphones if you forget yours, but they always suck. They never fit my head or ears properly and the sound is always tinny and weak. They are almost useless, as you can hardly hear what people are saying in show without subtitles running.
Make sure to pack your favorite headphones, especially if they have noise-cancelling abilities. If you are an iPhone user, remember to bring your headphone adapter as well.
Bring a Book and Pre-Loaded Movie
Something I always bring on an international flight is a pre-loaded movie on my phone, and a book to read.
I've made the mistake of thinking that the seat-back entertainment screens would be functioning (or even there at all) and got stuck on a 10 hour flight with nothing to do but re-read the safety card. The entertainment system might go offline or break during your flight, so a pre-loaded movie and book will be a life-saver!
You might want to load a few of these awesome travel-based apps while your at it.
Wipe Everything Down
Your seat on the plane is going to be your new ‘home' for the next 7 to 15 hours, but guess what, it hasn't been cleaned in months. Seriously. There simply isn't enough time for flight crew to clean and disinfect planes between flights, and most interiors only get a deep clean once a year if they're lucky.
Bring some anti-bacterial wipes and give everything around you a little scrub down. The window shade, seat belt, tray table, light and air buttons, etc. The last thing you need is to get sick on your flight, so here are some other tips to avoid catching a cold on a plane.
Use Ear Plugs and Eyeshade
In business class and in economy class on full-service airlines, you'll receive an amenity kit with ear plugs and an eye mask. Use them!
I always used to just set these aside thinking I didn't need them, but once I gave them a try, I now use them every time! When you're not listening to a movie and you just want to get a quick nap in, ear plugs are so great for making you forget you're on a plane! The eye mask is particularly good if you have an over-night flight, as they cabin crew will turn the lights on and off without warning.
Don't Dress Like a Slob
That doesn’t mean you should we wearing high heels or a 3 piece suit, but those baggy sweatpants and sloppy t-shirt aren’t great options either.
First off, you will never get a free upgrade to business class if you look homeless, ever.
Secondly, (and most importantly) what if you have an unforeseen extended layover in a city without your baggage? Do you really want to take an impromptu tour of Rome in your rag-a-muffin robes? Probably not.
Wear comfortable clothing that would also be appropriate if you had a change of plans. Consider what would happen if you lost your luggage and had to wear this outfit for the next 48 hours. Could you go for lunch in it? Meet up with friends in it? Enter establishments in it? If the answer is no, change your outfit.
Pack a Smart Carry-On Bag
Airlines have been known to do a really naughty thing…lose peoples luggage! That is why it’s SO vital to pack your carry on bag like a seasoned professional. You should be packing a carry-on bag to not only keep you entertained during your flight, but also to set you up for 24-48 hours in case of lost luggage.
Try packing your bag assuming the airline is going to lose your luggage. That way, you'll always pack the most important and vital items for your trip in your carry-on bag.
Also, make sure you know the RULES on your particular airline for what size/weight of carry-on you can bring on. ← This is exactly why we made a handy Carry-On Luggage Guide, so you can know the rules, restrictions, and more tips on packing the ultimate carry-on bag.
Pack Tiny Toiletry Essentials
On the topic of packing a smart carry-on, make sure you have a few (few is the key word) essential toiletries that will help you feel fresh and clean.
One of my key items are those tiny jars of cocoa butter vaseline or similar jelly. I can use them to line a dry nose (really, it helps keep out cold viruses too!), as a lip-balm, or even to moisturize hands.
I also like to pack things like mints and a tiny deodorant.
Bring Flight Attendants Goodies
For extra in-flight brownie points, find out how many flight attendants will be on your next flight and bring an equal number of small presents for them. They are always appreciative of this gesture and it might have you better looked after on the flight as a bonus.
Great things to bring are: small puzzle books, lip chap, hand cream, hand sanitizer, pens, mints, chocolates, candy, etc.
Use Seat Guru
If you are cool with being crammed in the worst economy seats and don’t give a darn about things like chairs that don’t recline, disregard this tip. I am a bit of an AV geek and I love to learn about the configuration of the plane I will be flying on. I use seat guru to spot the best places to sit on the plane BEFORE I buy my ticket.
Seat Guru has great advice for crappy seats you can’t see from the airline's own booking site.
Hydrate Like Crazy
Both during AND post-flight, you should be hydrating like crazy. The pros suggest drinking 8oz of water for every hour you are on the plane. Add more onto that if you're indulging in some vino or spirits. You should be getting up every hour or two anyway, so you might as well hydrate to incentivize your activity.
Even after your land at your destination you should be filling up on fluids. Being up in the air, especially on a long-haul flight is super dehydrating and damaging to your system.
If the airline has any healthy juice shots or fruit smoothies, have one! Even if it's over-priced. Qatar Airways has these amazing celery, lemon and apple detox drinks that I love!
Bring a Pen
There is nothing more annoying to a flight attendant than hearing “Can I borrow your pen?” when they are handing out the customs cards. No, you cannot borrow their pen because there are 250 other people on this plane that will want to as well. Have a pen in your carry-on bag. Keep that pen in your everyday bag when you are traveling as well. You will always have a need for it.
Wear Compression Socks
I have to admit, I haven't gotten into the compression socks myself, but everyone I know swears by them. (Which reminds me, I really need to get a pair for my next international flight!)
If you have varicose or spider veins, suffer from swollen feet or ankles after flights, or if you have poor circulation in your legs, compression socks are a game-changer!
Get Up And Move Around
Being 30,000 feet in the air is really not normal human behaviour, and our bodies agree. Our hearts have a tough time trying to pump blood through our bodies when we are stagnent and cramped up. There is even the risk of blood pooling in the legs, which could lead to blood clots! Yikes!
Researchers suggest getting up for a few minutes every hour during your long-haul or international flight. That's not always possible, so if you can't get up regularly, at least do some stretches in your seat.
Top 17 Tips for Long International Flights
- Get an airport lounge pass
- Show up early
- Bring a blanket, sweater or scarf
- Pack healthy snacks
- Don't forget your headphones
- Bring a book and pre-loaded movie
- Wipe down everything
- Use ear plugs and eyeshade
- Don't dress like a slob
- Pack a smart carry-on bag
- Pack tiny toiletry essentials
- Bring flight attendants goodies
- Use seat guru
- Hydrate like crazy
- Bring a pen
- Wear compression socks
- Get up and move around