How I Make Long Flights More Comfortable (and Even Enjoyable)

One of my goals when it comes to traveling is somehow getting my parents to come visit me while I’m living in another country. In their 70+ years living on Earth they’ve never ventured outside of the U.S. and it would make me so happy to give them the experience of taking in another culture, no matter where that might be. I’ve talked to them multiple times about how we can actually make this happen and nearly every time they ask me the same thing, “How long is that flight?”

They’re not the only ones though, for some reason flying over the ocean is not only a little scary, but spending that many hours on a plane seems to be a lot of people’s worst nightmare. I could see why spending 14 hours on one flight might seem like too much to handle, but for me it’s not as bad as it sounds and if you know how to handle the longer flight time it can actually be enjoyable.

Flying economy vs. first class

When you’re flying to a destination that’s across the world like Hong Kong or Manila it’s much different than any experience you’ve had on a domestic flight – especially in the U.S. First of all, these planes are huge and can seat several hundred people, with the economy class having rows of 9 people across with two aisles and tons of overhead storage. There are also several other levels of seats that range from getting a little more leg room to being able to lay down flat inside of your own little first class pod of expensive awesomeness.

Even on economy flights there are two tasty meals — this was a traditional Chinese chicken porridge breakfast 

Most of the time I fly economy since I feel like spending $4,000 for a flight is a little crazy, but I’ve had a chance to fly in some of the upgraded seats and I’ve also had the nearly mind-blowing experience of practically laying on a bed while flying my way over the Pacific Ocean. Not only was I able to sleep like a baby, but the food and drinks were non-stop to a level that I found to be a little overwhelming. I don’t need to have access to that much excess — I’m cool with the two meals I get in economy and the free beers that come along with them. With all that being said, flying first class did make me feel like a badass as the rest of the economy chumps walked by me to their seats.

How to minimize jet lag and handle long flights

Another thing I get asked about a lot about long flights is jet lag and how I feel once I land in one place or another. At this point I don’t really have an issue with jet lag, but there are still ways that I try to avoid it as much as possible.

First, and most importantly, I try to line up with the time zone of where I’m flying to regardless of the time zone I’m leaving. For example, my latest flight left San Francisco super late at 1am and landed in Hong Kong bright and early at 8am and it’s a 13 hour flight to get there. While most people give into the late night and end up sleeping as soon as they can after eating their first meal on the plane, I do it a little differently so I can feel better when I land.

So many movies, so little time

I stay up intentionally for the first half of the flight usually writing and watching movies, then drink a few beers, and after that with about 7 or 8 hours left in the flight I do my best to get in at least 4 hours before staying up for good. As long as I hit the coffee once I land and then stay up for the full day, I’m usually all good and don’t have any jet lag.

How to make longs flight more comfortable

If you’re like me and end up in economy for the long haul, you’re going to be sitting in a regular seat that barely leans back. This means the long hours you’ll be sitting in it aren’t going be comfortable, but there are ways to make it bearable. Here are a few tips I’ve learned along the way.

  • Keep an eye on the exit rows because on most international flights they cost more to buy initially, but are for the taking if they go unsold and end up empty. As the doors are about to close, ask the flight attendant nicely if you can move into one of those seats and most likely you’ll be stretching out your legs in no time.
  • Move around every couple of hours so you don’t get stiff. I used to see people doing this on my first couple of flights and I thought they were weird, but now I get up and move around multiple times every time I travel over a few hours. Once you’re in the air there’s plenty of room to stand up, walk up and down the aisles, and even stretch a little bit back by the bathrooms. Don’t worry about looking stupid, getting up out of your seat for a few minutes is totally worth it.
  • A sleep mask should be standard on long flights and adding in some ear plugs is next level. Once again, I once thought that sleep masks were stupid, but now it’s crazy to think about getting any sleep in the economy section without one. Some people use earplugs, too but I usually just put in my headphones and listen to some chilled out tunes.
  • Get to know your flight attendants. You’re going to be on the flight for a long time and the flight attendants are your key to not only getting a better seat, but also unlimited beer and anything else you might want along the way. Flight attendants on international flights are usually amazing and super easy to talk to, so introduce yourself and let them know thankful you are for the work they’re putting in during the flight.
  • Introduce yourself to your seat mates. I’m also a believer in introducing myself to the people sitting around me, especially on these longer flights. You’re going to be hanging out with them for a while, so the friendlier you can be, the better things will be during the flight.

It was hard not to say hello to this flight attendant. This is how we took off and landed 🙂

The traveling is all part of the fun

I’ll close with this — don’t be afraid of a longer flight or get annoyed with it once you’re up in the air. Until we figure out how to beam humans from place to place these long flights are all part of traveling to far away places so they’re here to stay for a while. For me, I actually enjoy the time I’m in the air and it’s a good way for me to chill out a bit and reflect on my upcoming trip before landing in a completely new place. At this point I’ve come to appreciate the traveling just as much as the arriving and it’s helped me turn even the roughest trips into something fun and enjoyable.

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  1. Gene

    The first few times I flew from US to Japan were kind of miserable for me. I didn’t get up much other than go to the bathroom and didn’t sleep because it was too loud. Several years later I said screw it and just stopped giving a damn about how I look or what I’m doing. Now I wear the most comfortable clothes even if it makes me look like an idiot, use the eye mask, ear plugs and get up often. Like you, I go to the back of the plan and stretch. I get looks sometimes but instead of feeling stupid I feel bad for those people now. Chances are they themselves are first time long distance flyers and why should I care what they think – if anything I’m setting an example for them so they don’t feel so stupid themselves once they realize there’s reason to this madness 🙂 I’ve flown many times now and feel better and better each flight. Interestingly, I get the exact same questions when I ask people if they’re going to visit. For people who don’t travel often it seems like so far away, but for those of us who fly frequently it’s just another pit stop on this space ball we call Earth (and I call home).

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