How to Survive Long Flights in Economy

How to Survive Long Flights in Economy

Look your best after a long flight
how to look good after a long flight

By Hitha Palepu | Last Updated: Jul 2 2019 | 8 min read

Get ready for an honest post on how to survive long flights in economy and come out the other end looking and feeling your best. We’re talking, taking off in San Francisco and winding up in New Delhi-long. With no guarantee of working in-seat entertainment or power outlets (hey, you never know). Because let’s face it:

Long flights are a bitch.

Your sleep will be restless. Your muscles will ache. And yes, your skin will be dried out and you will feel disgusting as you deplane. There is no magic pill for enjoying a long-haul flight in economy. But I will teach you how to survive it, in as much style and grace as possible.

out of office month

Below, how to survive long flights in economy and arrive looking as good as when you left:

how to look good after a long flight

1. Prep your entertainment.

bose noise canceling headphones, how to survive long flights in economy guide
Bose QuietComfort II wireless headphones, $349

Charge up all your devices. Download movies or seasons of shows you’ve been meaning to watch (I highly recommend Killing Eve and Schitt’s Creek). Stock up on paper and books on your e-readers. Invest in a quality pair of headphones.

And while some folks tell themselves they’ll get work done on the plane, I no longer delude myself with this wishful thinking. After all, how can you get any work done on your laptop? There’s no such thing as elbow room in economy.

2. Get comfortable.

If you want to really know how to survive long flights in economy? It’s all about getting comfy. Change into a super cozy outfit before you board. Think comfortable-but-still-presentable pants, a cotton t-shirt, a long-sleeved tee, a lightweight blazer or cardigan and compression socks.

>> Check out travel outfit ideas here, and travel essentials here

That’s right. It’s all about layers, baby.

I also carry on a pair of cashmere socks if my feet get cold (common for window seat aficionados like myself) to top off those compression socks. For guys, this totally luxe pair from Barneys New York would do just fine.

3. Quench your thirst.

bkr black water bottle, long flight survival
bkr glass water bottle, $48

I used to purchase the largest bottle of water available before boarding the flight. Now, I carry on a bkr bottle. I’ll fill it once after getting through security, and will usually have it refilled at least once by the flight attendants during the flight.

Because listen up: Hydration is everything.

I try to avoid heavy foods (read: bread, rice, meat) in flight as well – you’re not burning many calories by sitting on your bum for hours on end. Pre-ordering the strict vegetarian/vegan option is my key. The food is usually decent, not to mention vegetable-rich, and it’s served before everyone else gets their meals.

As for snacks, I’ll bring along vegetable sticks, fresh fruit (NOT bananas – the smell is too strong), and almonds.

4. Stay healthy.

sanitizing wipes for travel, guide for how to survive long flights in economy
Kleenex germ removal wet wipes, $1.50

Planes are incubators for viruses, and I’m all about prevention. I wipe down my arm rests, seat belt fasteners, tray table, window pull, and wall next to my seat with sanitizing towelettes. Do I look totally anal? Maybe, but I’d rather look crazy than get crazy sick.

I’ll also add an EBOOST to my water bottle after I’ve woken up for a boost of vitamins. And I always use a paper towel to open the bathroom door from the inside as I’m leaving.

5. Carry on the necessities.

Dopp Kit
Ted Baker dopp kit, $85

An in-flight toiletry case or dopp kit with the basics is something you should have with you on any flight longer than five hours. Mine is an old United BusinessFirst toiletry kit, but you can use any waterproof-lined bag (or even a Ziploc baggie) to make one of your own. This case, along with my tablets and headphones, stay in the seatback pocket in front of me.

Note: A lot of airlines give you a little kit for long flights. I prefer to bring my own things, and then save the provided kits to donate to a men’s shelter. Here’s a great resource for donation spots near you!

6. Pre-pack your packing materials.

baggu reusable tote, guide on how to survive long flights in economy
Baggu reusable tote, $10

If you don’t read anything else, READ THIS.

I keep a Baggu pre-packed in my travel bag.

Prior to boarding, I’ll put everything I’ll need during the flight inside it – my iPad and Kindle, headphones, snacks, water, my in-flight toiletry kit, neck pillow, eyemask – and place the Baggu in the space in front of me. My other bags go in the overhead bin, thus yielding more leg room AND with everything easily accessible. To prevent items from falling out of the Baggu, tie it closed with a rubber band, or with a hair tie from your wife or girlfriend.

Don’t worry, she always has one on her.

Also, lie a magazine flat at the bottom of the bag, to ensure it stays upright. There are few things worse than rummaging through your bag, looking for something lodged at the very bottom, while jabbing your neighbor. Except maybe being wedged in the middle seat while doing exactly that.

Yes, you can use a tote bag or even an old plastic grocery bag. I just like the Baggu because it’s durable and packs up tightly in my bag.

7. Get some sleep

Speaking from personal experience here – alcohol will only make your sleep worse on a long haul flight.

Let me repeat that:

Do. Not. Drink. Booze.

Chamomile tea actually proved quite helpful in lulling me to sleep, as did a great eye mask and neck pillow. I use the airline-provided pillow as lower back support, my own neck pillow to cradle my head, and – stay with me here – used my steeped chamomile teabags (wrapped in tissues) as compresses for my eyes before I slipped the eye mask on top. The skin under your eyes is the most delicate, and this tip significantly helps keep it hydrated in flight.


And there you have it, folks. My tried-and-true tips for how to survive long flights in economy. I’m thankful for all the long-ass flights I’ve taken, because I’ve almost got enough miles with United book my next trip to Australia in the upstairs business class cabin. There’s nothing like being on the second floor of an airplane AND sleeping horizontally.


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