The virgin traveler’s guide to long-haul flights

Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Do you like flying?

It’s no secret that flying is not my favorite thing to do. I do it because I like to go places—and a bus or car just won’t cut it when you’re heading to South America. One of my biggest sources of anxiety? It’s when I know a long-haul flight is approaching and I need to prepare myself for what seems like endless hours sitting in the same place.

I’ve flown many times on long routes from Chicago. And while I still cannot sleep on these flights due to my own “crazy person” issues, I’ve come up with some pretty good ways to make it through.

By the way, my longest flight so far was a trip from Chicago to Hong Kong clocking in at 15 hours and 30 minutes!

Photo: Aneebaba on Flickr.

Photo: Aneebaba on Flickr.

First, pills and booze.

You can’t go wrong with a little substance assistance to get you through. Many fellow travelers have gone to their doctors for a couple sleep aid pills like Ambien, Unisom, or over-the-counter melatonin, to fall (and stay) asleep for the duration of a long-haul flight.

There are some travelers who rely on the good old “passing out” qualities of a glass of cheap red airplane wine, sugary airplane margarita, or straight up vodka on the rocks.

Whatever you do to help you sleep on a long distance flight, don’t over do it. You wouldn’t want to be in an Ambien coma when you land (follow your doctor’s advice if you’re using this trick), or hung over from boozing it up at 35,000 feet in the air.

Now for comfort…

I know you want to look all cute and look like a world traveler with a nice outfit—even a shawl that would make Miranda Priestly jealous. But sitting back in coach class, cramped up, wearing your most stylish outfit, is not a comfortable proposition. And you’ll definitely find it difficult to get some sleep.

Rule of thumb: Wear comfortable clothes and shoes! Oh, and for the love of God, please wear clean socks so the smell of your toes don’t prematurely wake your slumbering neighbors!

Here’s something to think about. It’s probably a full eight hours of flying. That’s a full eight hours since you’ve brushed your teeth, put on deodorant, Chap Stick, makeup, eyeliner, put lotion on those ashy ankles!

Typically, an hour before landing (usually after food is served), you can make your way to the lavatory to freshen up before making your debut in a new land. How do you prep for this? Bring a small case with you to take care of your grooming rituals.

Let’s talk food…

If you’re not fancy and book a coach ticket (much like me), know that the food may not appear what it’s purported to be. I’ve had meals in coach that look like the stuff from an elementary school cafeteria, and business class meals that look as though they came from Michelin-rated restaurants. Just don’t expect too much. Bring your own food if you want to (you can purchase them from the airport before boarding).

Finally, bring some entertainment on board!

While the in-flight entertainment systems are getting pretty good with new release movies and TV shows, it can’t hurt to bring a book, magazine, tablet computer, or other device to keep your attention away from the fact you’re still hours away from your destination.

A reminder: Flight attendants, and your neighboring passengers, may frown on you watching porn at your seat.

In-flight Wi-Fi can be hit or miss with certain airlines. My recommendation? If the flight offers it, it’s not crazy expensive (as it can sometimes be), and you want to update your Facebook along the way, go for it. In my experience, Wi-Fi is still not on a good majority of planes, can be quite expensive, and maybe not as worth it as you think.

Oh, I almost forgot one thing!

The best investment that I’ve ever made in travel gear is my Bose noise-canceling headphones. They are absolutely the best when it comes to blocking out almost 100% of the engine noise—among other noises on the plane. I’ve had mine for a few years and they have never failed me. Even though I have trouble sleeping on planes, these give me a chance to not have to listen to the drone of the engines for eight or more hours.

Overall, these long flights can be daunting and downright miserable if you don’t prepare properly. With the right things in place (and a good drink), you’ll get there in no time.

Email me or leave a comment if you have any other thoughts or suggestions for long flights that I missed!

Recommended reading: Fly the gay friendly skies

What do you think?

About Kenneth Edwards

Kenneth Edwards is a clinical therapist and social worker by morning, traveler by afternoon, photographer by night, and writer by chance. Experiencing the world from different perspectives is a necessary part of living and growing up. Keep being curious. Questions for the Virgin Traveler, comments, or emotional outbursts should be directed at

There are 3 comments

  1. Stephen

    Great advice! My longest flight so far has been roughly 9 hours from Dallas to London. I really didn’t have any problem until the return flight. I was on a beautiful, new AA plane and everything was splendid. That was until I smelled the strong odor of rotten fish coming from my female seat neighbor. In addition to clean socks, it is also important that your personal hygiene is taken care of.

  2. Virgin Traveler

    You hit the nail on the head CB! There are flight that I’ve been on where I looked thru the screen and found a 30 minute show and didn’t look at it again for the rest of the flight. Be in charge of your entertainment destiny and keep downloading! Once I was on a flight and my screen had no sound! I had to sit there as though I was watching silent films the whole flight! Thanks for the good advice CB.

  3. CB

    Previously I was not a big fan of saving music on my phone and before a long flight I invested in an iPod. It saved the day. Music, not the airline entertainment, my playlist, turned out to be a hit and helped my long flight from DFW to Rome seem more manageable. Oh and to reiterate what you mentioned, just because you may be scheduled on a flight with screens on the back of the seat in front of you, do not rely on it! That flight to Rome was on Luftansia and my screen did not work! Without the iPod, I would have been lost.

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