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I fly between the U.S. and Korea a lot. I’ve recently reached Star Alliance Gold, purely through cheap long haul economy flights. I’m not a road warrior, but 4 – 6 long flights a year adds up. 13 hours in the back of a cramped airplane isn’t fun for anybody. I mean, sure I love long-haul business class – who doesn’t? – but that’s purely an “award miles” thing on my and my wife’s budget.

Cathay Pacific business class cabin

Fortunately, all of those miles in economy have given me plenty of opportunities to make the trips survivable, and sometimes even enjoyable! None of these tips are expensive or even that time consuming, but they all make a difference. Flying 10+ hours in economy gets a lot easier with a little planning.

Tip 1: Relax!

For many travelers, long haul economy flights are intimidating. But really, they all start and end the same way – from your house to your destination. Then only real difference is time spent in the air. And every day, thousands of long haul flights go off without major or even minor problems. So don’t overthink a long trip. Focus on the reason your traveling: seeing family or friends, exploring a new area, experiencing a new culture. The plane ride is just a means to the end.

Tip 2: Pick Your Seat Wisely For Long Haul Economy Flights

This is probably the most overlooked tip. It can start with knowing the airplane for your trip. Google Flights, and all travel sites, will show you the plane type for you trip. You can check the seat layout on Seat Guru and decide if it works for you. For instance: if you’re flying with 2 kids, would 2-3-2 seating work for you? Maybe a flight with 4 seats in the middle section would be better. And what about bathrooms? Choosing a flight with numerous lavatories can make quite a difference.

The rear 190+ seats of an Asiana A380 lower deck

As important as the seat layout is the space for the seat itself. Not all economy seats are created equally. If you’re taller or heavier than average, look for wider seats or more legroom. Again, you can find seat space information on Google Flights or Seat Guru. I’ve mentioned that I love Asiana’s roomy seats for long haul flights. In my experience, 33″ pitch between seats vs. 30″ makes a world of difference on a very long flight. But maybe it’s worth spending a few bucks for those “extra room” seats airlines sell.

Long Haul Economy Flights Seats

Extra legroom can be free, just by choosing a specific plane

Tip 3: Pack Wisely…and Lightly

Except when absolutely necessary, I am “team carry-on”. The positives of traveling with only a carry-on are obvious, as I’m sure you don’t need reminding. But that may not be an option for you, especially for long haul economy flights with kids. If you must check bags, pre-pack your checked bags several days before your trip. You’ll have a better understanding of what you actually “need” for the trip, and you can make any necessary additions or subtractions without panicking.

Plus, checked bags have weight limits, and this allows you to adjust your bags’ contents appropriately. If possible, you can weigh your bag at home if you have a bathroom scale. That could save you literally hundreds of dollars in “overweight bag” fees!

Hotel scales work too when flying home

Finally, decide what goes into your carry-on versus checked bags. I always have a change of clothes and my toiletries in carry-ons, even if that’s more effort at security. That way, if your bags are delayed you aren’t stuck in your travel clothes at your destination.

Long Haul Economy Flights Packing

Backpacks and carryons – that’s how we travel (Mexico City Airport)

Tip 4: Plan For Rest & Jet Lag

The most important tip is to understand your body’s need for rest when you travel. If you travel for business you can’t always schedule a rest day or an overnight flight. But if you’re planning a vacation, use your flexibility and plan for sleep.

Travel home on Saturdays, and sleep on Sunday to avoid going to work jetlagged

If you’ve flown long distances, you might already know whether you can sleep on a plane or not. If so, maybe limit your sleep the night prior to flying. You can spend much of the flight dozing away instead of fidgeting. If you can’t sleep in economy class, maybe get “too much” rest beforehand. That way you aren’t perpetually exhausted but unable to sleep on your flight. If you fly with kids, I especially recommend this: you’ll need to be alert for their needs, and able to keep them occupied if they can’t sleep either.

You’ll sleep better here than on any plane

Tip 5: Eat Before Long Haul Economy Flight

Airplane food in economy class is never great. Even airport food is better than reheated or microwaved meals in a tiny seat. So grab food from an airport restaurant before boarding. You’ll avoid that “hangry” feeling waiting for flight attendants to reach you with your meal. Even better, use the Priority Pass to cover the restaurant bill (if you received it from anybody but American Express) or to grab snacks from a lounge. Free food always tastes the best.

Tip 6: Entertain Yourself on Long Haul Economy Flights

Airlines constantly tout their in-flight entertainment (IFE) options. Whether that’s movies, live TV, WiFi, whatever – airlines will tell you that you’ll be endlessly entertained no matter how long your flight. Don’t believe it. Some options are limited, sometimes screens go down, WiFi is notoriously unreliable, etc.

Don’t be fooled: most of these only have 3 -5 choices

Don’t rely on in-flight entertainment for your flight. Carry tablets, a book, music on your phone, whatever you (or your kids) need. And even though most modern planes have power outlets, don’t forget portable chargers. 10 hours in a metal tube is a long time, so plan accordingly.

Don’t forget this or you may hate yourself 6 hours into your flight

Relatedly, bring comfortable clothes and a travel pillow. Or at least a neck brace. I personally can’t use those horseshoe pillows, but travel braces like this one work for me.

Long Haul Economy Flights Pillow

 Tip 7: Plan Your Arrival Day

Tied to the first tip is planning your first day at your destination. Many people I know (like my wonderful wife) overestimate how much they’ll do immediately after a long plane ride. But once you’ve gotten to the airport, taken a 10 hour flight (or more), picked up your bags and/or rental car, and reached your hotel…you’re exhausted. More importantly, if you are so, then are your kids. So build in a few hours to decompress when you arrive. That also helps in case your flight is delayed, your checked bags are lost, etc. Having no plans before you jump into your vacation is a good idea all-around.

Oh hey, another bed…maybe spend a few hours here before exploring your new location

Tip 8: It’s All In Your Attitude

Finally, it comes back to tip 1: remember why you’re doing this. When returning home, remember the great experiences, people, and food. Remember that you’ll next sleep in your comfy bed at home, which beats every hotel or AirBnB in the world. And start planning to go again.

How do you survive long haul economy flights?


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