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How to survive long flights in economy

Seatback

I get that I’m in the minority here, but I love really long flights—and beyond that, I love really long flights in economy class. When it comes to redeeming my miles, I’ve always gone with a quantity-over-quality mindset, preferring not to spring for more comfortable business-class tickets and preserve my resources for future travel. In the process, I’ve gotten lots of practice sitting through long-hauls in coach, and so I thought I’d share some of my tips on how to survive long flights in economy—and maybe even learn to find them pleasant.

HOW TO SURVIVE LONG FLIGHTS IN ECONOMY

SCORE PREMIUM ECONOMY

Not all economy is created equal, and with the advent of Spirit-Airlines-style Basic Economy, that’s truer today than it’s ever been. If you have elite status with an airline, you can normally choose a Premium Economy seat without an extra charge.  This is an absolute game-changer on flights. Exit rows, bulkhead rows, and other preferred seats are reserved in this category. They have a little bit more legroom, too. If you don’t have status but are taking an international flight, you may want to check on options for a status challenge, which can provide a shortcut to elite status. 

At the very least, make sure you at least have the ability to choose a seat (and thus avoid the middle seat). Whether you need a window seat to sleep or an aisle seat for more space to stretch out, it can be worth shelling out an extra few bucks on a long-haul flight. While landing in a sea of empty rows happens once in a blue moon, it’s not a chance worth taking!

CHOOSE YOUR DINNER

I never used to bother with airplane food. Economy class is not famous for its food selection, and plus, I am both gluten-free and vegetarian.  The gluten-free meal is always meat, and the vegetarian meal is always pasta. But all of that changed once I realized that the Asian Vegetarian meal, available as an option with most major carriers, is Indian food. And by no means do you have to have religious dietary restrictions to order it. Anyone can! Some of the other choices on the list of special meals may not be such an upgrade over the meal for the masses. But if you like Indian food, I seriously urge you to give it a try. I’m convinced that at baseline it’s better than the airlines’ regular offerings. 

Feet wearing compression socks is a great way to survive long flights

WEAR COMPRESSION SOCKS

Okay, this may sound pretty granny of me, but I’m listing compression socks first because they’ve made such a big impact on my travels this year. Compression socks are tight socks that go up over your calves and stimulate blood flow, preventing deep vein thrombosis (DVT). They generally leave your legs feeling better after hours in the sky. If a doctor recommends them to you for any specific health reason, it’s best to go with prescription socks with the requisite amount of pressure. But if you’re just looking to give them a try for some extra comfort, these days, you’ve got some less unsightly options. Earlier this year, I picked up several pairs of Comrad Socks and couldn’t be happier with how they’ve performed. Get $10 off your first purchase here!

STOCK UP AT THE LOUNGE

Many credit cards come with some kind of lounge access, which is clutch before a long flight. It’s a great place to stock up on snacks, which are always an important thing to have (even if you do hit the jackpot on the airline dinner front). I’d also be lying if I said I never consumed red wine before flying to make sleeping a little easier. Just don’t forget to also grab a bottle of water (or three) to offset its dehydrating effects.

To learn more about travel credit cards and their perks and points systems, check out the 52 Cities free resource library and register for upcoming points and miles masterclass!

PACK A BLANKET SCARF

A giant scarf the size of a blanket is hands-down the No. 1 travel item I cannot live without. First of all, it makes for a great blanket when the plane AC goes into overdrive. Already have a blanket from the airline? Put one on your lap and use one as a shawl to double the warmth. Tie a blanket scarf around your head if you need an eye mask, or ball it up to use as a neck pillow. I usually sleep on one of these scarves and the airline pillow for extra padding on top of a (well-sanitized) tray table. 

Headphones for economy flights are a must

NOISE. CANCELING. HEADPHONES.

It took me years to finally bite the bullet and buy a pair of noise-canceling headphones. And they have been a godsend. I can get through babies crying, but I feel like on every overnight flight, there is ALWAYS THAT ONE PERSON with a hacking cough who keeps everyone awake. If you spring for the right pair, you really can’t even hear yourself talking when your headphones are on.  And they’re both super simple to pair with your phone and comfortable to sleep in. Wins ALL around. My noise-canceling headphone of choice is the Sony WH1000XM3.

CHARGE IN ADVANCE

This might be an obvious one, but make sure to charge all of your electronics before your flight. All too often I’ve relied on the fact that aircraft for long flights these days typically have chargers, but there are so many things that can (and have) gone wrong. I’ve experienced broken outlets, plugs not fitting into sockets (or falling out of them constantly), and the worst—the plane just not having them at all. Recently, I was on a flight where outlets were reserved for premium economy and above. So it’s better to just come fully charged!!

Bottle of water for flights

HYDRATION AND HYGIENE

Unless you’re flying a first-class product with an onboard shower, you’re bound to get a little gross in-flight. I hate the feeling of being too dry or too sticky on a plane. Therefore, I take every step I can to minimize the chances of it happening. I shower and wash my hair right before leaving to go to the airport. I also wear a shirt with tons of ventilation. AND I wear pants (lol pants—I obviously mean leggings) that won’t stick to an airplane seat. My toothbrush always comes in my carry-on. I can use it when I wake up or on my connection. I suggest packing anything else that’ll make you feel clean—face wipes, deodorant wipes, moisturizer, chapstick, etc.—in your carry-on, too. Staying hydrated is also super important in the cabin’s dry air. Bonus, it helps prevent both DVT and jet lag.

TAKE WALKS

Legs feeling cramped? Go for a walk. Head to the back of the plane to get a cup of water. Chit-chat with the flight attendants. Go brush your teeth with the aforementioned toothbrush you’ve stashed in your carry-0n. Getting up not only prevents DVT (it’s serious, you guys!), but it also will just generally help your legs feel better once you’re off the plane and on your trip. And let’s be real—it alleviates some boredom, too.

BRING CHOCOLATE

Chocolate is always a good idea. This is how I get through everything in life, not just flights.

Chocolate bar for a snack on an economy flight
Chocolate bars for economy flying

Hope you found these tips on how to survive a long flight in economy useful! Do you have any I missed? Let me know in the comments! >>

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How to survive long flights in economy
How to survive long flights in economy
How to survive long flights in economy

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