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surviving looong flights

Hi! My husband and I will be flying from the east coast to Australia in August and would just love to hear some survival tips for very long flights. We will go east coast to Chicago and then to L.A. The flights from L.A. is 15 hours and we aren't spending for upgrades.I would love to get a set of noise cancelling headphones or buds but know this will be a once in a life time flight. I can handle 6 hours of roar on European flights! I also know we need to get up and move so we don't develop DVTs. Any other ideas would be great appreciated! Thanks!!

Posted by
9070 posts

I've done these long flight many times. I cope by keeping as busy as possible. Storing as many TV shows and movies I can fit on my smartphone, an external battery to keep it going for the entire flight and a couple of ebooks. As long as you know in advance what you're getting yourself into it's easier to make the time go by.

Posted by
920 posts

I read a blog about an economy flight from LA to Sydney recently. The writer was traveling with his wife. They checked the type of plane they were flying on at The plane had 3 seats on each side plus 4 seats in the middle. They booked a middle seat on one side in separate rows (one behind the other) near the back of the plane. Since the flight wasn't full, no one else chose seats in their rows so each one had all 3 seats for the entire flight. They got lucky but you can always select a different seat at the airport if you aren't as lucky. Also, from what I have read, you should try to get as much sleep as you can at the end of the trip. In other words, stay awake as long as you can and try to sleep the last 6-8 hours of the flight. I know this will be hard flying from the east coast. We have a trip scheduled in April from the east coast to Australia. We fly to San Francisco and then on to Sydney for the 15+ hour flight that departs at 11:25 PM. This will be 2:25 AM for us so I don't know how long I will be able to stay awake!

Posted by
1602 posts

Although I have never been on this long of a flight, my longest is 10 hours, I figure I am going to sleep for at least 6, that would leave 9 hours to watch two movies, read, play cards and talk.

Posted by
510 posts

This is one of the first topics that comes up during discussions with our friends that don't travel overseas. I too have never been on a flight as long as the one you're facing (longest has been 9.5 hours). My strategy has been similar to the other posters. An awareness of what you will face and preparation are everything, so it's good you are looking at this in advance.

We prefer direct flights partly for the ability to rest or sleep uninterrupted but also for the shorter travel time. Our seating strategy is to select aisle/aisle across from each other regardless of the seating configuration. I would highly recommend the investment in a set of good quality noise cancelling headphones. Don't forget an extra AAA battery or two. I have a couple Pink Floyd live albums downloaded to the iPad, plus a ton of songs from other artists that I really love (Wings, Randy Bachman, Tragically Hip, The Beatles...), and various podcasts. We also bring a couple paperbacks, favourite newspaper, earplugs, eye mask, toothbrush. I have a bad back so pack a couple strong Advil in my pocket. And finally, one or two gin and tonic really help to put me in that snooze mode after a movie or two at which point I turn off the seat back TV to avoid the bright light from it.

Around the 6 or 7 hour mark we get up and walk around for a bit, use the washrooms, sneak some juice and snacks from the service area.

Posted by
503 posts

Here are my tips for what they are worth!
- wear really comfortable clothing - for me I wear a pair of leggings or ponte knit pants, a t shirt, lightweight sweater and either wear a scarf or tuck one into my "personal item". If these aren't items you'll be packing to wear at your destination, an alternative is to wear whatever you will be packing and tuck a pair of leggings/ yoga pants into your personal item and change into them when you want to sleep! Avoid anything that pinches, bunches or otherwise isn't comfortable to sit in for hours.
- pack yourself a little "comfort bag" - tissues, lip balm, hand cream, eye drops, face wipes, toothbrush/toothpaste and some hard candies (my mouth gets really dry on long flights). After clearing security, I transfer the hand cream and eye drops to my "comfort bag". Those little refreshers do wonders for feeling more like myself!
-Load up your ipad/kindle/laptop with your favorite books/movies. Check with friends to see if anyone has noise canceling headphones you could borrow. If not, get a good pair of earbuds - between those and earplugs, you should be good to go!
-Good foam earplugs for sleeping.
- I use an over the counter sleep aid and listen to sleep meditations on my iphone - downloaded from itunes. Don't know what it is about these meditations but they have really worked for me - last 11 hour flight I slept a good 4 - 5 hours!!!
-Although devoted to "one bag travel" I do take a decent travel pillow and is the one "non necessary" item I bring. Getting some decent sleep for me is really important so I decided it's worth the trade - off.
-lots and lots of water!!!!

Posted by
333 posts

I always try to get up every 2-3 hours to stretch my legs and walk a bit. I also wear compression socks to combat swelling after so much sitting in a cramped space. As for what to do on the plane, I do my best to get myself on the time zone of where-ever I'm going to, and I make sure to sleep as much as I can on the plane. I like to socialize if the person next to me seems open to chatting. It's also a good time to catch up on reading, movies or travel journal!

Posted by
304 posts

Thanks all!!!!!! Good advice ! I do agree that knowing what you are getting into is key!!

Posted by
3449 posts

Take hand sanitizer and use it often! After a long flight this past spring (2016), I ended up in London getting sick with a bad cold the second day. Was sick for three weeks. Then it was time to come home!

I barely remember some of what I did in London on vacation because I was so sick.

Also take cold or allergy remedies with you, such as Benedryl, etc. Just in case.

To keep you occupied during your flight, take something to read, and/or music to listen to, as others have suggested.

Try to nap. Get up and walk around often to prevent blood clots or cramping in legs.

Posted by
703 posts

it is easier said than done, but being able to chill out and not let anything annoy you is a good start. on one of our 14 odd hour flights we learnt that would be delayed on the tarmac. we sat on the tarmac for 2 hours before taking off. adding another 2 hours to 14 was not what we wanted to hear. but staying relaxed made it OK. we pay for premium economy for the long flights. also we take large, soft blow up pillows, as you can never have enough pillows to pack the spaces around you to get as comfortable as you can, to sleep. also flight stockings.
hope this helps.

Posted by
438 posts

Getting there ain't half the fun

Because someone with a poor sense of humor stuck a continental landmass and a big wet thing between Seattle and Europe, I'm forced to fly. And, like the rest of you plebs, the closest I'll ever get to supersonic flight is the static display of the Concord at the Boeing Air Museum (neat museum; lotta planes, 'tho), thus I'm forced to spend between 6.5 and 10 hours in a flying metal tube to get anywhere interesting.

That's a bad thing.

Mine is the mind of a mischievous and slightly-naughty 6-year-old trapped in a 50-year-old body. Once the pilot announces cruising altitude and the plat de'jour has been plopped down on the seat-back tray table and consumed, I start getting antsy and look for things to do. There's gazing out the window: that consumed about 78 seconds! We're in the air for how many more hours? Let's see, eternity minus 78 seconds is . . . eternity! I could pay $17.50 to watch a second-run movie on a screen the size of my cellphone, but I won't. Normally, I would bother my wife with pointless chit-chat and pithy observations about our fellow passengers and their perceived foibles, but she's wise to this and knowing that I'll always sit by the window, she sits on the aisle.

Things go downhill from there.

That is until I discovered the miracle that is Xanax and cannabis edibles. So about 1/2 before take-off, I consume two 5mg mints which will provide a nice, comfortable high that'll last about six hours. Take a Xanax atop that and by the time we're boarding, I'm good and relaxed. Generally, both the plane and I reach cruising altitude about the same time. Then it's time for Zootopia on my Nexus 9; followed by some relaxing Pink Floyd (Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall kill about 2.5 hours); maybe a little Scheherazade for a break before launching into either This American Life or Radiolab. All the time I can watch with amusement that creeping little airplane on the seat-back screen making its way across Canada towards Iceland at its own glacial pace and not give a single damn about how 500 mph on a jet feels like driving from Seattle to Portland at 30 mph.

Now I'm not saying better living through chemistry is for everyone, but until such time as I'm allowed to dead-head on SR-71s, it sure works for me!

Posted by
2635 posts

I used to travel for a living, making 6 to 8 transpacific (and transatlantic) flights per year during an extended expat tour based in Singapore. Here, for what it’s worth, is what my wife and I settled on after a bit of trial and error in coping with long flights:
1. We finally decided on wraparound, inflatable neck pillows as the best solution for our sleeping difficulties. Experimented with the horseshoe shaped ones you see in airport gift shops but found that those didn’t provide enough stability to keep our heads from wobbling around. The wraparound kind kept the head locked in place and permitted a restful sleep for hours on end - no more head falling onto my chest at any rate. We preferred the inflatable kind versus the ones with fiber or foam fill - found them to be much cooler when worn for an extended period of time, plus they were a lot more compact once deflated and stowed away. We also invested in a couple of lightweight silk travel blankets. They fold up to nothing but are surprisingly warm - a nice supplement to the ones they give you on the airplane anyway.
2. A pair of soft foam earplugs was all we ever needed to reduce ambient cabin noise for sleeping. I did buy an expensive set of noise canceling headphones, but only used them to listen to music and/or recorded books - never for sleeping. Wear the soft ear plugs under the headset for an additional buffer from the ambient noise.
3. Experimented with lots of eye shades too, and finally decided on some that had a “sculpted” feature to keep pressure off the eyeball - made all the difference for us.
4. As others have commented, compression socks are a good idea. We both occasionally wore tights under our clothing for a little extra support. Really seemed to help us.
5. We found that, for us anyway, avoiding alcohol helped to ensure a restful sleep. Even a glass of wine with dinner was enough to disturb our sleep cycle.
6. Stay hydrated - keep pounding down the water. The cabin environment will really take it out of you.
7. Our personal “survival kits” included cold medications, decongestant nasal spray, and a good supply of antiseptic hand cleaner and wipes. Never really had any problems getting sick after long flights once we started attending to that religiously.
8. The absolutely best advice I ever got from another business traveler was to try Ambien - the prescription sleeping aid. I had never tried that sort of thing before, and usually hate the idea of taking a pill that isn’t an aspirin, but after trying it once we never leave without it. All I can say is that the inventor of the stuff is deserving of a Nobel Prize…or Sainthood maybe. Using it we both routinely were able to log from 6 to 8 hours of deep, restful sleep, and were ready to hit the ground running upon arrival. Recommend it highly. Do talk to your doctor about it, however. Am told that different people may react differently to it…individual blood chemistry or something. All I can say is that it works for us. Helps with Jet lag too, when you’re trying to adjust to a new sleep schedule.
9. Moving around periodically is also good advice, although in our case we’ve found that one of the joys of old age is that our bladders tend to provide all the “reminders” we need to get up and move about.
One pleasant discovery we made at Sydney airport was the availability of showers in the international arrivals terminal. After the long flight, and early morning arrival, it was great to be able to take a hot shower, shave, brush our teeth, and generally feel human again before heading into the city. One note though - while there are showers, there was no place to get a towel, so we got into the habit of bringing one with us (either an old one or a cheap one bought just for the trip). Rolled them up and used them as lumbar support on the flight, then ditched them once we were finished with them.
You’re going to love Sydney - our favorite city, in our favorite country, on earth.

Posted by
489 posts

oh, Mike Beebee... good laugh, I might need to explore your advice.

We have made more than I can count trips back and forth with kids to Asia and 2 trips to Australia.
Now we focus on Europe (even though our last trip was 10 hrs.)

I found a half foam and half blow up u shaped neck pillow that works great as a lumbar support or a neck pillow. Also good light blocking sleep masks and good comfortable ear plugs (I use these thru out my trip and usually bring more than one pair)

Since you have time at 2 airports ( I'm so sorry) .. Do much walking! I must have made 5 laps of Terminal 1 United at O'hare before one trip.

I also think that bringing a pair of jammie pants and a different top to change into on the flight to Sydney may be just what it takes to get comfy and put you in the mood to sleep. Look into aromatics like lavender to help relaxation.
Qantas gave us little bags of goodies in Economy, but that was 10 yrs ago. Bring extra socks or even slippers to put on when walking the aisles or going to the lavatory (they get pretty disgusting on long trips) Aside: On the last flight with Turkish air (over 10 hrs) the flight crew was focused on cleaning up the lavatories and they were as nice at landing as take off.
It is a long trip and you will be mighty glad to land in Australia. It will be worth it. A super great country.

Posted by
6182 posts

Hi Chriss, I've been on that LA to Sydney flight for a work trip. The flight didn't seem much longer than the flights from Seattle-to-Amsterdam because I prepared myself ahead of time. When you board the plane, set your watch to Sydney time and then don't ever look at your watch the rest of the trip. The flight left LA around 9pm, and they had the lights off for most of the trip. I did get up and walk a little at least every 3-4 hours and almost everyone was sleeping on the flight.

I did notice that as I walked the length of the plane, there was a definite temperature difference. So, I would recommend wearing something comfortable and dress in layers, so you're not too hot. Buy the cheapest noise-cancelling headphones which will help you sleep and also nicer to watch movies.

Posted by
417 posts

I fly every year at least once from Australia to Europe without a stop-over, and using SleepPhones has made a huge difference to the time I'm able to sleep during each flight. They combine headphones and eye-mask in a soft band, don't compress the eyes and allow you to sleep in comfort at any angle. I select soft, even monotonous, classical music and set it on repeat at a low volume - avoiding the 'meditation' option on the plane's entertainment system's because of the voiced instructions, which don't work for me, as they wake me up. Highly recommended, and minimal weight for hand luggage only travel.

Posted by
6245 posts

Nobody mentioned the most obvious (well, to me): don't buy a ticket for a seat on a plane that's going to subject you to misery.

Not all airlines seats are the same. Some are clearly better and worse than others. The details of the seat you are about to sentence yourself to are readily available, all you need to do is bother to look.

Airlines put tiny, uncomfortable, cramped, horrible, miserable seats in their planes because that's what the traveling public is asking them for (in the form of super-cheap fares). If the only criteria you base your purchase decision on is the absolute cheapest price, then you get what you are asking for (and maybe what you deserve). Stop incentivizing the airlines to keep making their seats more and more cramped and they will.

Posted by
265 posts

I just did the LAX to Sydney round trip this past Oct - Nov. I was dreading the 15 hour trip each way. Actually it is only 14 hour on the return due to the prevailing tail wind coming West to East.

I figured I only wanted to take this flight once in my life so I hit several locations and New Zealand.
BUT it wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it would be.
(I flew Delta on a 777) I did get an aisle seat so it was easy to just stand up and go for a walk without having to climb over anyone.
First they feed you three times.
The entertainment has lots of movies (I watched two) plus all available episodes of the Big Bang Theory. And maybe I slept for an hour. My hope was the movies would bore me enough to let me fall asleep, That didn't really happen.

My only complaint was that I ended up with a case of T.B. (Tired Butt) I got very tired of sitting down. I even sat on my pillow and my jacket neither of which helped much.

The Sydney airport was very compact and efficient. After landing I was through the airport, found a shuttle and was at my hotel in around an hour after landing. Which was way before I could check in.

The return trip was about the same experience just in reverse.

A mistake I made was to lie down to take a short nap. Which I never do when going to Europe as I stay up and tough it out until evening. But I was tired and at the time it seemed like the thing to do. Going the other direction to go to Australia plus it being a 15 hour flight rather than a 6 to 10 hour flight to Europe did make a difference.
I set my alarm for a two hour nap but I slept through it. So I slept way longer than I planned and then was out of sinc with jet lag.

A long airplane trip is never fun and you know you will be uncomfortable and tired when you arrive. However as I said it was not nearly as bad as I had imagined.
I took a bus tour in New Zealand and several of my travel mates were going back through Hawaii and spending time there before returning to the mainland. If you have the time and money that would seem to be a great plan.

At the time I traveled the cost ($1300 Kansas City to Sydney) was less than my last ticket to Europe (Kansas City to Copenhagen). The long plane ride would not keep me from going back at some point.

My suggestion would be to take your favorite seat cushion to sit on. I saw several people on the plane with seat their own seat cushions.

Posted by
11503 posts

Mike liked your solution , but raging munchies could be an issue for some of us.

I always bring two blow up horseshoe shaped pillows, and this is key , i under inflate one, and put it in the small of my back. Makes a huge differnce . That, and an ativan. No booze .

Posted by
362 posts

I have been reading these posts with interest. One of the reasons we've shied away from certain travel destinations is that extremely long flight. I think the longest single flight we've done is about 10 hours.

I'd invest in the noise cancelling headphones if it were me. I have a pair that I carry with me sometimes, and they do make a difference when I have brought music or books on Audible. Enjoy the food and drink available to you. Wear comfy clothes and have a sweater or scarf if you tend to run cold. I always carry three things on every flight that are my personal comfort items. Eye drops (the air on the plane makes my eyes feel tired and itchy). A real book that I can't wait to read. (Just in case there's a glitch with my phone or Kindle.) And a bottle of water that I purchase after I go through security. I might not NEED any of these things, but knowing I have them if I want them helps put me in a calm state of mind.

Enjoy your trip!!!

Posted by
304 posts

Again, thank you all for great advice!! Mike Bebe, spoken like a true state of Washingtonian! My son lives in Tacoma. I'm a Benedryl kind of girl for sleeping . I am writing all these great ideas down! p.s. another thought, how in the H E double hockey sticks do the bathrooms get so gross when there is little turbulence and mostly adults on the plane? And I'n talking floor not seat!!!!=]

Posted by
14920 posts

We flew to Australia ( and then on to New Zealand) two years ago. Our route was LAX to Sydney and then Melbourne back to LAX (an even longer flight), both on Qantas in A380 planes. Our solution---which is too late for your trip but might be useful for others--- was to use miles to fly Business Class ( actually we lucked into First Class on the way over as we missed New Years Eve). Getting those tickets required advance planning (a full year ahead), flexibility on dates, and a bit of luck. Also the flight back used British Airways miles (Avios) so was not free; we paid the equivalent of economy fare to fly in Business Class. I was able to sleep on the plane both ways; my husband does not sleep but is relaxed and comfortable.

For your flight, in addition to the suggestions above ( with or without the cannabis), I would suggest choosing your seats carefully to meet your needs. The actual seating depends n the airline and type of plane, but many are 3-4-3. You could pick aisle seat and middle seat if you want to be able to get up and stretch, but then you could have the window seat person climbing over you to get out. ( This actually happened to me on a previous trip to Australia in Economy seats---the guy in the window seat had more than his share of drinks, and instead of asking to be let out he tried to climb over us on the armrests. Of course he lost his balance and fell right into my travel companion's lap).

Or you could choose two aisle seats across from one another. But the seats we like best when we fly in Economy ( as we did between Oz and New Zealand) are the duo seats ( 2 instead of three) at the back of some planes, where the fuselage narrows. I have seen these on 777's and 747's. On the Emirates 777, my husband's aisle seat also had an extra 9" of legroom because of the placement of our row.

Posted by
3494 posts

Upgrade to 1st class. Problem solved.

OK, so most of us don't have the $20,000+ Qantas charges for 1st from the US, but just don't pick the cheapest seats (smallest with the least legroom). Spend a little more and you will arrive more rested, better fed, and a lot less stressed.

Posted by
6245 posts

Really, if you think 8-10 hours is a long flight, all you need to do to make that feel like a walk in the park is to book a string of flights like US to Tokyo to Bangkok, Bangkok to Jakarta, then connect to two more domestic Indonesian flights dropping you in some remote corner of Papua New Guinea, then get on a speedboat for 4 hours in the dark of night in heavy seas before finally disembarking at your destination about 48 hours after departure.

Trust me, after you do a trip like that a couple times, you will barely notice the short 10-hour hop from the US west coast to Europe - it's a piece of cake!

Posted by
4637 posts

David is right. I did little bit less; Seattle - Tokyo, Tokyo - Bangkok, Bangkok - Kathmandu and after that flight Seattle - Amsterdam, Amsterdam - Prague is indeed piece of cake.

Posted by
703 posts

there is another idea worth considering. we usually plan a stop over and upgrade into Premium economy.
we stop (both ways) for a few days at hawaii when flying to the US. or Hong Kong, Singapore etc when flying to Europe.
that way we get to experience another country and break the trip into two shorter flights. We enjoy premium economy and book early-bird for a reasonable price. yes it cost more and takes longer, but we enjoy the experience. no point ruining a good holiday by coming home complaining about the flights.

Posted by
3946 posts

Long journeys can benefit from a little toilet training. Use the facilities closest to the airport boarding lounge just before loading begins. On the plane, time your trips up the aisle. Head for the toilet (I'll accept the possible naval pun, there) just before a meal service begins, since the aisles will be blocked by the food carts for some time and there is always a crowd after the trays have been collected.

Posted by
14030 posts

Admittedly, I have never, as yet, been on those 14, 16, or 18 plus hour flights, such as SFO to Tokyo, HK, Shanghai, Austrailia, etc but I have to agree with the comment above that you do get use to a direct 10-11 hr flight from the west coast to Europe,... it is a piece of cake, even in the sardine like seats I put up with in Economy. True, some airlines are better in Economy, and some are worse, to be sure. I keep this in mind as I'm sitting there, it's just 11 hrs, then I'm there!

Posted by
121 posts

Have you booked your flights yet? If not, my advice would be to really check out the airline options. In my experience, the US based airlines often have older, noisier planes (usually older 777's), whereas the AU based airlines (Qantas and Virgin AU) have newer planes (A380s and newer 777s). Downside of the newer planes is that they've often tried to cram in some extra seating, so use seat guru to check out the options.

Personally, I wouldn't be bothered with a stopover unless time and money are no object. It just means having to pay for more accomodation, transport etc, and feeling tired twice over. It's honestly not that bad and much easier to just rip the bandaid and get it done in one go.

Also, depending on where you're coming from it could be an option to go through Dallas on Qantas (and then A380 to Sydney).
My most recent experience was one way on Virgin Australia (good, full service, ie. no extra charges for food, great movies etc etc) and back on Delta (older plane, older food, less movie options). Upside of Delta was that I was upgraded to premium economy (which was basically the same but slightly wider seats and extra leg room). Virgin premium economy is more plush than the Delta equivalent.

Your flight out of the US will be most likely at night time, and they'll feed you dinner as soon as they can push those carts up the aisle. Then it's lights out and shades down for the next 10 or so hours and you'll be encouraged to sleep. Passengers will recline their seats as soon as the trays are cleared away and be looking for zzzz. You'll be tired too, as it'll be past your bedtime, so chances are good that you will sleep.

I never expect to get lengthy undisturbed sleep but expect that I will doze on and off. The accumulated rest seems to stave off the jet lag. If I can avoid using screens then I will, to avoid the light stimulation. I always keep what I'll want for the flight in a bag that can fit under the seat in front rather than having to access the overhead lockers. I guess everyone is different, but I don't think you'll need masses of 'stuff' for the flight. Food and drink are free and plentiful. Blankets and pillows are provided. Entertainment is provided. I have never seen anyone over the age of 6 get changed into pyjamas in economy (in those toilets? No way!). Just dress comfortably and in layers as it can get cool - especially if you are near a window or door. Back of the bus is noisier. Noise cancelling headphones are bulky and I don't think worth dragging around for the rest of your holiday. I sleep sometimes with just earphones in my ears (with no sound) as earplugs.

When you arrive, just keep on trucking. It's true what everyone says about getting out and about. You'll likely arrive in AU in the morning, so will have a full day ahead and it's worth keeping active as late as you can. You'll be surprised how long you can keep going.

At least, this is my experience of having to make not one, but at least two consecutive 10+hour flights to get to Europe (each way) across a gazillion time zones, exclusively travelling in economy on many different airlines and always checking a (not large) bag.

Posted by
14030 posts

@ kiwi...very well put and accurately described. I take a trans-atlantic flight dep from SFO between 1400 to 1600, I can expect to arrive in London, Frankfurt, or Paris CDG between 10 am to noon, usually ahead of schedule due to the wind at your back. Still, it is a time span of close to 11 hours. Basically, because of my choice in departure times, (two per day), it's a night flight after dinner is served, the trays collected, and lights out. Until a few years ago, I usually gave away the pillow and blanket, since they weren't necessary. Now I just keep the pillow.

Posted by
4272 posts

As Kiwi said, flying American to Dallas and picking up the Qantas nonstop from DFW shaves many hours off your trip, puts you on an A380, and starts the foreign part of the trip sooner (as soon as you board the Qantas aircraft).