12 Preflight Tricks That Make Long Flights Bearable

Sitting still on a jet for an 11, 14, or even 16-hour flight is an endurance sport. Just like running a marathon, it's something you have to train and plan for. It's also kind of like spending the day in the desert, miles from civilization, because although there are a few things your flight attendant will bring you if needed, it's not like you can pop down to the corner store for anything you forgot to bring. You'll mostly be left to survive using your wits and your carry-on bag. So it pays to be prepared.

1. Talk to your doctor about deep vein thrombosis

DVT is a potentially fatal blood clot that sometimes forms in the legs or pelvis, and sitting still for hours on a flight can increase the chances of it happening. If you're worried about this, especially if you have risk factors such as smoking, pregnancy, or obesity, talk to your doctor about precautions. They might recommended compression stockings.

Even if you don't have risk factors, look up some in-flight stretches and exercises to get your blood flowing. And make sure to get up and walk around periodically, even if you're in a middle seat.

2. Assemble your life support system

There are lots of must-have items for your carry-on bag, but seriously, what you put in that bag is what you have to keep you comfortable, sane, and alive for the next half-day or more. You don't want to be stuck halfway through a 13-hour flight without a product or medication that you normally rely on.

Most importantly, pack extras of any prescription medications and over-the-counter drugs you might need. I always travel with ibuprofen for those cabin pressure headaches, and melatonin to help me fall asleep at an appropriate time for my destination time zone. A lot of people consider a decongestant helpful as well. The Aerospace Medical Association also recommends a nasal spray and eye drops for keeping your nose and eyes comfortable in the dry cabin air.

Then, comfort and hygiene supplies: For me, extra lip balm and a 3 oz. container of my go-to (fragrance free) hand lotion are requirements. A pack of tissues, extra sanitary products, and a couple of adhesive bandages are all clutch. Include your contact case and solution as well as glasses, in case you need to take out your contacts. The Aerospace Medical Association recommends skipping contacts in favor of glasses because of dryness.

For sleeping, include a travel pillow, an eye mask, and ear plugs. Don't forget a hair brush, toothbrush, and any makeup you plan to apply before arriving at your destination. If traveling with a baby, bring more diapers, extra clothes, formula, and pacifiers than you think you would ever need.

Throw in a change of clothes for yourself in case anything spills on you, or your checked bag gets lost. Put all this in a carry-on that comfortably fits under the seat, and — this is important — that is easy to open and reach things. If you can access your most-used items without pulling out your bag, you're winning at flying.

Oh, and don't forget a snack. This list of snacks will help. Most airlines still do serve a meal on international flights, but it might be gross. And if you get hungry in the middle of the night, it can be hard to get the flight attendants' attention to ask for a snack.

3. Make sure you have the right kind of headphones and/or adapters

If you have a late model iPhone, you probably carry lightning plug earbuds that won't work on the headphone jack in your seat, making the in-flight movie a disappointingly silent experience. Same goes for Bluetooth headphones. Some airlines still hand out headphones, but not all.

To be safe, pack a pair of earbuds with the old plug, or a Bluetooth transmitter that can plug into the plane's jack. If you're traveling with a companion, you might also want to throw a headphone splitter into your carry-on so you can watch and hear a movie together.

4. Figure out if you can get Wi-Fi

Some airlines offer free Wi-Fi, others offer it for a fee, and still others participate in the Gogo In-flight Internet program, which sells day passes for $19. If you have a high-end travel credit card, check your list of benefits to see if Gogo is included.

5. Make a work plan

If you plan to work on the flight, download any documents you might need, since you can't count on that in-flight internet. Make sure your laptop is fully charged, and bring an extra battery pack or portable charger. If you use a wireless mouse, pack extra batteries for it. If your work is confidential in nature, a laptop privacy screen may be necessary.

6. Make a backup entertainment plan

Don't just assume you'll watch movies provided by the airline. First, your plane might not even be equipped with personal screens. Second, I have been on multiple flights where the entertainment system or Wi-Fi failed. Third, the available movies might not appeal to you.

Download TV episodes or a movie onto your laptop, tablet, or phone. If you have a Netflix subscription, you can download some shows and movies there. You can also download books and audiobooks. Bring a portable battery pack for the device you'll be using for entertainment.

Always pack something analog to do as well, such as a paper book to read or knitting, or some crossword puzzles, so that you're not stuck making origami out of your in-flight magazine if your devices run out of power. Besides, your eyes will eventually get tired of looking at a screen.

7. Plan the world's most comfortable outfit

Unless you're in a premium class, you probably don't want to tie up the bathroom long enough to change into pajamas during the flight — or you might not be limber enough to perform the contortions required to change in such a tiny space. I prefer to board the plane wearing something pajama-like. In fact, I've boarded in actual (nonrevealing) pajamas without a trace of shame. But lately, my long-flight uniform is a pair of sweatpants, a T-shirt, and a sweatshirt with a large, soft hood that can supplement my travel pillow.

Make sure not to wear anything that might slip or ride up if you fall asleep. This is particularly important if you're lucky enough to be flying in a premium cabin where you can lie down. If there's anything worse than walking down the aisle and seeing a fellow passenger snoozing with her nightgown askew, it would be waking up to realize you are that passenger.

The other must for your in-flight wardrobe is layers. When you're sitting on the runway, the plane will be approximately 1 million degrees and stuffy. But once you're in the air, you may get cold.

8. Test drive anything you will use in-flight

This may seem like overkill, but trust me: When you're stuck in a tube in the sky with no urgent care for 5,000 miles, it's a terrible time to realize that a your child is allergic to the medication you just gave them, or even that you wore underwear that won't stay put.

Use any medication you're bringing for yourself or your children at least once preflight. Try sleeping overnight in the outfit you plan to wear, down to the socks and underwear. Try the travel pillow, put on the eye mask (and keep it on all night), and test drive the headphones. You won't regret it.

9. Get a good night's sleep

Most people hope to sleep at least some of the hours of a long flight, especially if you'll be arriving at your destination early in the day local time. However, it's a mistake to stay up late or skip sleeping entirely the night before takeoff. It'll put you in a fog when you need to be sharp to get through security and onto the plane without forgetting anything, and if you can't fall asleep on the plane, you'll be truly miserable by the time you arrive.

10. Scrub up — fragrance free

I don't have to tell you to take a shower before getting on a long flight. But for the sake of the passengers around you, consider using fragrance-free toiletries this time around, and definitely skip any cologne, perfume, or body spray. As the hours pass and the plane air gets stale, these odors can really wear on fellow passengers, especially those who are sensitive or allergic.

11. Eat flight-friendly foods

Avoid taking any culinary risks — say, eating at an iffy roadside stand — for 24 hours before the flight, because a jetliner is never a good place to ride out a case of food poisoning. And of course, you want to avoid eating anything that might cause indigestion or — for the sake of your fellow passengers — flatulence during the flight. But the Aerospace Medical Association has another reason to avoid gas-forming foods such as beans and cabbage before or during a flight: Any gas inside you expands on takeoff, causing discomfort even for those who could easily tolerate these foods on the ground.

12. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate

There is something about the physics of air travel that sucks every molecule of moisture out of your body. I know it's tempting to not drink anything before a flight, to avoid having to get up and use the bathroom, but you've really gotta drink water — at home, at the airport, and on the plane.

Because of low humidity in the cabin, the Aerospace Medical Association recommends 8 oz. for every hour you'll be in the air in order to stay comfortable. And avoid sugary, caffeinated, or alcoholic beverages. I never board a plane without a bottle of water filled up in the terminal, because, ew, airplane water.

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12 Preflight Tricks That Make Long Flights Bearable

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