15 Tips for Surviving a Long Airplane Flight

Kristen Wiig

Will you be flying anywhere this holiday? We always fly from New York to California with two very wriggly children (lordy), but there are things we adults can do to make our flight experience enjoyable, too. (Now whenever we travel without kids, it basically feels like a spa.) So, as you prepare to board, here are 15 ways to make air travel tolerable, even enjoyable…


1. Pack a picnic. I’ve always been a fan of bringing along a stash of food — crusty bread, cheese, salami. (FYI, salty foods taste better on planes.) Food writer Faith Durand also once gave a brilliant tip: “The most refreshing airplane snack is a peeled clementine stashed in a sturdy Tupperware, so it doesn’t get smashed in your purse. It gives you a boost of energy and hydration — and even makes you smell good, like a citrus spritzer!”

2. Shut out the noise. Noise-canceling headphones are great, but what if you want to sleep without anything bulky on your head? I’m obsessed with DUBS earplugs, which are specially formulated to reduce ambient sounds like construction sites, horns and airplanes, but still let you hear your partner talking or a flight attendant taking your drink order. I use them in the office every day.

3. Spritz yourself. My friend used to travel abroad regularly for work, and every time she flew, she would spritz her face with rose water. She would only do it on planes, so it became her travel ritual. It seemed so romantic and beautiful. Now I do the same.


4. Two words: compression socks. I discovered them when I had to fly to my brother’s wedding late into my second pregnancy. I didn’t wear them, and by the time I got to my destination, my legs had swelled to twice their normal size! It was so uncomfortable. My doctor suggested I pick up a pair of compression socks and wear them on the red-eye flight home, and I could not believe what a difference it made.


5. Download movies onto your phone. On my last trip, I was going through a weird Ethan Hawke crush phase, I downloaded the Before trilogy. Renting those three movies on iTunes was cheaper than renting one movie on the flight. (Also, don’t you always end up loving whatever movie you watch on a flight? Apparently, people actually experience heightened emotions while flying.)

6. Bring a back-up charger. Nothing worse than running out of juice halfway through a flight. I use this little guy for charging my phone.


7. Switch bras. I took the 13-hour flight home between Hong Kong and London for eleven years of my life, during which I learned to always, always wear a wireless bra.


8. Skip the mascara. I put regular makeup on before a flight but I skip mascara, which can make me look like a dehydrated panda bear by the time I disembark. I’ll run into the bathroom and put mascara on right before landing.

9. Stock up on magazines. There are few greater pleasures than reading a smorgasbord of magazines on a plane. At the airport, I’ll choose something that makes me think (The Economist), something mindless to thumb through (In Touch), and something for visual inspiration (Vogue). For some reason, I also always enjoy reading Real Simple in the air.

10. Roll up a scarf. I always keep a big scarf or soft shawl folded up in my bag. You can use it as a blanket or pillow, and you never know when you’re going to need a clean, cozy layer to place in between you and 1980s-era plastic and metal. You can essentially wrap yourself in a cocoon. P.S. And how cute is this pillow?!

11. Make it smell good. I keep a little flask of Aesop Flight Therapy in my carry-on, which has a super clean, invigorating smell. I rub it on my wrists, temples or behind my ears after I wake up from a snooze, or the minute my fellow passengers unveil their steaming chicken Kiev plates.


12. Pack an in-flight dopp kit, especially for long or overnight flights. I always have a hydrating mist, which feels like sticking your face into a heavenly cloud; a multi-tasking balm, which works wonders on dry lips, hands, etc.; and natural wipes, like these, for cleansing and refreshing.

13. Wear a hoodie. A hoodie is a magic flight garment that is good for two reasons: you can put the hood up to provide extra warmth, and it doubles as a friendly do-not-disturb sign.

14. DON’T WASH YOUR HANDS. Or brush your teeth. The Wall Street Journal tested water from the bathrooms of 14 different flights and found “a long list of microscopic life… from Salmonella and Staphylococcus to tiny insect eggs.” (Eww.) Pack Purell or antibacterial wipes for freshening up, and only brush with bottled water.

15. Be nice. This may sound obvious, but your comfort depends somewhat on the comfort of those around you. Imagine being a flight attendant and having to deal with hundreds of grumpy travelers all day long. Being particularly kind can help create a less stressful environment for all. On a return flight last year, my harried flight attendant handed me my cranberry juice and I said, “Thank you so much.” His whole face changed. “You’re the first person who’s said thank you to me all day!” he responded. It’s the little things that count.

How to Get Comfy on a Plane (For Real)

Thoughts? What else would you add?

P.S. 10 tips for flying with a baby, and how to entertain a toddler on a plane.

(Photo from Bridesmaids)

  1. Wow, I did not know about the water really. Great to know. I always pack some antibacterial wipes anyway but I would wash my hands in the bathroom. Now, I’ll just bring the wipes with me.

  2. Hope says...

    Omg…. I have brushed my teeth so many times on flights and now I am truely grossed out!!!!! Guess I am stronger for it!

  3. Sam says...

    I try to wear flip flops even if I have to change into them on the plane. It stops the pressure from building in your feet in shoes…even in the middle of winter.

  4. There are few greater pleasures than reading a smorgasbord of magazines on a plane.

  5. I’ve been on a few 10+ hour flights, but only by the last one– 16 hours from Fiji to L.A.– did I realize how much water makes a difference. I know people don’t want to be getting up to go to the bathroom the whole flight, but I say it’s worth it. I loaded up on water all day before my flight and I slept better on the plane, felt less crusty during the flight and had the mildest jet lag of all my travels once I got home.

  6. Rachel says...

    Fly first class.

  7. I’m actually heading to Italy next week, so these are so timely! I always pack snacks in my purse, grab water from stand after going through security, and cozy up with a few good books for the flight. I will definitely be bringing along a scarf now too!

  8. Megan says...

    I love all of this, except the scented suggestions. You might be making someone else’s flight a miserable, allergic mess! I have a few co-workers who are very sensitive to scents (synthetic and natural), so now I am very mindful of this.

    • hanna says...

      Agreed. I feel that a picnic with salami and smelly cheese falls into this category as well. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for packing a picnic for a long flight but there are few things more off putting than someone’s smelly lunch when stuck in an enclosed area for an extended period of time. Sorry.

  9. Lauren says...

    This is a perfect post for my upcoming flight to Hong Kong tomorrow! My favorite airplane activity is listening to books on my iPhone. is a lifesaver for long flights because it lets you relax and close your eyes while the book plays.