15 Tips for Surviving a Long Airplane Flight

15 Tips for Surviving a Long Airplane Flight

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 friend 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.

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 by William Eggleston.)

  1. K says...

    I know this is an old post, linked in a recent one, but I have to say: for the love of all that is good in the world, don’t spray scented products on a plane (or anywhere else from which there is no escape). I, and many others, have allergies that make your comforting rose-scented face mist absolute agony (or dangerous) for us. I’ve spent many flights vomiting from migraines because someone wanted to turn public transportation into a mini spa. Perfumes are awful, and one of the most common non-consensual activities we force on one another.

    • Yvette says...

      COMPLETELY AGREE! Thank you for mentioning this – thanks to a fragrance allergy, if I sit next to someone with perfume for an extended period of time, I’m actually in a huge amount of pain. :( Packing anything scented for use in an enclosed space with other people is terrible advice.

    • karenn says...

      I also completely agree! Any kind of perfume /air freshener / scent sprayed around me, especially in an enclosed space would send me into an asthma attack. Maybe try inhaling a mild essential oil straight from the bottle and then quickly recapping it?

    • Kelly says...

      Agreed! The nicest scents give me a migraine unfortunately.

  2. Marina says...

    Full set of undergarments.—It feels good to change into a clean under layer of sorts after a long flight. Small bottle of Listerine. Last: i wear lounge wear for serious comfort. And some tunes!

  3. Since my son was born, I’ve sung “California Stars” and “Jesus, Etc.” as part of his bedtime routine. He’s two now and can’t fully settle down until he gets his Wilco. I’m pretty sure if I took him to see them live he’d be like Homer Simpson at this BTO concert:

  4. Luis says...

    My tip: Avoid planes as a plague. Do sail instead. :)

    • Luis, I bet you have been very pleased with your sailing-instead-of-flying preference in 2020 and 2021! xo

  5. 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.

  6. 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!

  7. 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.

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

  9. 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.

  10. Rachel says...

    Fly first class.

    • Helen says...

      Will you pay for it? :)

  11. 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!

  12. 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.

    • K says...

      Yes yes, this! Being comfortable is important, but not at the expense of others.

  13. 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.

  14. Al says...

    Great tips!
    I travel quite often from Brussels to New York for work and the first times it was a nightmare. Now I learned to survive it decently but I will surely implement a few of yours (the hoodie!!)
    And yes, I totally agree with you: smile and be kind to flight attendants! It’s a hard job and passengers too often forget that the FAs are not there to serve you but they’re key to the safety of your flight (the professionality of the FAs saved lives in many more than one occasion in the past). Pouring coffee in your cup is only a tiny part of their demanding job, a “Thank you” is the least you can give them.

    Thanks for the great post

    – –

  15. Lily says...

    Caroline has now freaked me out from ever washing my hands on a plane. :):):):) vat of hand sanitizer it is!

  16. Liz says...

    Recently, I’ve been getting sick days after long haul flights. After doing some Googling, I’m pretty sure it’s been because of the germy tray tables, pillows, remotes, and bathrooms (now I know about the water, ick!). I’ve got some long flights lined up for the holidays, so I’m definitely going to sanitize the heck out of my seat and hands and skip the bathroom water.

    On long flights, I go for a maxi dress with black leggings, a warm cardigan sweater, big scarf, and comfortable booties. Shoes off, fluffy socks on the plane. I wear contacts every day, but, for some reason, wearing my glasses during a flight reminds me of lounging at home in my PJs.
    I like to pack my daily planner and journal too. With all that free time (and some good music), it’s nice to jot down ideas, goals, things to do/what I’m looking forward to doing at my destination, random thoughts, etc…

    • Sara says...

      I also always wear glasses during the flight! Even if I wear contacts to the airport, I make sure to switch out before boarding. The dry air on planes always makes my eyes itchy and uncomfortable if I leave my contacts in.

  17. Love these tips and completely agree on the facespritz – mine is from Kiehl’s that does a special inflight version after my rosewater got confiscated by security (was 120ml). I read about the bathroom water before, but that just confirmed it – yikes! What do they make the coffee with??

  18. gem says...

    I fly a mixture of short and long haul and my best packing tip would be a “inflight” bag inside my carry on usually a thin nylon packing bag from Cath Kidston.

    Inside I will have slipper socks, wipes, hand gel, iPad, magazine (the travel size versions are great), headphones, mints and hand cream

    So when I am boarding I will prepare myself in the queue. Put anything u won’t need/ wear in my carry on so when I get on the plane I pop my inflight bag in the seat pocket my carry on overhead and get seated as quickly as possible.

    I love the window seat and hate to bother the person next to me rummaging through my bag .

  19. might be random but i bring house slippers on flights! no one wants to see anyone barefoot walking around the plane, but keeping shoes on the entire time are also a pain. some cheap terrycloth ones you can throw in your carry-on are the best!

    also, i love that gemma reads real simple on flights :) makes me pretty proud of where i work!

  20. I always bring a fluffy pair of socks. I love socks and they make me feel more comfortable.

  21. This is probably pretty obvious, but leggings leggings leggings!!

    I’m always one to dress well for the airport, so sweats are a no-go. But jeans, skirts, or tights just aren’t comfortable for a long ride. Leggings are the perfect balance of comfy & chic :)


    If someone ate a clementine next to me in an airplane I would think they were the antichrist.

  23. Susan M. says...

    I’ll add a few more: esp. if traveling with kids: wear comfortable stretch jeans with pockets. Pockets are key — to hold all sorts of impromptu things, and sometimes an essential thing. Jeans more durable and forgiving than leggings, but obviously not too tight. Yes to wireless bra, yes to layers, yes to a jean jacket with pockets. Also I pack in carry-on a change of underwear, socks, spare shirt (this was key for breastfeeding, but also now post-BF with spills etc).
    Various little surprise toys/books/games/activities/snacks for little kids to be gradually revealed during a long flight. The toys need not be newly bought; the novelty of being on a plane is enough. My kids love reading, so good books can keep them going for quite a while. I also usually travel with my laptop, so I can run a favorite kids’ dvd for a little distraction.
    Love all the tips. Am still freaked out about the water; I did realize there was something to be worried about bc in some bathrooms it is posted not to drink the water. There is bound to be something messed up about that water.

  24. This is awesome. I always bring my own ginormous water bottle, I hate constantly asking for water and they only bring around a half full glass every 5 hours or so. I also wear thick socks to keep my feet cold, and sometimes I change into PJ’s. I usually wear no make-up until it’s time to land and I bring a nice hand cream.

    • The water bottle sounds like the best thing to do anyways since the Wall Street Journal article Caroline mentioned said that oftentimes the cabin crew give people the non-potable tank water to drink when the bottled water runs out! D:

  25. Meg says...

    Does anyone have tips about pillows for when you’re sitting in the window seat? Those u-shaped neck pillows do not work for me! I always pick the window seat, and prefer to try to lean my head against the window by balling up a scarf or jacket as a pillow but inevitably it doesn’t fit nicely in that gap between the seat and the wall/window. Has anyone ever seen a pillow that would be good for this? I have trouble falling asleep on flights, I’m jolted awake when my makeshift pillow slips down the crack again!

  26. Jona says...

    Don’t travel with kids? I flew by myself to and from Manila with my 9 month old and had applesauce in my hair and shirt. And leaky boobs too. I of course have not learned since I’ll be flying by myself with my now 5 yo and my 3 yo in a couple of weeks. I could only dream of magazines and picnics :)

  27. freya says...

    i get stomach problems from traveling, especially to places like Asia where the flight is 15 hours and there’s a 12+ hour time difference when you get there. i’ve learned to always bring my own food, so i can eat at the regular times i normally would. it helps my stomach, prevents blood sugar related headaches, and helps me adjust to the time change when i arrive. airlines serve meals at such weird times, i’m never in the mood for what they are serving.

    other than that, i second all the recommendations for inflatable neck pillows, disinfectant wipes, gum, and bringing a large bottle of water.

  28. If you’re going to use aromatherapeutic sprays or roll-ons, please ask your seat-mate if she is allergic! Someone using fragrances during a flight would give me a migraine!

    • Miriam says...

      I second that!!!

    • Cindy says...

      I third that!

  29. Wow, how awful is it that Caroline was the first person to say ‘thank you’ to that attendant all day?! Where are people’s manners? :D

    xx B

  30. The best investment for travel I’ve made over the past year is a Kindle. I can put several books and magazines on there and cuts down on the space and weight I have to haul around with me. Still looking for the perfect carry-on bag!

    • Michelle says...

      Not affiliated with Lo & Sons whatsoever, but their bags are AMAZING for travel. I can’t travel without my OMG bag now.

    • Sarah says...

      Love my Rebecca Minkoff leather backpack!

  31. Mae says...

    I know this is, um, awkward….but I get reeeeallly uncomfortably gassy on flights. Does anyone share in my pain and have any remedies for this?

    • Erin says...

      *raises hand* I try to stave it off by only eating non-gas producing foods that are high in protein and drink a lot of water at least 8 hours before my flight. Taking Beano before each meal also helps a lot.

    • Erin says...

      I also keep a little roll of Tums in my carry-on if I still get uncomfortable while on the plane.

      BTW, I learned through my SCUBA diving classes that air expands when there is less pressure. So at high altitude, even though the cabin is pressurized to some degree, we can still experience expansion of the air inside our bodies. That can contribute to being a little more uncomfortably gassy than normal while flying.

    • Cindy says...

      alkaseltzer cures all!

    • Joanna says...

      ME ME ME! I get some serious stomach issues while flying. The rule of thumb that has worked for me… no caffeine the day of the flight (sigh no coffee), lots of water, greek yogurt or a pro-biotic. Then I follow my own version of a BRAT diet on the plane with some snacks (banana, apple, those “toast” crackers, and granola!

    • Peppermint tea. Bring a few bags along and ask for hot water when they offer a beverage. It’s magic. Try it. (Peppermint oil gel caps work, too, but the tea is much lovelier–and gives you fresh breath, too.)

    • Emily says...

      You’re definitely not alone. A good friend of mine is a flight attendant on long haul, cross Atlantic trips and she says when the ground crew open the cabin door, they sometimes gag from the smell.

  32. 123 says...

    I live in South Africa and have a long flight next week. Flying is my biggest phobia so it’s always a torture but again, I have to fly twice a year so I just have to pluck up the courage and do it.

    My number one tip is to keep my most valuable clothes/shoes/jewelry etc… but also a pair of underwear in the cabin bag with me so that if my other big luggage gets lost or stolen, at least I have these things with me. The other thing I cannot fly without is anti-anxiety medication or sleeping pills (I don’t take both obviously, either or). I also have a drink a couple of hours before the flight to calm the nerves (I know a lot of people say it’s a bad idea but it has always helped me hugely). And then of course, just like everyone else, I need to wear comfy clothes, have lip balm, gum and a miniature size deodorant.

  33. toun says...

    My tips :

    – never wear my contact lenses but wear my glasses in order to not have dry eyes
    – eat anuts and seeds for snack as they don’t left bitter taste and neutralize bad breath (you can share them with your neighbour if he has a bad breath)
    – have gums against earaches during the landing

  34. Monica says...

    Love this list – except for all the mist/spritz/spray/scent ideas! PLEASE don’t do this . . . it may make you feel better, but you run the risk of making life truly miserable for anyone around you with allergies (which, in turn, is going to make you miserable when they’re sneezing all over you for hours and hours!)

    Lots of people are very sensitive to scents, so when you’re going to be in an enclosed space with strangers, it’s most polite to refrain from using them.

    • Miriam says...

      I agree about the fragrances! Most people don’t have any idea that they can cause a bad reaction for people with an allergy. I know I had no idea & loved nicely scented products until fragrances began to cause terrible migraines for me. If you wait til the other end to spray you could spare one of your fellow travelers a miserable & painful journey.

    • Blandine says...

      Not to forget women in their first trimester of pregnancy where sense of smell is magnified and any scent can set your nausea off! :-)

  35. Mary says...

    This post could not come at a more fortuitous time … I’m getting ready to fly to India at the end of January, and so will have two of the longest flights ever … definitely taking the best travel pillow I can find! Thanks, Joanna!

  36. Laura C says...

    My flights are short- just 2.5 h twice a year, and if I tried to do all those fantastic tips you ladies are writing, my flight would have already landed. :D
    Anyway, after 15 years flying, I am always a totally mess. I never know how to dress or what to pack. Plus, my kids are like Joanna’s and I don’t care about mist- my attention is on them!

  37. Meg says...

    I travel overseas all the time for work, and so many of these are spot on! Compression socks and a Dopp kit, especially. I’d also say good headphones, bc I will watch 3 or more movies sometimes and the ones they give out at terrible, obviously. I also include a little pouch where non-hygiene essentials are easy to find/access. Heavyweight leggings, long shirt/sweater that covers you up (I go to a lot of countries where men aren’t used to seeing much of a woman!) and slip on, comfy shoes to run through airports. Also my kindle, full of good books.

  38. Em says...

    For flights longer than 6 hours, shamelessly switch into pajama bottoms and a sweater once you’re in the plane! I first tried this on a long flight to Africa and have kept it in place ever since. I change back just before we land, so this allows me to arrive at my destination without the gross feeling of wearing the same clothes I wore to sleep. Also, one time when the person sitting next to me spilled orange juice on my pjs, it didn’t matter at all. Kept me in a much better mood. (Besides, if on long-haul flights first class passengers even get pjs, I say switching to pjs even in economy isn’t so bad. :)

  39. Polly says...

    The water thing, so gross. Dehydrated panda bear, hilarious. I always bring a fresh shirt and a pair of underwear, just in case. And for long flights, totally worth it.

  40. I have a personal bag ready to go always–meds, toiletries, jewelry, shawl, comfy socks, change of clothes, reading material, electronics, batteries, chargers, dvd’s, water bottle, meal as well as snacks. One piece of advice though which I will follow is no water even if only for hands so I am adding hand sanitizer and baby wipes.

  41. Jenna says...

    What a timely post! I’m flying from Philly to Seattle tomorrow on a last minute trip and I’m not sure I would have remembered my compression socks without the reminder. I like Smartwool’s. The non-itchy wool keeps feet warm without being bulky and handles a few days’ travel without getting gross. Plus they come in several styles with different patterns and colors.

    A scarf is a must, I generally use my coat as a blanket, and the pillow always goes behind my back. Ankle stretches (circles, the alphabet, point and flex) and small twists and arm stretches help prevent my legs and back from getting quite as stiff.

    Finally, Scribs Farm’s comment to be mindful that you don’t know why other people are traveling is personal for me. My Mom found out in Denver’s airport on her way home that my Dad had passed away in his sleep that morning. Thankfully she was with friends and the airline did all they could. The smallest thing that anyone did for her means the world to me when I couldn’t be there myself.

  42. Rea says...

    I fly a lot (this year I already flew ~15 overnight flights) and 4 more to go until year end…
    so here is my list:

    comfy clothes – sport bra, not tight pants, shirt, turtleneck sport sweater with zipper and hoodie, compression socks, sport shoes

    I pack a pair of warm socks, an extra underwear and extra Tshirt (if flight delayed)

    my Bose, charged phone and ipad, with movies and music

    my pashmina shawl – a scarf and blanket in one!

    for sleeping: melatonin, eye mask, chopstick, neck pillow (even for business/first class could be handy)

    hand cream and face cream for when I wake up (& no makeup)

  43. Getting up and walking is key on long flights. All of us are at risk for DVT (deep vein thrombosis, blood clots) that can be life threatening. Exercising in the seat by flexing and pointing the toes can help. Walk every hour and find a place near the galley to do some yoga stretches.

  44. 1. Featherweight eye mask that doesn’t squish your eyeleashes:
    2. A book you won’t read too fast and finish before you get there (the help = way too short; the goldfinch = perfect)
    3. I always listen to the same couple of albums on flights as a nostalgic soundtrack.
    4. Alcohol free witch hazel to cleanse and refresh.
    5. An empty water bottle to fill up once you’re past security… Bonus points for finding a sparkling water dispenser.
    6. A couple of nice tea packets to make your own tea with hot water from the beverage cart.
    7. A really nice carry-on bag that fits a lot, is lightweight, and still goes under the seat:

  45. I would say knit (if you could bring the needles on board!) ;)

    • Brianna says...

      You can! My mom hates to fly and knitting distracts her. She flies maybe twice a year, but always brings her knitting along – nobody’s ever taken her needles.

    • Jeanne says...

      Yes, my sister has brought knitting needles on board since a couple months after 9/11. Just make sure they’re not sharp tipped.

  46. I fly from Sydney to Baltimore every year and can’t sleep a wink on the 22 hour flight. I actually bought this pillow from SkyMall and it’s helped a lot:

    I pack a teeny bag of essentials in my larger carry on so that I’m not digging around for my chapstick/water/charger during the flight. I also always bring a change of underwear and socks. Makes me feel like a new person when I make the switch in LA!

  47. Jenny says...

    For me, personal hygiene is one of the biggest factors in feeling my best. Fittingly, my travel essentials include: Burt’s Bee’s Lipbalm, a tiny bottle of Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser to wash my face on long flights, tooth brush and paste (although now I am rethinking using the water in the bathroom…), and deodorant! Yoga pants, a long loose Tshirt, a cardigan or hoodie (layers are key for unpredictable plane temps), and TOMS slip ons are my go-to travel ensemble. And an engaging book, snack (usually trail mix, granola bar, or fruit – the kinds of easy grab-and-go stuff I would take hiking), and ear plugs keep me entertained and peaceful!

  48. Kristen says...

    I agree its lovely to put some snuggy socks on for a long haul flight but please put your shoes back on before you go to the bathroom/toilet. I don’t think those men take great aim…..

    Totally agree re the compression socks. My standard outfit consists of black leggings or ponte pants, black compression socks and black ballet flats, White singlet top with built in bra (Uniqulo), and either a long line cardi or blazer finished off with a warm scarf. Comfy and smart enough for an upgrade.

  49. Erin Ferrie says...

    I’ve got to say, I love flying! And I regularly fly 20-30 hours to get from New Zealand to Canada. It’s such a nowhere space where you’re free from responsibility. I’ll take a plane over car travel any day.

    For long long flights I wear loose lounge pants and a tight singlet instead of a bra throughout. It also helps to use the bathroom right when you see the flight attendants starting to serve food – everyone else will wait until after the meal and then there’ll be a massive queue. Also, on overnighters, go when everyone else is sleeping and avoid the morning rush. I always wear jandals (flip flops) too instead of shoes, so that you avoid the horrible feeling of cramming your swollen feet back into socks and too-tight sneakers at the end of many hours of flying!

    Always pack a change of underwear, reserve an aisle seat, and don’t cross your legs while flying. Also, earplugs are good in emergencies :)

  50. amanda june says...

    agree with above comments about the fragrance — i would say a no-no in tight spaces with strangers. i have a friend who is allergic to most fragrances, so if someone next to her did that she’d be stuck with a terrible headache for the rest of the flight. :(

    i live overseas so for long flights i always bring earplugs, an eye mask, moisturizer and lip balm (planes are so drying!), snacks, and toothbrush/toothpaste…although i’ll definitely keep in mind to use bottled water from now on — ew! i usually bring a little inflatable neck pillow, but a big cozy scarf is a good idea too and multi-purpose.

  51. As someone who’s been taking long international flights since being a baby, I recommend asking the flight attendants for an extra pillow (if they say no, hide the pillow you were already given and say that you didn’t have one!). Use one as a pillow and use the other as back support. This helps immensely! Also, if you’re traveling in the winter, a down jacket that can be compressed and tucked away into a little bag is helpful for saving space AND can be used as a pillow/neck support. I am a huge fan of Uniqlo’s down jackets!


  52. Kristen says...

    The first thing I do is wipe everything down with an antibacterial wipe. Tray table, seat belt and arm rests. My kids and I are always amazed at how DIRTY they are!

    • Mae says...

      Me too! Gross! I do this at hotels too. I hit the remote, handles, light switches, knobs and toilet first thing. Then I can relax a bit :)

  53. Susan M. says...

    Agree with Caroline about kindness/politeness. Yikes about the water! Now I’ll have to carry sanitizer and wipes for sure. But what to do about weird aggressive or rude travellers right next to you or behind you? I have had to move away more than once, but it felt like the wrong thing to do. And it’s one of the more diminishing experiences to have on a flight. If one can get in the hoodie, eye mask, ear plug position, maybe one can survive?

  54. First I grab a bottle of water to take on the plane so that I if I sleep through the beverage service I don’t cry! Rose water mist! It is subtle but helps refresh the face and distract from the earwax smell that the plane always has a takeoff! I always bring beef jerky, nuts, and chocolate. Protein and sweets, but no offensive smells. And always a wool scarf to wrap in if no blankets are available!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      ear wax smell, you’re so right! hahaha. such great tips, thank you!

  55. Reading magazines on an airplane is one of life’s simplest and greatest pleasures.

    And after 4 years of overseas long-distance, it’s nice to know I’m not alone in mile-high-cry club.

  56. Alexis says...

    Love this! My tip: Always pack chapstick in your carry on! That dry air is killer on lips after a few hours, and chapstick just makes everything better.

    But #11 on your list is actually one of my pet peeves! I’m always flabbergasted when people use smelly things (perfume, lotions, etc) on planes. It’s such a small space, and not everyone wants to smell what you’re smelling.

    • Jenny says...

      Ditto! I work in an open plan office and one of my coworkers has a tropical lotion that smells nice, but is VERY strong. Some people (myself included) get scent-induced headaches, so I think “less is more” is the way to go when in close quarters!

    • Jessica says...

      Triple ditto!
      For those of us who are super sensitive to smells, perfume and other odours can ruin a flight – I once spent a few hours breathing through a scarf I had brought because the perfume of a lady near me made it difficult to breathe.

    • Christie says...

      Agree – in fact I read somewhere that it can be risky to peel citrus fruits on planes if you are near someone with an allergy, so I always avoid it. It would be lovely to have a citrusy smell while flying but it’s not worth making someone else sick.

  57. Nina says...

    I agree with Caroline – a hoodie is awesome! But a zip up not a pullover. Also good as a pillow. Be nice….just flew in October and oh boy were people crabby and mean to the flight attendants….a little kindness goes a long way! My son, 7, had a terrible experience with ear pain when landing so I bought ear planes (ear plugs) for him and they seemed to help quite a bit. Carry cash , online they make you buy most things now and don’t have cash. Wear clogs and socks – i slip my clogs off almost immediately. I had my son wear crocs too, it was great.

  58. Caz says...

    I’m from Australia so long flights are unavoidable! My essentials are:
    *Socks and a big scarf that can double as a blanket because I am always FREEZING on planes
    * Lucas’ Paw Paw ointment for dry lips and any other weird patches of dry skin
    * A blow up neck pillow. I like to travel light, so I think those big U-shaped neck pillows are a waste of space, but I’ve had this inflatable one for 10+ years and it’s awesome. It takes up hardly any space and you just quickly blow it up when you need it.
    * Leggings and long top – I hate wearing jeans on planes as the waistband always digs in.
    *If you’re going to have a big time difference, set your watch to destination time as soon as you board and force yourself to stick to it. For example, last time I flew Australia – London it was late at night, but London is a few hours behind so I forced myself to stay awake until at least 9pm London time. It can be hard but it really helps me with jetlag.

    I’m definitely trying the compression socks next time I fly long haul. What a good idea!

  59. Andrea says...

    I bring a sleeping bag liner (like a lighter sleeping bag) and crawl in it and buckle over it, on long flights. It keeps me the right amount of warm and no blanket slips off and wakes me up mid-nap. Has changed my flights across country and out of the country. North Face made a great sleeping bag liner a few years back–not bulky. The bag that holds the sleeping bag can be filled with your coat and acts as a pillow.

  60. Jessica says...

    -In the summer, carry-on socks!! Flip flops, sandals, etc look nice but I LOVE putting on a pair of good socks once I’m on the usually frigid airplane.
    -Articles from old magazines–I rip out all the articles I meant to read from New Yorker, Vogue, Vanity Fair, etc and pack them instead of bringing the WHOLE magazine which gets heavy.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      what a brilliant idea to just bring the best articles!! definitely trying that on our crosscountry flight.

    • Danielle Seaton says...

      The tearing out of articles is a genius idea!

  61. Oh, girl. If someone eats salami next to me on a plane they are getting some serious stink eye.

    • Jenny says...

      Hahaha. I once had a woman seated next to me on the train unwrap an onion-laden sandwich. I was less than pleased. Considering what sounds and smells could travel to your fellow passengers is key!

  62. Rebecca says...

    I am WITH you Joanna…flights without my son (3) are amazing: you just SIT there and flip through magazines and somebody brings you a drink from time to time.

    I always take a big scarf and, for flights more than three hours, compression socks, which really do make a big difference (I got mine at a medical supply store – they insisted on measuring me repeatedly to ensure the exact right fit). I also keep a little pouch of essentials handy: mints, tinted lip balm, lotion, Advil, tissues, hand sanitzer, and headphones (don’t forget the headphones!). Also, this might be kind of TMI, but if you’ve ever in your life had a problem with Athlete’s Foot, bring a small tube of anti-fungal cream (and if it’s summer, anti-itch cream for bug bites). These are things you would THINK airports would sell, but in my experience do not.

  63. I fly with my pup Eleanor Roosevelt (in-cabin, under the seat) from DC (live now) to San Francisco (home) a lot and I’ve found that what works for me is to 1) try to find the service dog relief area (all dogs are welcome) in the terminal. Dulles has one with astroturf flooring and a little fire hydrant that gives off the “pee here” smell for dogs and 2) I always have nice chicken-wrapped chew toy to distract her while I zip up the carrier 3) Since my dog has separation anxiety when she’s in new surroundings, I can’t really get up to use the bathroom during the flight, so I do my best to not drink too much water right before we get on the plane (and I pee just before boarding starts). Once I’m on, I eat a little snack, have a glass of wine (it’s always 5 o’clock when you’re in the air) and then zonk out, with my sock-clad foot resting just next to her carrier so she can smell me and know I’m there. Her carrier usually has one of my dirty t-shirts inside to further calm her down.

    I know some people give their dogs benadryl when they fly, but since Elly is only 4lbs, I worry about accidentally causing her to OD. I have been looking into getting melatonin-laced treats, for just a little bit of natural relaxation.

    • Nina says...

      My dog was 5 lb and the vet had me use child benadryl. Also you can use rescue remedy for dogs and humans alike. I just put a few drops under my dog’s tongue and in his water.

    • Awesome! I’ll try that next week when I head out to CA :)

  64. Barb says...

    Please be prudent when applying any type of fragrance or anything that does not smell like a normal human being. There is nothing worse than to be trapped on a flight with someone who overdosed on their favorite fragrance.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      yes, totally. a teeny tiny bit goes a long way. i once sat near a woman who pulled out NAIL POLISH REMOVER and started giving herself a manicure. needless to say, the flight attendants put a quick stop to that!

  65. I agree completely with Caroline’s tip of being nice. Not just to flight attendants but to other passengers. You may be flying off to a dream vacation but the other person may be flying to a funeral or care of a sick family member.

    And stick to the space in your seat! I’m small and on my last flight I was in the middle (ugh!) with no arm rest, the seat in front of my was reclined all the way and the person behind me though my legs would be a good foot rest. If the flight had been longer than an hour I would have been not so nice about it.
    I’m a very restless flyer, I usually have 2 magazines, a book or seven on my kindle and a movie or two just in case, and whatever knitting project I’m working on.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      “You may be flying off to a dream vacation but the other person may be flying to a funeral or care of a sick family member.” = such a good and thoughtful point.

  66. Ellen says...

    When you live in Australia, you become very used to long – sometimes 24 hour! – flights so I have quite a system in place. My number one thing would be to wear a scarf, no matter where you’re flying (Go Lexi!). My ASOS Oversized one is enormous, light and inexpensive. I purchased the CUYANA Travel Case Set after reading your blog post last year and it’s a game changer. I always include baby wipes so that I can wipe my face, hands and arms to feel refreshed during the flight. I also have started packing a t-shirt in my carry-on so that I can change it during our stopover.

  67. e says...

    I just got home from a trip consisting of 9 plane rides (6hr, 15hr, 1hr, 4hr, 1.5hr to destination; 1.5hr, 3hr, 7hr, 14hr back home), and can attest to many of these, though honestly, in economy nothing’s perfect.
    I packed a bunch of clementines on the way there, though I have no idea why you would peel them and stick them in a tupperware first! Just one more thing to take up room.
    Compression tights and socks seemed to work pretty well!
    At one point I had on two sweaters (one hooded) and my jean jacket and the crappy airplane blanket because it gets SO COLD. I also packed rag wool socks to wear like slippers.
    Also, there was no way I was gonna wear a bra of any kind for that long. Cami or tank top all the way.
    And, oops, I definitely brushed my teeth with airplane water.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      whoa!!!! those looks awesome. thanks so much for the recommendation.

  68. Christine says...

    These are great tips! My overnight flight uniform (for any time of year and climate) is ballet flats, black leggings, a loose t-shirt, a long cardigan, and a wireless bra (I like the pullover bra from The Gap). I bring a baseball cap to pull down over my eyes, a pashmina for an extra blanket, a pair comfy socks, an inflatable neck pillow (Brookstone has a great one) and ear plugs — all which takes up minimal space in my bag. I actually enjoy long flights by myself because it’s uninterrupted time to read and listen to podcasts and music — when else do you get that?

  69. Carlien says...

    My advice is to bring good earplugs (like ohropax) or noise-cancelling in-ear headphones (Bose is fantastic), a big, warm scarf to use as a blanket and some nice magazine(s). For very long flights a neck-pillow (I like the one that looks like Y (it gives also support for the chin, it got a design price in the UK, I bought it on amazon but do not remember the name, or an inflatable one that looks like a giant banana) and I bring an eyemask (nice, soft silk one!)… A sleeping pill (0.5 pill of 10 mg Zolpidem) can also be great to be kicked into sleep, but only if the flight is at least 6 hrs. For the skin: I use creams from neostrata with acids that really ‘kick it’ and prevent it from getting dry and irritated…
    And I try to bring a buddist-like attitude to handle the stress of delays, annoying neighbours etc.

  70. Capucine says...

    Before I had kids, I had this Guerlain rose hydrating stick that was such a moment of gentle magic in flight. (It’s their Cooling Facial Stick.)

    Now, my flight comfort centers around getting my children asleep. If that happens, then I get to go pee and take a nap.

    That window cling tip is awesome, thanks to that commenter!

    • Maggie says...

      Right?! I am flying from St. Louis to the UK tomorrow evening for my brother-in-law’s wedding (and then quickly home again) and that suggestion in particular is one I’m going to hunt for tomorrow morning! Also, the water – icky – I always bring a toothbrush and toothpaste in my bag as well as freshining-up-before landing makeup. Usually, I want to look chic while flying but I end up uncomfortable. So, I’m cutting myself a break this time and going the cozy sweater, leggings, slip on shoe route. Ugh, flying sucks. It just does.

  71. Emily says...

    Love some of these tips! A clementine/orange on the plane sounds fabulous…

    All the talk of scents makes me nervous, though. I know a lot of people are allergic to perfumes, and I get migraines if I’m exposed to strong smells. Don’t overdo it, folks, please!

  72. A friend of mine who is a flight attendant has warned me against ever ingesting the water on planes other than the bottled water they give you to drink – it is filthy!! Great advice, good luck to everyone traveling!!


  73. Annalisa says...

    Bringing food is essential. I always regret it when I forget to pack a meal and snack and end up eating overpriced (not very tasty) airport food. Of course some airports (SFO Terminal 2) have good food offerings now, but now enough!

    I always pack a shawl, ear plugs, socks, movies on my iPad, rose water, and my own water bottle.

  74. Laura says...

    on my recent flights to and from Hawaii from NY, I wore a stretch jersey maxi dress instead of my usual sweatpants. It was the most comfortable I’ve ever been on a flight and I didn’t look quite as slovenly as I usually do on a plane. I also brought my super comfy LL Bean slippers in my carry on. My feet always get really swollen when flying so the slippers were awesome. I will definitely try the compression sock thing next time!

  75. Cindy says...

    Joanna – I always find the best unique gifts for my gal-pals on your blog. I just ordered 6 of the rose water facial sprays for Christmas stocking stuffers! All of them are travelers and will love it. Thanks for the tip!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      great!! so glad!

  76. More often than not, when I check my luggage for an international flight it WILL be delayed for anywhere from a few hours to 5 days. Carry your toiletries on (at least the basic ones) if possible AND pack a change of clothes (especially underwear) in your carry on as well.

  77. Samantha says...

    A word from a toddler-toting travel wise friend of mine is to pack some window clings for the babes to play with. No fuss, no muss and not so devastating if you leave them behind!

  78. These guys make some super cute compression socks -> if you’re looking for some of the non-orthopedic looking variety :) (via Dooce)

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      ooh, good tip. thanks so much.

  79. Any updated tips on flying with a toddler? Getting nervous!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      Yes! Tip from a friend: Pack a few individual ziploc bags ahead of time, to grab easily when you take your child to the bathroom (versus lugging your whole bag). You just pack a diaper, a few wipes, and, in one corner, a smear of A&D diaper rash cream.

    • Jeanne says...

      Oh gosh, you reminded me when I had to take my 20 month old to Asia. From what I remember (he’s 6′ 2″ now :P), I packed a duffel of things to do. I went to the dollar store and got lots of little toys to keep him occupied…trucks, animals, balls, crayons etc. I wrapped each toy so unwrapping them took time. One of the items he just loved was a pinwheel. The spinning part was plastic film so it could get crushed and it would bounce back. He would hold the pinwheel up to the little air nozzle forever. I also packed a full sized pillow at the bottom of the duffel. When he finally fell asleep, he could stretch out across the seat and my lap and feel comfy (and sleep longer!!) I also packed mixed snacks in ziplocks. This meant he could sift through the homemade snack mix and pick out the stuff he wanted first (thus taking up time and his attention). I’d even put a little bit of forbidden stuff like mini marshmallows or mandm’s. This was back before ipads but, I would seriously load up on a bunch of toddler activity apps and shows. My sister doesn’t let her toddler play with electronics yet, but even she will bend on this rule for the airplane!!!

  80. Flying back and forth/ to and from Argentina to the USA .. the best thing I can do is book First Class and use my pashmina as a blanket.
    Ordinary flights, I fly daytime and watch the movie and get through it.
    It is a few hours in my life .. I don’t have to obsess over them too much.

  81. ESK says...

    I take 20+ hour longhaul flights for work all the time, and I’ve narrowed down a routine that works for me. This includes never eating airplane food except cereal since it’s full of salt (Dehydrating!), keeping meals and snacks to a minimum so I sleep better, taking an Ambien at the beginning of the flight to get as much sleep as possible, and wearing loose black pants (in black they don’t look like pajamas! and wireless bra for in-air seamless sleeping. Crucial to my travel are several of the items from the Wirecutter travel guide — namely, the amazing eye mask and earplugs they recommend, but everything I’ve purchased has been such a win (charger organizers, international plugs, etc). Essential!

  82. I love all of this but oh my god, that fact about the water. GROSS.

    PS – Caudalie’s Beauty Elixir mist smells great and is very refreshing on a long flight.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      ooh thanks!!

  83. Lauren E. says...

    Oh god, that comment about the water on airplanes…. EW. Dually noted.

  84. Janine says...

    Pack an assortment of herbal tea bags! Provides a bit of aromatherapy and comfort on the flight.

  85. Lily says...

    Compression Tights (thigh high, not knee high)! Learned this from a vascular surgeon. On a long flight, makes your legs feel so much better. A little uncomfortable at first, you quickly get used to them. And you can get the toe-less kind – much more comfy.

    She also recommended Skins compression running tights for wearing around the house. So, when I was up early cooking Thanksgiving dinner for everyone, and my legs started to ache, I pulled these on under my pants (they’re quite thin) and my legs felt much, much better. Wished I had thought of it sooner!

  86. Jen says...

    bring an empty water bottle. i know in sfo, they have purified water dispensers near the terminals and i always bring an empty water bottle to fill up before the flight. also, instead of a scarf, bring a turkish towel. it can be used as a scarf, a blanket, rolled up pillow and most importantly when traveling with kids, i often use it as giant towel cause inevitably my kids will spill something.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      such good tips, thank you!

  87. I can’t believe I’ve never thought to wear a sports bra! I’m headed to Japan next spring and even though I’ve traveled abroad extensively, I’m squirreling away a few of these tips to make it my best flight yet.

    Here a few of my tips:
    *I always keep my toiletry bag within easy reach. (and after seeing here that airplane water isn’t the cleanest, I’ll be packing some Colgate Wisps on my next flight!)
    *I drink a few emergen-C vitamin drink packets throughout the flight
    *On long haul flights, every few hours I give my face a wipe down with a cleansing cloth and re-apply my heavy duty moisturizer. (I have dry, red skin to begin with and airplane air is it’s WORST enemy!)

  88. Eeeeeek!!!! I didn’t know the tip about contaminated water on a plane. I’m a hand-washing dynamo but on planes – never again.

  89. Emily R says...

    Sleep. I get on the flight and immediately close my eyes and doze off.

    When I wake up I read a little, but I don’t want to overstimulate myself, so no movies, music.

    I’ve slept the entire flight to Korea from Boston. It can be done!

    • Perfecto. Exactly what I do flying from NY to BA. My husband was a champion plane sleeper lol Sometimes it takes me longer because I am so Up with the last minute scramble to remember everything and get to the airport on time , but I am getting pretty good at it.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      i’m so jealous — i can never sleep on flights!

    • Emily R says...

      I’m perpetually exhausted, so basically anytime I’m not moving, I’m sleeping!