Last week I found myself in the rear coach cabin for a 14-hour journey from Hong Kong to Chicago. Here are seven tips for how to survive long flights in economy class.
1. Drink Gallons of Water
Staying hydrated is key to combating jet lag and actually remaining comfortable. I recommend bringing your own bottle, but most airlines are good about making hourly water runs on long overnight flight. Plus, you can always stretch your legs by making your way to the rear galley and asking for a glass of water or other beverage.
How safe is tap water on airplanes? I don’t know and I don’t really care to find out. All I know is that I will only drink water that comes from a bottle. Ever wonder why airline coffee tends to taste funny? One reason is the tap water.
Don’t drink too much, too quickly though…there are often long waits to use the lavatory.
2. Bring Your Own Snacks
Don’t rely on airline food…you’ll be left hungry. I’ve flown so many airlines behind the curtain and rarely am I ever satisfied after the meal service. And I don’t just mean with the taste, but with the quantity. My flight from Hong Kong to Chicago included lunch, a mid-flight snack, and breakfast, but the portion sizes were meager.
Bring non-messy food like fruit, nuts, granola bars, or beef jerky. It is a far better alternative to being hungry or resorting to bag after bag of airline pretzels.
3. Get Up and Walk Around
With both the size and legroom of economy class seats shrinking, stretching is vital to staying sane on a longhaul flight behind the curtain.
You can do the foot-twirling exercises outlined in many airline magazines, but better to get up and walk a lap around the economy class cabin.
4. Bring Hand Sanitizer
I’ve been sick a lot this year, unfortunately. While airplanes are ideal germ factories, you can insulate yourself (somewhat) by frequently sanitizing your hand with liquid sanitizer (unscented please) and also wiping down your seat, tray table, armrest, and seat-back monitor to minimize your contact with the biological agents that cause sickness.
5. Dress in Layers
You never know how warm or how cold the cabin will be. My flight from Hong Kong to Chicago last week, as if to prepare us for the freezing temperatures that would greet us, was frigid onboard. In addition to my pajamas (I change into pajamas even on economy class longhaul flights), I wrapped myself in a sweater and blanket. Even then, I was still cold!
Sometimes airplanes are too cold, sometimes they are too hot. Be prepared for either situation.
6. Bring Your Own Headphones
Airlines give out cheap headphones in economy class. Not only do they work poorly, but they often hurt your ears even after wearing them for only short periods of time. Bring your own.
7. Charge Your Devices Prior to Your Flight
Sometimes airline electrical outlets work, sometimes they don’t. While even a full laptop charge won’t get you through 14 hours, it will certainly make your life easier if you find your power ports not working. Sometimes every two seats must share an outlet, which means you may be fighting your neighbor for one.
Consider a portable charger than can charge laptops, phones, and other devices simultaneously.
You had one of the best possible configurations to ever be seated in economy (3-3-3 on a 777 – there’s a reason most new airlines in the market go 3-4-3)! Looking forward to seeing your photos of United’s 777-200 economy.
Definitely agree on the portable charger. I always carry a 20k MAH battery with me. Could charge the phone 5 or 6 times before it’s exhausted and it’ll charge the phone and iPad at the same time.
It sounds like the cabin was so cold you could have worn mittens or gloves and save the abrasive treatment of constant sanitizer product. My strategy is to wash hands every 2 hours using the 40 seconds technique recommended by the World Health Organization and applying oil based lotion/cream with silicone to avoid cracking of dry skin that may invite fungal growth.
Drinking hot tea with a splash of fruit juice is more effective at hydration and coats your teeth with a protective barrier.
How does fruit juice mixed with tea protect ones teeth? What causes the coating, and how does it work?
What brand of portable charger do you recommend?
I see some of these are the prohibited Lithium batteries.
Has HKG changed their water security policy? It has been a couple of years since I’ve been there, but for several years you couldn’t bring your own water on board, and they searched your bags at the gate.
They still check at the jet bridge, but were not confiscating empty bottles because I had one.
This advice is somewhat nonsensical (drink tons of water…but not too much because there’s a line at the bathroom…? which is it). The correct way to deal with serious economy time is sleeping. While you were busy with your amateur hour antics here, I imagine all of the older Hong Kongers were passed out for much of the flight. They know what they’re doing and probably do a number of these long hauls at least once a year to see family.
1. Get a window seat. Unless you have a bladder issue or can sleep by just leaning back strait, the benefits of leaning against the window to sleep can outweigh the costs.
2. Buy an inflatable butt pad or put the uselessly small pillow they give you under your thighs/butt. This doesn’t have an immediate effect but long term it will keep your legs from losing their circulation when you recline and stretch out to sleep. Otherwise the seat corner tends to cut off your blood flow which will wake you up often and make you feel fatigued. DVT on airplanes is mostly a myth. But if you keep your legs happy in this way, you can safely sleep for a long time on the plane.
3. Bring your own stuff-able camping pillow and buy eye shades that you love. Camping pillows are larger and will wedge well between the seat and the wall/window, creating a comfortable space.
4. Bring noise canceling headphones. I sleep with these on, it’s worth it.
5. Don’t drink too much water (unless you actually feel thirsty obviously). Eating a meal with plenty of water before the flight and giving yourself time to expel any excess will keep you hydrated for a long time.
6. Sleep 7-10 hours of the trip
7. Avoid the airline food unless you’re really hungry because airline food is disgusting. I don’t even eat it in business class. People over the age of 35 don’t need as much food on a flight as this younger author.
Hand Sanitizer is not a great way to solve the germ problem. I admit, if you’re someone who constantly touches your face, it might be worth using since that is how you get colds. A much better solution is just to not touch your face, wipe your hands with some less toxic towelettes and deal with the reality that the world is a lot more sterile in regard to disease causing germs than you think. Sterilizing your hands every couple of hours with alcohol (Hand Sanitizer is mostly alcohol) means that instead of hands with a colony of naturally protective safe bacteria, you’re hands are an alarming petri dish of uncolonized skin ready to be a new home to whatever nasty bacteria you happened to touch and whatever can survive in the nooks and crannies of your hands under that barrage of treatment. Also Hand Sanitizer does not prevent novovirus which is undoubtedly what this blogger had.
Oh sure…snap a finger and fall asleep in a terribly uncomfortable, cramped seat. I’ve tried all the bells and whistles you lay out (#2 and #3) and still cannot even remotely fall asleep.
But I do appreciate your detailed comments. Thanks for taking the time to write.
Sorry spelling, norovirus
The best way to survive at 14 hours Y flight is to select the right airline. I would only fly Asian airlines for such distances in Y as they are setup to treat humans as humans. The FA can only do so much before they are overwhelmed by the drawbacks the airlines put them up with.
@Nope: Sleep 7-10 hours in economy. Sitting up. Sure, no problem.
#1 Pick a comfortable layout. Don’t fly 10-abreast 777s. Pick a flight that has high potential to be undersold (if you can).
#2 Sleep (if you can). Sleep is more likely if you’re tired before the flight starts (stay up late?). Sleep is more likely if #1 above.
#3 Entirely agree with dressing in layers. I have a heavy champion hoodie that I like to carry; be it worn or balled up into a pillow – I always try to bring it along.
Agree with all of these. But I just can’t do it anymore. My 13 hour DC to Hawaii flight had no less than five children under two on board. It was like a flying daycare. Never again.