Aviation Travel

How I Survive Long Flights

I’ve been asked a few times to share some of my tips for surviving long haul (10+ hour airline flights). To be honest, at this point I don’t really mind long flights so much. I get to watch all the bad movies that I want, I catch up with my Kindle, and I get to eat in a reclining position. What’s so bad? But I do have a few routines that I do on all of my long flights, to make them more tolerable, besides the obvious “bring your own entertainment,” “bring your own snacks” pieces of advice. So here are some that I’d like to share with you today..and I’d love to hear your survival tips as well in the comments!


1. Lots and lots and lots of water. I am obsessed with drinking water on planes. I have a procedure down pat – right before boarding and after security, I go and buy the biggest bottle (usually around a liter) of water that I can find in a gift shop, along with a smaller bottle of sparkling.

Then on the plane, I always ask for both sparkling and still water at any opportunity before and during the meal service. And drink it all. I don’t open my own bottles until bedtime, when there’s less service. Also, in business/first I always ask for the individual bottle of water if it isn’t already placed during turndown.

That equals two smaller and one large bottle of water…not to mention all of the water I ask for during meal/snack service. And yes, I drink every last drop. It helps keep my skin hydrated, and I’m convinced it helps me adapt jet lag wise. Do it! There’s virtually no downside, except for the cost of the water and the many bathroom breaks.

One of my favorite plane sets - the long version of this Eberjey set

One of my favorite plane outfits – the long version of this Eberjey set

PS: You’re supposed to drink even more water when you’re pregnant by the way, and in the past quarter I’ve taken three transcontinental flights along with a bunch of domestic ones. I have found myself feeling more dehydrated in the past….so fellow preggos, you especially need to drink up on flights.

2. Changing into pajamas, immediately. My routine immediately upon boarding a plane – take off my coat and hand it over to be hung in a closet (I always wear my heaviest outerwear so that I don’t have to pack it), ask for water by my seat, stow luggage, and grab a little netted bag where I’ve folded my pajamas and dash straight into the plane bathroom. In there, I change into my pajamas, put my hair up, fold my regular clothes and stow in the bag, and I’m super comfortable for the rest of the flight. Seriously, once you go pajamas on a long haul flight…you don’t go back.

3. No makeup at all, and a fresh application of skincare products immediately after takeoff. After I change clothes, I always wash my face clean of any makeup. Please note: I never, ever use the water in the faucet in plane bathrooms (and neither should you) for anything (amended to say – I do use it to wash my hands, but will usually follow up with sanitizer after. I am paranoid). That water is very, very dirty! I usually end up just doing a swipe with my current favorite Lancome cleansing water instead – super neat, no rinsing necessary, no need to towel dry.

After I rinse, I put on fresh serum and moisturizer. I usually keep a small bottom of my favorite current facial oil on hand during the flight as well, to make sure my skin doesn’t dry out.


4. Socks and slippers. I’ve stopped taking home toiletries at hotels. My stash was getting out of hand, and I have enough tiny bottles of Aesop and L’Occitane for a lifetime anyway. What I do continue to grab however, are hotel slippers when they’re refreshed each night. I save these in my luggage, and use them the next time I travel. A lot of the times when I’m on a plane, I’ve worn boots on board since they take up so much room when packed otherwise. I don’t like wearing boots on long flights however – they’re obviously not as comfortable, and hard to take on and off when going to the the bathroom or walking around the plane. So, instead I usually take off my boots or shoes after I’ve settled in my seat, and put on some disposable slippers instead (which I obviously leave behind on the plane).

Some business/first class amenity kits do include slippers – however I can never remember which airlines always have it (Japanese ones are a good bet though), so I always have a pair in my luggage. All airline long haul amenity kits I’ve received have included socks – but I like to wear my own socks, and then slip on the airline’s over them. Double protection against germs. Yup.

5. Gigantic shawl. I’ve said it before many times – a huge, soft comfortable shawl is absolutely necessary for a long plane ride. It can double as a small blanket, a layer to keep you warm, folded up it can be a little pillow. A warm, big shawl is my security blanket on any flight and I never travel without one.

So there we have it….some of my favorite ways to survive long haul flights. What are yours?

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  • Celine
    June 1, 2015 at 9:49 am

    I’m sorry if this is a dumb question but how do you manage to change in such a tiny bathroom without touching any of the germy surfaces?

    • Katherine
      June 1, 2015 at 10:25 am

      Hi Celine, not a dumb question. I like to use the bathroom when it’s freshly cleaned (which is why I dash in soon after boarding). I copiously use paper towels to basically cover EVERY surface that my stuff might touch – that includes the counter tops, anywhere else. I place my netted bag on top, then place my folded clothes on top of the bag. I’m a germaphobe and use a bunch of paper towels everywhere!!!

      • Anonymous
        June 2, 2015 at 11:43 am

        But isn’t the excessive and unnecessary usage of paper towels a wasteful, and causes harm to the environment?

        • Jenny
          June 2, 2015 at 3:21 pm

          I honestly this is such a troll comment. No where in the entry does she mention being environmentally conscious in her efforts to be comfortable on long hauls. It may be a concern to her and she may decide that she’ll compensate elsewhere in her life by being conscientious in her cleaning purchases or which bin she throws her food containers, but this is all speculation. It’s not on topic.

          • Jenny
            June 2, 2015 at 3:22 pm


          • Katherine
            June 2, 2015 at 4:34 pm

            LOL thanks…for some reason this post has gotten into some extremely detailed step by step descriptions 🙂

  • tata
    June 1, 2015 at 10:20 am

    Avene thermal spring water spray. i spray on my face all the time on flights.
    Also, a good noise cancelling headphones.

    • Katherine
      June 1, 2015 at 10:30 pm

      You know, I don’t have a pair of noise canceling headphones…I’ve always erred on the side of not wanting to add another electronic item to my carry on goodies. But everyone raves, so I’m thinking I may need to try a pair.

      • Marilyn
        June 12, 2015 at 7:24 pm

        Bose now makes in-ear noise cancelling headphones that are very compact and very comfortable. i highly recommend.

        • Katherine
          June 13, 2015 at 11:02 am

          Thanks Marilyn!

  • Cassie
    June 1, 2015 at 11:14 am

    These are fantastic tips! I’ve always packed an empty bottle to take through security that I have filled for free at the closest Starbucks. I can see how on a longer flight buying larger bottles would be an asset though. I love the idea of switching into pajamas as well. I’ll have to give that one a try on my next international trip!

    • Katherine
      June 1, 2015 at 10:29 pm

      That empty bottle is a great idea. I’ve always thought about it and end up forgetting. I’ve given enough money to Starbucks that I never feel guilty getting them to fill up my water 🙂

  • Jules
    June 1, 2015 at 11:21 am

    Absolutely adore your posts!

  • Vivian
    June 1, 2015 at 11:49 am

    I have to try the Lancome cleansing water! Looks perfect for travelling! Thank you for your great tips.

  • Kelly
    June 1, 2015 at 5:44 pm

    How can you take that Lancôme cleansing water water on the plane? It’s over 3.4 fluid oz

    • Katherine
      June 1, 2015 at 7:46 pm

      I use one of my travel containers – it’s really easy to dump some of the cleansing water in, no need for a foaming pump or anything either.

  • Jo
    June 1, 2015 at 7:17 pm

    On top of moisturizing, I usually apply a sleeping mask to keep my skin hydrated and it is definitely less frightening than sheet masks!

    • Katherine
      June 1, 2015 at 7:47 pm

      Yes great tip!!! Which sleeping mask do you use?

      • Jo
        June 1, 2015 at 11:55 pm

        I use the Laneige water sleeping mask! It applies on clear and they are usually quite generous with samples so I keep those samples for flights.

        • Katherine
          June 2, 2015 at 4:35 pm

          I have the same and like it too. Just wish it wasn’t so heavily scented!

  • caitlyn
    June 1, 2015 at 11:03 pm

    Great tips! I’m not much of a traveler (my last 10+ hour flight was in 2001!!!) but I like your suggestions. Funny, I always think about the germy surfaces in the bathroom but it never *once* occurred to me that the water is dirty!

  • Rachelle
    June 1, 2015 at 11:32 pm

    compression socks, saline nasal spray, and wireless sleep headphones.

    • Deedee
      June 2, 2015 at 1:56 am

      Sleep headphones – genius! Could you recommend a brand?

  • Sara
    June 2, 2015 at 12:57 am

    Thanks for the great tips! I’m going out on a long haul flight soon, I’ll be sure to change and drink water the next time! x

  • Deedee
    June 2, 2015 at 2:03 am

    I made bad expierences with covering the bathroom with paper towels- they tend to slip away easily. I always have sanitizer wipes with me, preferably the ones that you can flush away in the toilet.

  • bisbee
    June 2, 2015 at 6:38 am

    I don’t fly all that often, and I’ve only gone to Europe once (last year – finally), so I don’t have that much experience. I do, however, even on short flights, ALWAYS bring my own water in addition to what is served. I also bring sanitizer wipes, and the first thing I do is wipe down the trays – top and bottom – and the arm rests. I always used to get sick after flying, but this seems to help – they (hopefully) clean the bathrooms but they don’t have time to clean the surfaces at each seat!

    Maybe if I took very long flights more often I’d feel differently about changing, but the idea of changing into pajamas on the flights I take doesn’t sit well with me – especially since I have hardly ever flown anything but economy class!

    • Katherine
      June 2, 2015 at 1:50 pm

      The sanitizing wipes are a great tip and one that I started using as well after I got pregnant….my husband insisted that I wipe down EVERYTHING and it gives you such peace of mind! I will continue doing it!

  • Falnangel
    June 2, 2015 at 3:26 pm

    I used to not mind long flights….until about 10 days ago I dragged my almost 2 year old crossed the Atlantic on a 17 hour trip to China. The trip was about 24 hours door to door and my son slept for a whole 3 hours which means almost none for me. Dealing with an overly tired/excited toddler was excruciating! Would love to hear tips about flying with a toddler from your readers.

    • Katherine
      June 2, 2015 at 4:35 pm

      This is of interest to me too, I’d love to hear tips, and hopefully can provide some later on 🙂

  • caro
    June 2, 2015 at 3:47 pm

    if you do not touch the water from the bathroom…..how do you wash your hands every time (of the many times you said ) you have to go to the bathroom ?

    • Katherine
      June 2, 2015 at 4:33 pm

      I think we’re getting way into the weeds here, but I do use it to wash my hands, and use hand sanitizer after…

  • shortstack
    June 2, 2015 at 8:49 pm

    Ew, I never thought about the water in airplane bathrooms! I will think twice before splashing on my face now so good pro tip!

    I agree with staying hydrated but when you fly economy, like most of us plebes do, you do kind of monitor your liquid intake because you don’t want to have to use that gross toilet too many times. And you will have to stand in line for it most of the time too. It’s tough to stay comfortable in economy. There’s no reclining and eating. There are no pajamas. (Well, you could go change into your own pajamas but you’re going to get some pretty weird looks!) You’ll feel lucky if the guy in front of you doesn’t lower his chair into your lap.

    I bring an inflatable neck pillow to support the neck when you fall asleep, and eye drops to soothe dry eyes on a plane.

    • Olivia
      June 3, 2015 at 2:00 pm

      I gotta agree with this comment; I just take a “grin and bear it” attitude towards long flights in Economy, and don’t ever expect to be too comfortable, cozy, relaxed, or refreshed afterwards! I do bring a shawl, which is nicer than the thin blankets provided. Flip flops or clean gym socks are nice to walk around in. Headphones are a must. Sleep mask and ear plugs can help. I also pack my own snacks, and often prefer to bring aboard my meal (usually a cold sandwich) rather than eat the airline meal. Lastly, I make a beeline to the nearest restroom upon arrival, to splash my face with water, reapply makeup, and generally attempt to resemble a human being again!

      • Katherine
        June 3, 2015 at 4:18 pm

        I laughed at your comments on resembling a human. I’m the same way, though I’ll usually try to hide with sunglasses (only if appropriate, never indoors) and a big shawl until I can hide in my hotel room.

    • Katherine
      June 3, 2015 at 4:17 pm

      I do bring my own pajamas…unless I’m sure the airline is going to provide 🙂 Good tips on the eye drops!

  • Jessica
    June 3, 2015 at 2:17 am

    I love this post and love all of your tips! As I have started to be more conscious of my aging skin, your tips on hydration are very helpful. And I never thought of changing into pajamas or bringing a big shawl or wearing my most bulky pieces of clothing. I am taking a 14 hour trip this summer and would love to try some of these things but I’ll have my 2 young kids with me. Somehow I think running to the bathroom to change or going to use the toilet frequently will not do. I hope you won’t suffer the same fate as me when you have your little one! Congratulations by the way!!

    • Katherine
      June 3, 2015 at 4:17 pm

      Thanks so much! You know, I’m pretty sure my plane routine is going to be drastically altered by the upcoming arrival….!

  • nancy
    June 3, 2015 at 4:28 pm

    My travel shawls have been great souvenirs I’ve picked up in China. One thick cashmere one by Woo cashmere and another oversized plain bright blue cashmere one from pearl market in Shanghai. A necessity!

  • Friday Things
    June 5, 2015 at 4:01 am

    […] Have a long distance flight in your future? These tips from Katherine will help… I can’t reiterate the water thing […]