What is considered a long-haul flight?

What is considered a long-haul flight?

At 18 hours and 45 minutes, one of the longest flights in the world is from New York City (JFK) to Singapore (SIN). Some long-haul flights are so long that they are considered ultra-long-haul flights. These are flights that last longer than 12 hours. However, the direction that the airplane is traveling matters – as the same flight back to New York reduces that time by traveling against the rotation of Earth. Crossing the international date line has the greatest impact on the loss or gain of time. 

The longest non-stop flight that I have traveled on was slightly shorter: from San Francisco (SFO) to Singapore (SIN), which took 17 hours and 25 minutes. However, on the way back to San Francisco, the flight was only 14 hours and 40 minutes. In fact, because we crossed the international date line, we gained time and arrived at SFO one hour earlier (on the same day) than when we left Singapore!  

Long-haul flights can be daunting even for the most seasoned travel enthusiasts. As someone who has circled the globe multiple times, I've learned that the difference between an exhausting flight and an entertaining journey lies in the preparation and choices you make before and during the flight. Here's a comprehensive guide to mastering the art of long-haul travel.

Pre-Flight Preparation

Pre-Flight Preparation

Choosing the Right Flight and arrival time

Selecting the right airline and flight can significantly impact your travel experience. Look for airlines renowned for their long-haul comfort – I once flew on Singapore Airlines that offered extra legroom and it was a game-changer. Consider the arrival time of the flight as you will probably want to head straight to your hotel, check in, and go to sleep. I find that arriving in the evening at my destination provides the opportunity to take advantage of a long sleep to get adjusted to the time difference, and avoid most of the effects of jet-lag.

Booking the Best Seat

Your seat on the plane can make or break your flight experience. Aisle seats offer easy access to move around, while window seats provide a place to rest your head. Use seat maps available on airline websites to avoid seats near the lavatories or galleys, as these can be noisy and disruptive.

Carry-On Must-Haves

Packing Essentials

Carry-On Must-Haves

Your carry-on should include items that cater to your in-flight comfort. Pack your favorite snacks and beverages. A high-quality travel pillow and a soft blanket are essentials. Eye masks and noise canceling headphones are lifesavers when you need to block out cabin lights and noise. When using headphones on long-haul flights, you may run out of battery, so having a backup plan, like corded headphones or a charger, is helpful.

Managing Carry-ons

Once all your entertainment and comfort essentials are packed, consider an extra pair of lightweight clothing just in case you need to change your clothes. Roll your clothes to save space in your bag, and bring comfy socks to keep your toes warm when you remove your shoes. Pack a toothbrush, toothpaste, and a washcloth to freshen up before landing. Also, consider using a backpack for its durability and ability to work as a foot rest during the long flight. 

Dressing for the Flight

Comfortable Attire

Wear breathable, loose-fitting clothing. I’ve made the mistake of wearing tight jeans on a 14-hour flight – never again! Opt for layers; a comfortable base layer and a warm sweater or jacket allow you to adjust to varying cabin temperatures. Bring a light blanket that can be used for warmth, as a pillow, or for neck comfort.  I have also thrown a blanket over my head to keep the light out and for privacy. 

If there are no foot rests or opportunity to elevate your feet, I found that it was helpful to prop my feet up on my backpack that rested on the floor. This provides a change in position for your legs, which will do wonders for your comfort. 

In-Flight Wellness

Staying Hydrated and Nourished

Airplane cabins are notoriously dry. Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water. Avoid alcohol and caffeine, as they can dehydrate you and affect your sleep. Opt for light meals – airlines usually cater to this, but it doesn't hurt to bring your own healthy snacks.

Combatting Jet Lag

Adjust your watch to your destination's time zone as soon as you board. Try to sleep and eat according to the new time zone. On a flight to Tokyo several years ago, I adjusted my sleep schedule by sleeping during the flight and found it easier to adapt upon arrival in the morning.

Entertainment and Productivity

In-Flight Entertainment Options

Don't rely solely on the airline's entertainment system. Most long-haul flights offer a range of movies and shows, but I always bring a fully-charged tablet loaded with my favorite content. Take the opportunity to binge watch a favorite series. Prepare your tablet with downloads and be sure to check the applications to see if you can watch them programs while offline or when in a different country. There may be some restrictions, so be aware of them. I found that, if you download the series and remain disconnected from the internet, then the location restrictions were not a factor. I once watched a full season of Goliath on a flight from Reykjavik, Iceland to San Francisco, California. Viewing the breath-taking sites of Greenland and the Canadian Archipelago from the window while binge-watching the program was an extraordinary delight.

Productive Ways to Spend Your Flight

Long flights offer uninterrupted time to catch up on reading, work, or even start a new hobby. I once learned the basics of a new language (Spanish) on a flight to Madrid, making my trip even more enjoyable. While traveling from Istanbul to San Francisco, on a 17-hour flight, I took the time to outline a book that I have always wanted to start.  When returning home, I often take the time to review and organize my photos from my trip. This is also a great time to create and edit videos of your travels. 

Health and Safety

Stretching and Moving

Sitting for long periods can increase the risk of Deep vein thrombosis, or DVT. Walk around the cabin every few hours and do simple stretches in your seat. On my 18-hour flight from San Francisco to Singapore, I made sure to stretch regularly, which made a noticeable difference in how I felt upon landing which eliminated the swollen feeling. 

Health Precautions

Maintain good hygiene by washing your hands regularly and using hand sanitizer. Keep hydrated by bringing your own bottles of water. Keep your seat belt fastened so you are ready for any turbulence along the way.  

Long-haul flights can be a delightful time. With the right preparation and mindset, they can be a comfortable and an enjoyable part of your travel adventure. Remember, the journey is as important as the destination. Happy travels!

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January 10, 2024 — Zach Stevenot

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