Spending long hours in the air is challenging, but the difference between an enjoyable long flight and a painful one lies in how well prepared you are to survive the long hours, especially if flying Economy.
We have asked cabin crew, frequent flyers and our online community of over 350,000 solo female travelers how they spend time on long haul flights to put together this list of tips and things to do on long flights.
The goal is to navigate those extended hours with purpose and comfort and most of all to say goodbye to boredom and hello to a well-spent journey.
Before you board the plane
The perfect long flight experience starts on the ground with a bit of pre-flight planning.
Simple details such as checking your travel documents, organizing the necessary items in your carry-on, and making sure you have everything you’ll need in the air can make a difference in how your flight will go.
Upgrade your seat
Upgrading to Premium Economy or Business Class is the best way to make a long flight more bearable. If that’s out of your price range, the next best option is booking a premium seat.
Most airlines will let you pre-book a seat, often for an extra charge, ahead of check in, and you should always take advantage of that. Leaving your seat choice to the airline check in system is almost always guaranteed to allocate you a middle seat, especially if you are traveling alone.
The choice of seats available for pre-booking will usually depend on the fare you booked and the airline.
Cheaper fares on an airline you have no status usually means you only have access to standard seats, so the best you can do is choose between a window or aisle seat.
Higher fares, or higher status in the airline’s loyalty program, may open up options for premium seats with more legroom such as those in the emergency exit row or the first row in Economy.
Needless to say, seats with more legroom provide additional space to stretch your legs and could be a must for tall passengers or those who experience leg cramps on extended journeys.
They also make it much easier to get in and out, even if you are in the middle seat, so visits to the toilet (yours or your seat mates) are less bothersome for everyone.
Premium seats may also offer more recline which make sleeping more comfortable, or be farther away from the galley or the toilets, making them quieter.
Choose a special meal in advance
Being well nourished on a long flight should be the next goal after selecting the right seat.
Most airlines flying long haul routes will have in-flight meals included in the fare, but it’s a good idea to confirm beforehand. After going hungry on a 10-hour flight to Cuba, I don’t take this for granted anymore.
If you have dietary requirements or allergies, most airlines will offer the option of selecting a special meal before the flight. These may need to be ordered 48 to 72 hours ahead of time so always check with the airline.
Choosing a special meal has its advantages even if you don’t have dietary requirements. These are always served first, so you don’t have to wait for the trolley to reach your row and can go to sleep earlier on overnight flights.
For example, I often pick low calorie meals so I am sure to get healthier options instead of the greasy and fatty meals that are often served.
Pro tip: Ordering a special meal means that you don’t get to choose what you get, beyond the requirement you have given, unlike regular meals which usually have two options, so you need to be an easygoing person when it comes to food.
Download entertainment for offline use
If your long flight happens during the day or you are a bad plane sleeper, boredom is a sure thing and it is best combated by downloading enough entertainment for offline use. Even if the flight has internet, it may not be strong or stable enough for streaming so make sure to not rely on connectivity.
Come prepared with a good mix of music, audio books, podcasts, ebooks or even meditation sessions and affirmations if flying is an extra stressful activity for you.
My personal favorites to download are guidebooks for destination insights so that I can do a little research on the sites that I might want to see, find the best cafes and restaurants to visit and local dishes to try when I am at my destination.
Do not rely on the onboard entertainment system for movies and series as many airlines have terrible options available. Download your own from Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, Disney, HBO or your local platforms.
Pro tip: Download more series and movies than the flight duration may require, so you have options in case you start watching something you don’t like or your flight is delayed and you are longer in the air than anticipated.
Charge all devices
Needless to say, it’s key to make sure all your devices and power banks are fully charged before the flight.
Access to power outlets may be limited on a plane, you may have access to only one outlet and it will most likely charge at very slow speed. Being self sufficient when it comes to power will remove a layer of stress and make your long haul flight more enjoyable.
Pro tip: Pack your travel adaptor in your carry on so that you can use the power outlets no matter the type of socket. If you plan to use a USB charger, make sure it is USB A (the older rectangular version) and not USB C (the newer rounded version) as most planes are still on the older system.
What you wear on a flight can make a big difference to how you feel after sitting on it for many hours.
When choosing your plane outfit, bear in mind that you’ll have to sit on it for a long time, that the temperature may vary a lot and that at high altitudes, and that your body is not able to digest food in the same way it would do on the ground.
For this reason, the key to make your long flight more comfortable is to wear comfortable loungewear and layers you can take off or add.
Solo Female Travelers Co-Founder Mar Pages, who takes 4 to 8 flights every month and has for the last 17 years, has a go-to plane outfit she puts on whenever she flies.
Her outfit is made of a pair of loose loungewear trousers with a wide and soft elastic waistband and a gray and beige pattern, a short or long sleeve t-shirt depending on the season, and a fluffy zip-up jacket, regardless of whether it is summer or winter. In winter, she will also add a scarf. Her shoes do change with the seasons from a pair of flats in summer to a pair of sneakers in the fall or spring and a pair of boots in winter.
Here’s why she chooses this outfit.
Loose and soft-fitting clothing helps avoid feeling constrained from the bloating that naturally happens during a flight because of the altitude and the lower oxygen and pressure, and helps reduce the risk of deep-vein thrombosis which occurs when you sit still or in cramped spaces without moving.
Pro tip: Avoid bras with underwires and clips in the back so that you do not feel constantly poked or suffocated, especially if the seatback is particularly hard.
Temperature and weather is another important factor when deciding your long haul outfit.
The temperature inside the cabin can fluctuate a lot during a long haul flight and go from cozy to freezing. Your location in the cabin, the type of aircraft and the number of passengers in the plane and in the area you are sitting in can also determine how cold or warm it is.
Solo Female Travelers’ Community Manager, Gaby Orozco, used to be a flight attendant for Qatar Airways and let us in on some of the insights.
“The temperature of an aircraft depends on the airline and the cabin supervisor. For short flights and when the plane is full, blankets may not be enough for everybody so the supervisor would increase the temperature.”
She adds that “Ventilation systems in each aircraft model also vary. For example, on the smaller Airbus A320s, because of the way the air conditioning gets distributed, the front part of the cabin is cold while the middle is very hot.”
Outside temperature also affects the plane’s. “Flight attendants would always decrease the temperature on flights leaving Doha in the summer when the weather is really hot and increase it in the winter when departing from Russia.”
Because of all the reasons mentioned above, wear layers you can add or take off as needed. This way you can stay warm in the plane and when you land at the destination.
Pro tip: Wearing a zip up jacket with inner pockets makes it easy to store all your valuables so everything is handy and safe even if you fall asleep.
Gaby also recommends wearing flat shoes as high heels are not only impractical but also unsafe in case of an emergency as they can puncture the slide or make it harder for you to run, even on the ground if you are late for a flight. The same goes with sandals which are open and may come off in case of an emergency.
If you are wearing tight shoes, consider taking them off during the flight to help with blood flow and comfort. But don’t walk around bare feet, put on plane socks or slippers over your feet to walk around the cabin, these are some of the dirtiest surfaces you have ever seen, and aren’t always cleaned regularly. That liquid you see on the bathroom floor, is hardly ever water.
Fill your water bottle
Being mildly dehydrated can cause pain on your articulations, make you feel more tired, bring out wrinkles you didn’t know you had, dry out your nasal passages (which can result in bleeding) and even cause headaches.
Aim to drink a glass of water for every hour in the air. Take every drink offered by the crew, limit your alcohol intake as that only adds to the risk of dehydration, and bring your own water bottle. I have a very light and flat one like this one which is much better suited for travel and can be hanged anywhere.
Fill it up before boarding, after security checks so it does not get confiscated, so you have free access to it during your flight whether the crew makes drinks available or not.
Pro tip: To fight dehydration, add an electrolyte tablet inside your water bottle and sip it regularly to even out your hydration.
As mentioned earlier, long haul flights will typically include inflight meals and even snacks, but these may not be of your liking or enough for you, so it’s always a good idea to pack your favorite ones.
We asked our community which snacks to bring and they had diverse and useful recommendations to give.
Erica likes to bring, “Something sweet, something salty and something healthy so I am ready for any type of craving.”
In terms of what snacks to specifically pack, bear in mind that they will be outside of the fridge for hours before you get to them, that they need to travel well and be easy to enjoy and that there are border restrictions on some types of items such as fresh fruits which need to be eaten or disposed off before going through customs in countries like Australia.
Don’t be afraid to pack more rather than less, as these “will be great snacks to have during the trip and can replace a meal if I get to my hotel room late and don’t feel like going out to dinner”, says Bethany, another community member.
Some of the best snacks include protein or cereal bars, fruits that are easy to peel or can be eaten without utensils such as bananas, apples or mandarins, carrots, dark chocolate, bread sticks.
During the flight
You’re finally on board so it’s time to get comfy and build yourself a cozy nest to pass the next few hours as fast as possible.
Store what you will need during your flight in your seat area and place the rest in the overhead bins or under the seat in front of you.
It’s time to put in practice all our tips to stay entertained during a long flight.
Clean your tray and armrest
Planes are dirty places.
Things improved during COVID, but have fallen back to pre-pandemic levels since with very few of the measures striking out.
Cleaning is not thorough or done at all in between flights for the simple reason that there is usually not enough time, especially on short haul flights. That’s why sometimes you might find forgotten trash or stains from spills by previous passengers.
Flight attendants share that five dirtiest parts on a plane are the overhead bins, tray tables, instructions cards, toilet handles and seat covers. Others agree that the seat pockets are the dirtiest since they are never clean and they tend to be the place where unsavory items are stored, from used tissues to socks, feet and rubbish in general.
If you wish to play safe, start your trip with a thorough clean up with disinfectant wipes. Clean at least your tray and armrest. You might also wish to bring with you an antibacterial spray for fabrics with which you can spray your seat. Make sure this is odor free so as not to bother the rest of the passengers.
Read the safety instructions and magazines
You’ve probably noticed that in the pocket attached to the front passenger’s seat, there’s usually a leaflet with safety instructions and one or two magazines offered by the airline. I’ve always enjoyed reading the safety instructions for obvious reasons and also because airline magazines are usually a treasure trove of travel tips and hip places to explore.
The second magazine you usually find in the pocket is the one listing the duty free goodies. Instead of buying items at the airport’s duty free, I prefer to get them from the inflight duty free sales so I do not waste time shopping at the airport and do not need to carry it through my whole trip.
Enjoy the take off
If you are a flying enthusiast then you’ve probably booked a window seat already. For those who love to fly, taking off is the best part and it’s equally exhilarating no matter if you are a first timer or an experienced traveler.
The transition from ground to sky doesn’t only offer great views but it’s a thrill worth feeling as it marks the beginning of your own personal adventure.
I do not usually use my headphones till the seat belt sign is off because I do not want to interrupt the taking off ritual. Once I am able to see the clouds underneath the airplane and no sign of land anymore, this is my queue to start switching on my inflight entertainment system.
Eat & Drink
Long haul flights will usually enjoy 2 meals and sometimes snacks in between. Eating and drinking is one of my favorite ways to pass time on a long flight. I love seeing what will be offered and the many small nibbles that come with my tray.
Even in Economy, where you don’t get the fancy meals upper cabins get, I’ve enjoyed ice cream cones, silky chocolate mousse desserts, lovely salads and spicy curries, especially on Asian airlines which are known to offer the best economy class food.
The lack of distraction in the air, and the noise canceling headphones, are also an opportunity to be present and enjoy every bite of the meal rather than gulping down the food as fast as possible.
I also take advantage of the drinks cart and have as much water and other drinks as are offered so I can stay hydrated.
Unless I am on a flight by a dry airline such as Saudia, EgyptAir, Air Brunei or Air Arabia, I enjoy one glass of wine with my meal, it is my guilty inflight pleasure.
Socialize with your neighbor
Through the years, I’ve seen many passengers start a conversation with their seatmate, and so have I. This can be a comforting experience if you are anxious about flying and need to take your mind off it, and also a great way to spend time during a long flight.
On the first flight to Saudi Arabia since the country’s opening to tourism, our Co-Founder Mar Pages, got chatty with the gentleman sitting next to her who was excited to see the first visitors to his country. He was so happy about the change that he gave her his business card and offered to help with anything she needed.
I have a friend who met her husband on a flight. They were both going to Thailand on an open ended backpacking trip and ended up sitting next to each other. They went their separate ways upon landing but stayed in touch and their paths crossed more than once.
You never know who could be sitting next to you but, if they look like they are open to a conversation, this could be the most fun way to make a long flight feel like a short haul.
Watch a movie or an entire series
The easiest and most popular way to entertain yourself on a long flight is watching a movie or show.
When Mar used to travel for work every week, before inflight WiFi and Netflix became a thing, she would look forward to every month’s new movie releases in the inflight entertainment system.
Today, you can bring your own choice of inflight entertainment in the form of movies and shows downloaded right to your phone or tablet.
Pro tip: Make sure to pack a device to hold your phone up so you don’t have to hold it for the duration of the flight which is pretty inconvenient.
Long flights are your chance at binge watching that show or movie that you have not found the time to play, or that acclaimed documentary. Comedy shows are also a great choice on long flights since they keep you entertained and your mood high. The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, The Late Late Show with James Corden or any other popular talk show are great options too.
Listen to music
Did you know that there’s music scientifically engineered to help you sleep on a plane?
The same way a song brings you sorrow or reminds you of a sad or happy moment, certain sounds will prompt you to sleep.
But sleep is not the only reason to listen to music. The right playlist can put you in a happy mood or help you immerse in the destination. Nothing better than great salsa to set the scene for your trip to Cuba.
Listen to an audiobook or podcast
Audiobooks are a fantastic way to spend your time and the best entertainment on long haul flights. There are plenty of ways to get audiobooks even if you are a beginner, Amazon offers numerous options through a membership. They are also much lighter than having to carry a book on your vacation.
Pro tip: Check if your local library has a selection of audiobooks you can borrow, mine does and it is free.
Podcasts are another alternative to audiobooks that are freely available. Some of them are true crime stories or even readings or representations of books, others are about current affairs or the news and there are many industry specific podcasts that you can catch up on.
Even the Washington Post dedicated a whole article on the best podcasts and audiobooks to save for a long travel day as voted by travel experts.
Read a book
If you are a lover of the smell of books when your fingers go through the pages I totally get you, plus they are there even when you don’t have any more battery.
Plan your trip
Better than a book, bring an old fashioned guide book with you and prepare your trip on paper, like we used to do before the age of ChatGPT and the internet, making notes on the sides, highlighting choices of restaurants and bars and folding the tips of pages with the most useful recommendations.
I still keep all the Lonely Planet and Bradt guides I bought through the years and they are the best decoration on my shelf.
Familiarize yourself with the destination using a map and figure out where everything you want to see is and organize a high level day by day itinerary so when you land, you can hit the ground running.
Learn a few words in a new language
One of the most efficient ways to pass time on a long flight is by putting it to good use and learning a language, especially if it is the one of your destination.
We have a list of the best language learning apps here and recommend Mondly above all the others. You can download the entire content of the language you are learning and then do all the lessons offline in the plane.
Try to get some sleep
In long haul flights it’s crucial to get some sleep.
Here is my go to comfort kit for sleeping on planes:
- A travel pillow. I recently purchased this premium pillow from TRVL which had been widely recommended in our community and by some of the guests on our group tours and I have to say it is a game changer.
- Manta Sleep sleep mask is another must have, especially the one with the bluetooth player which not only blocks light but also sound. Pair it with the Calm app sleep meditations and you have the perfect companion to sleep in planes. Or go the multi-purpose way as suggested by community member Nicole, “a buff can be used as a great sleep mask”
- If eye masks are not for you, you should at least get a pair of Bose noise-canceling headphones which will seriously improve your movie and TV show experience inflight. They are so incredible at blocking sound that you will feel like you are floating. It’s mind blowing, and Bose is the leader making the same model for decades. Plus they are designed for travel and will pack into a small hard case pouch. As Dania, a member of our community puts it, “Best purchase I’ve ever made for traveling”.
- For the low-tech ones out there, a pair of earplugs are a cheap and convenient alternative. They are also great on long haul flights when the headsets end up hurting your ears. These ones are fall-proof and will stay even when you sleep so they can be used at the destination if you are traveling somewhere noisy like Latin America where music plays all night long no matter where you are.
If you occasionally use sleeping pills, this is not the time to overdo it. Any cabin crew will share stories of passengers having a hard time waking back up after taking sleeping pills in the air. They are also a hazard in case of an emergency.
Save yourself the embarrassment and the risk and the crew from the trouble and take some valerian or melatonin instead. These are milder and more natural options which are preferable for first timers who do not know how their body would react to the use of actual sleeping pills.
Review and edit the photos from your trip
On your way back home, one of the ebay ways to spend time is reliving the memories from your trip and editing your best photos.
This can be easily done on your phone with your photo app, or with fancier apps such as Lightroom. Delete blurry photos or pick the best one from a multi shot photo series.
Adult drawing or coloring books
Coloring is no longer the domain of children and has been proven to have numerous benefits for adults.
It can help with depression and anxiety, it can boost the ability to meditate, keep the mind sharp, offer a distraction when necessary, like on a long flight, and so much more.
Amazon has a wide selection of coloring books for grown ups. You can use markers, pencils, gel pens and crayons to draw while there is an abundance of drawing patterns to choose from. It can be animals, landscapes, portraits, mythology, fun, colorful, humorous, soothing, calming or inspirational.
Fans of comics and movies can find coloring books featuring their favorite characters. Others might prefer mandalas with their geometric patterns that carry spiritual significance.
Guided meditations can help to ease both physical and mental stress associated with air travel and deep breathing exercises can help calm the nervous system.
Meditation techniques vary from person to person. If you have your own breathing routine you can just concentrate and follow it or you can just choose a guided meditation session instead. I like the Calm App for this.
Play a game
If you are a gamer you probably won’t survive a long haul flight without playing. There are many games for android devices that work perfectly on flight mode. Apple also offers great offline games. Make sure you download your favorite ones before the flight.
Chess, sudoku, puzzles and crosswords could be included in this section as they can be enjoyed on your phones and tablets as well. If you are the traditional type on the other hand, just bring along your Sudoku Crossword Puzzle Books and enjoy to the max.
Get work done
Are you combining work with pleasure or have deadlines to meet that cannot be extended? Use some of your free time to catch up on some work and use the following tips for productivity on long flights.
As the internet is not to be trusted up in the air, make sure you download all the necessary documents to get the job done. This includes offline access to emails and any software or apps you might need, like Google documents.
Identify the tasks you can realistically accomplish during the flight and complete them in order of priority. Make sure all your portable devices are charged in advance and wear noise-canceling headphones for better concentration.
Try to get as comfortable as possible, bring your glasses and use eye drops to keep your eyes moist.
Journal or scrapbook
It doesn’t matter if you are experienced or a newbie traveler, keeping a journal, whether it be of your travels or a general one, is fun, creative and useful at the same time. And it’s never too late to get started. Pack a notebook and pens or pencils.
Choose a notebook with a nice cover or make your own cover using a photo from your trip on the way back, if you are planning on dedicating it to adventure. Bring glue if you plan to make it a scrapbook, and keep tickets from places you visit and other memorabilia to fill the pages.
Amazon is full of journal options and ideas and you can also check Etsy for more crafty alternative.
I have a friend who does not get on a plane without a face sheet mask. I used to think she was funny, but now I realize she was right.
Self care on a plane is on the rise and what frequent flyers do to stay fresh even after a 10 hour flight.
Start by keeping your eyes moist with lubricating eye drops so they do not feel itchy or dry. I am shortsighted and I usually wear contact lenses but willingly give them up for my glasses when I fly. If I decide to wear my lenses I make sure to take them off at some point during the flight to reduce the redness and fatigue. It’s not healthy to sleep with the lenses on anyway.
If you wear make up, remove it before you go to sleep, just like you would at home. It will help keep your skin clean and hydrated and follow your usual night routine, which should improve your sleep.
Follow with a face sheet mask and relax for twenty minutes while listening to an audio book, a podcast, music or even meditating.
Finish off by applying serums, lip balm, moisturizing face and eye cream. Put on your eye mask, ear plugs and neck pillow and you’re ready for bed.
If you feel embarrassed or worried you’ll scare your seatmate, here’s how you can make it all more subtle.
Use odorless products and replace the sheet mask with an invisible, leave-in, transparent mask in a gel form. I personally use Elemis and Kiehl’s products. Or simply wait for them to fall asleep to start your routine.
Last but not least, saline nose sprays may help with inflight dryness.
Walk and stretch as much as you can
Walking or even stretching inside a plane is not easy, but possible and there are many exercises you can do without looking weird.
For example, while seated you can start lifting your heels with the rest of the toe remaining on the floor. Then keep your heels on the floor and start lifting the front part of the toe Next, you can lift one foot at a time from the floor and rotate your ankles first on one side and then on the other.
To relax your back, sit as straight as possible and then reach for your right knee first with your left palm and rotate to the right. Repeat the same on the other side and do not worry if you hear your bones crack slightly.
Any type of movement will help you combat the effects of prolonged sitting. Choose to use the restrooms when there is a line so that you can stand a bit longer. You just need to regularly get up, stretch and move around.
Simple stretches while standing can also help improve circulation. Lift your heels and stretch your legs as high as you can, rotate your neck both sides and squat a couple of times if you can.
Getting an aisle seat will help you do this without having to get your seatmate to get up every time. Or pick an emergency exit seat so you can get out anytime.
I know, I know, planes are the last frontier of disconnection and analog conversations, but if you are really bored or anxious, logging in to the WiFi, which is available on almost all long flights, can keep you connected to loved ones and entertained.
I can get lost in the rabbit hole of social media and an hour has passed since I started watching cat memes and reels so this may actually be the fastest way to pass time on a long flight.
Like the cabin crew, there are also a few things we recommend you do before landing.
About an hour prior to landing and after you’ve had the last onboard meal or snack, head over to the lavatory to wash your hands and face and brush your teeth and hair. Apply your face creams and even makeup if you feel like it. Do not forget to use deodorant.
If you are confident enough you can do your makeup when you’re back at your seat. I try to spend as little time as possible inside the extremely tight and uncomfortable bathrooms and I am pretty good at doing my makeup in the car.
If you wish to change clothes I would recommend doing it after landing as the bathrooms at the airport are usually more spacious and clean than the ones on airplanes.
We’ve already gone through the cleaning procedures in between flights. Make sure you throw away your garbage before you leave.
Remember not to leave anything in the front seat pocket (another reason not to store anything there) and gather all your belongings inside your bag or pockets. Change into your socks and out on your shoes.
Got any more suggestions for what to do on a long flight? Leave a comment below.