As a long-time travel editor, I’ve spent many an hour jetting back and forth between the US and other continents. The longest flight I’ve ever been on was about 15 hours — from San Francisco to Dubai.
I can’t say that I really LIKE long-haul flights, but over the years I’ve become an expert in flight comfort and have discovered certain products that truly make them (almost) bearable. Here are my recommendations.
These are a godsend, and one product I personally never, ever fly without. They cut the sound of crying babies, plane engines, and chattering seat mates. My favorite brand is Flents Quiet Time. Here’s a jumbo jar of 50 pair, which sells for only $15.95. The best $15.95 you’ll ever spend.
Noise cancelling headphones
If you want to hear your music or the in-flight movie but don’t want to hear the din of the plane, there’s always noise-cancelling headphones. You can either get the in-ear variety, which I prefer, like these from Landtry, or the over-ear kind, like these from Bose, which are a lot more pricey but are considered the cream of the crop.
This one is controversial, and I somewhat hesitate to include it, but it’s basically a device that attaches to the arm of your tray table and (secretly) prevents the person in front of you from reclining their seat. It’s helpful for very tall people (like myself), but some airlines forbid them (for example, all major U.S. airlines). But if you must investigate, here’s a link. Just make sure to check whether your airline allows them, and for God’s sake, be discreet if you opt to use one. We don’t want any fights breaking out over it, like this incident.
This is another item I never leave the house without. Planes are rarely given more than a cursory wipe-down between flights, and sometimes not even that. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve pulled down my tray table and found God knows what stuck to the surface. These wipes can be used not only for the table, but for the seatbelt, remote control, light switches and of course any surface in the grimy bathroom. This brand is my favorite because the package stays sealed and the wipes don’t dry out.
If you’re troubled by ambient light on planes, an eye mask is a good option. Most long-haul flights offer them for free as part of your goody package, but those tend to be flimsy and weak. You could opt for this space-age contoured one that comes with ear plugs and a carry case! You’ll be able to sleep AND look cool doing it.
No, they’re not sexy, but they’re the difference between arriving at your destination fresh and pain-free versus with swollen legs and a possible case of deep-vein thrombosis (especially when you get to be over 40, like me). They come in knee-high, full-cover varieties, as well asfootless and toe-less varieties, and I’ve found that they generally cost a lot less when you buy them online versus in your local drugstore.
Neck pillow (or travel pillow)
I personally hate falling asleep on a plane and waking up five hours later with a neck so sore that it’s practically crippled. So I use a neck pillow for support. There are many varieties: some are stuffed with memory foam, others contain rice or flaxseed-type grains, and some are eveninflatable. If you can’t deal with stuff around your neck, there are some nice rectangular micro pillows and even a lean-in pillow that sits on your tray table. If you want to get REALLY fancy, this one attaches to your seat “wings”and crosses your body like a messenger bag.
Unless you want to pay exorbitant rates to buy water at the post-security airport concession stands, just bring your own water bottle and fill it at the terminal’s water fountain for free. You can get a re-useable plastic one like this one that I use, or even a space-saving collapsible one, or asoft-sided water pouch.
The trick to airplane snacks is to bring something that’s simultaneously small, preferably packed with protein, and doesn’t stink or decay over the course of a long flight. Some ideas: cheese sticks,no sugar-added dried fruit, or beef jerky. I personally love to bring biltong, the South African version of jerky. If you insist on bringing crushable items like bananas, there’s always these goofy-looking banana protectors.
Back-up forms of entertainment
Of course you should bring an e-reader or iPod in case you don’t like the in-flight movie selection, or in case the plane’s entertainment system crashes. But you never know when the batteries in your device will die, or if you’ll be faced with a long delay on the tarmac. Either way, it makes sense to also have some non-digital form of entertainment that doesn’t rely on batteries or electricity. Might we suggest a hard-copy book about Africa, or a travel-size magnetic backgammon set like the one I have?
Jet lag remedy
Some people swear by these, while others find them useless. If you’re a believer, try melatonin supplements and be sure to take them as directed. Other options include herbal remedies, such asthis one, or this one. I’ve tried a few, and think that they work somewhat, but maybe it’s just the placebo effect…