Long haul flight tips: How to survive a non-stop 17-hour flight to Australia
We went on the first direct flight from London to Australia on the Qantas Dreamliner. Here are our tips for surviving a 17-hour long-haul flight – one for each hour you're in the air
1. LEAD FROM THE BACK
If you're flying economy, reserve your seat as soon as humanly possible (set an alarm: most airlines will let you pick your seat at least 24 hours in advance). The trick is to go as close to the back of the plane as possible. This way, your odds of getting a row to yourself are much higher (airlines tend to book from the front) and you should also be as far away from any crying babies as possible, as well as close to the galley – meaning better meal choices and easy access to stretching space.
2. ALWAYS CHOOSE A WINDOW SEAT
There are plenty of aisle seat apologists – and a few who gamble on middle seats, in the hope of snagging a whole row to themselves. But window seats should always be your first choice: they offer a solid surface to nap against, you won't be disturbed by passing beverage carts, you only have to get up when you want to go to the bathroom, and you can control the all-important daylight when you need to rest.
3. LAYER UP
Temperature fluctuates dramatically at 30,000ft, particularly when there's air conditioning roaring in your face the whole time. The trick to staying comfortable at high altitude is layering. A plush cashmere jumper is the ultimate tool for this task.
4. HYDRATE, HYDRATE, HYDRATE
It might sound odd, but water is your best friend in the air. Aeroplane cabins will seriously dehydrate you, so fight back by packing an empty, refillable water bottle, preferably containing a built-in filter. As soon as you're through airport security, fill it up. Once on the plane, sip slowly and regularly; the cabin crew will be only too happy to keep topping it up.
5. TAKE YOUR OWN ENTERTAINMENT
Load your mobile phone with additional music, podcasts, books and movies, in case you run out of on-board options. Travelling seriously drains your phone's battery – just waiting at an airport can all but empty it – so ensure you have extra juice in the form of a power bank. Alternatively, just choose a phone with a battery strong enough to last the distance (the Huawei P20 Pro saw me all the way from London Heathrow to Perth and still had more than 40% battery remaining when I landed).
6. PLAY A CLEVER HAND WITH YOUR HAND LUGGAGE
Don't make the mistake of prioritising hand luggage small enough to fit under the seat in front of you – that's a false economy that'll only cause discomfort on longer flights. Instead, your best bet is always an over-the-shoulder holdall. It'll give you ease of movement through the airport and access to your stuff on board. I swear by a leather weekend bag like those by British manufacturer Asali Design. The trick then is to pack small, zippable packing cubes inside your holdall, like those sold by Eagle Creek (for example, one for electronic leads, one for toiletries and so on).
7. KICK OFF YOUR SHOES AS SOON AS POSSIBLE
As soon as the seatbelt sign goes off, so should your shoes. Your feet and ankles will swell at high altitude, making your footwear uncomfortable and restricting blood flow in your legs. So take them off. If you don't feel comfortable padding around an aircraft in your socks, add a thicker, second pair of slipper socks over the top.
8. PACK YOUR OWN NOISE-CANCELLING HEADPHONES
Yes, airlines provide headphones for customers; no, they're never particularly good. Not even in business and first class. So always pack your own headset (most regular fliers swear by Bose, whose QuietComfort 35 II headphones are hard to beat). Good 'phones are obviously better for watching movies, but even if your screen is off, they'll dull the continual roar of the engines, as well as blocking out screaming babies or flight attendants serving a meal while you're trying to sleep.
9. BACK YOURSELF
Inexplicably, most economy class plane seats do not appear to have been designed with human backs in mind (they tend to be a "C" shape, as opposed to our spines, which resemble more of an "S"). Offset this by wedging a pillow or jumper behind your lower back – and stride off the plane when it lands rather than creaking your way back down the aisle.
10. AVOID SUPER SALTY FOODS
Salty foods tend to retain water, which in turn can leave you bloated and dehydrated. Particularly avoid the pretzels and crisps which are often given out as snacks on flights. Your best bet is to pack your own protein-rich snacks to keep you feeling fuller for longer, like cereal bars, nuts and dried fruit.
11. SWAP COFFEE FOR HERBAL TEA
Coffee is dehydrating and can adversely affect your rest mid-flight. Green tea is a great alternative as it'll give you a little energy boost without the dehydrating effects. Better still, some airlines offer specific herbal teas to help your body at altitude. Qantas, for instance, serve delicious Sleepy Tea on request that's made with lemongrass, verbena and chamomile.
12. DON'T BE AFRAID TO CHAT
Nobody likes a motormouth while they're trying to rest. But, equally, flights are a great opportunity to meet interesting people going your way. Each person on your plane has a reason for travelling, so why not find out a few stories? What's the worst that can happen? You pick up some useful tips for your destination? If you've loaded up your phone with entertainment and packed your noise-cancelling headphones, you've got a ready-made excuse to finish the conversation whenever you like.
13. DON'T RUSH YOUR LOO BREAK
Those precious minutes up and out of your seat when you go to the toilet count a great deal for your health – not least in staving off the possibility of deep vein thrombosis. So never rush back from a loo break. Instead, take time to stretch before and afterwards, running through a few DVT-preventing exercises, like pointing your toes to stretch you calves and drawing the letters of the alphabet with your foot to move your ankles. Muscle activity, however simple, is what keeps your blood flowing.
14. HAVE A "GOING TO BED" ROUTINE
Mentally prepare yourself for sleep by cleaning your teeth, brushing your hair, washing your face, putting on an eye mask and spreading out the blanket on your seat. The more familiarity you can inject in terms of your natural body cycle, the better quality rest you'll get.
15. BREAKFAST IS THE LEAST IMPORTANT MEAL OF THE DAY
Aeroplane breakfasts are almost always disappointing; for some reason, airlines have traditionally put considerably less effort and investment into them than other meals. But that's OK: you'll be landing soon, so you can eat when you arrive. Instead of waking up an extra 90 minutes before you land, it's almost always better to skip it and savour the extra rest instead.
16. FIX YOUR EYES WITH A NAPKIN
Many people assume a bloated face and red eyes are an inevitable part of long-haul flight, but they don't have to be. You can neutralise under-eye bags and puffiness by dabbing a wet napkin or ice cube under your eyes to reduce swelling.
17. TAKE THE TIME TO SMELL THE ROSES
I picked up this tip a few years ago, and now swear by it. Spritzing rose water around your face shortly before landing has an incredibly re-energizing effect before stepping off a plane. Plus it helps to rehydrate dry, flaky skin and generally freshen you up in terms of both mood and appearance. Pack it in a travel-size refillable spray container, apply liberally and stride off the plane feeling ready to face the world.