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How to Survive a Long Flight

How to Survive a Long Flight
BRIDESMAIDS, Melissa McCarthy, 2011. ph: Suzanne Hanover/©Universal Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collec

Photo: Suzanne Hanover/©Universal Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

Air travel has become an increasingly miserable experience for most people in recent years. Before you even get on the plane itself, you must brave the hordes at airport security and hope that, on the other side, your flight isn’t on a Boeing 737 Max and doesn’t get delayed or canceled. Food and drinks inside the airport are comically bad and overpriced, while finding a seat near your gate feels like The Hunger Games. By the time you finally cram yourself into a tiny seat with little leg room, you may already be uncomfortable and cranky — and you’re not even halfway to your destination.

If, like me, you’re not a big fan of the experience in the first place, long-haul travel can be particularly challenging — especially if you’re stuck in economy class with no hope of a free upgrade. So how exactly do you survive a long flight? Here are eight suggestions from the Cut staff for strategies and travel essentials that will help you pass the time, get comfortable, and even catch some sleep.

My husband and I always book the window and aisle seats of a three-seat row, and often that means the middle seat will be empty. (Not always, but it’s worth a try for the extra space!) I also bring inflatable seat cushions and pillows to try to make the experience more comfortable. — Chantal Fernandez, features writer

I’ve done a lot of long-haul international flights — I’m talking 12-plus hours — and I start changing my schedule in the days leading up to a trip. I use the app Timeshifter: I enter my flight date and number into the app, and it gives a game plan for the days leading up to the trip and after. It tells me when to sleep, when to avoid caffeine, when to get some sun — all things that can help minimize jet lag! — Tariro Mzezewa, morning blogger

If you leave me to my own devices, I am one of those weirdos who will stare at the map all flight long. So as to not raise alarms from my seatmates, I’ve started to give myself some distractions. Preparation starts days in advance, when I hoard podcasts and documentary films that I want to consume. I download them and start the flight with those. Then I always carry my own eye mask, ear plugs, and melatonin gummies (and reserve a window seat). I pop one of those gummies a couple hours in and sleep.. — Joanna Nikas, deputy style editor 

I’m a nervous flier, so I like to keep busy with a variety of low-effort activities outside of constantly checking the flight tracker. Keeping noise canceling headphones on hand is a must for listening to the playlists I’ve downloaded (Beyoncé’s entire discography and calming sounds) and trying to get some sleep. I also keep my iPad on hand with books to read and apps to keep me busy, like Happy Color, which is just paint by numbers. If all else fails, use some of the extra time to free up space on your phone by deleting apps and old screenshots. Just bring a charger. — Chinea Rodriguez, shopping writer

My best advice isn’t original: Spend as much of the flight unconscious as possible. Pull an all-nighter beforehand, pop some melatonin or an edible — whatever you need. Then have a nice big drink of water, put in your noise-canceling headphones, and go to sleep. I also always wear a hoodie, hood up. Planes are gross and I don’t want to get lice. Plus it’s added privacy. — Rachel Bashein, managing editor

Sleeping on planes is nearly impossible for me. If I have to be awake for six to ten hours on a tube hurtling through the sky, I’m going to watch exactly one in-flight movie and then I’ll spend the rest of the time brushing up on my language skills. If I’m traveling to a Spanish-speaking country, I like to listen to Radio Ambulante, an excellent podcast that tells stories from all over Latin America. For anywhere else, there’s Duolingo. I may not be refreshed when I step off the plane, but at least I’m mentally ready to make small talk with my cab driver. — Catherine Thompson, features editor

I do not eat plane food. It’s not a bougie thing, it’s an IBS thing. So it’s always important that I have plenty of snacks when I’m getting on a long flight and that I’ve had a good meal before I’ve boarded. If I don’t have time to eat beforehand, I’ll grab a sandwich from my favorite bakery to take along or grab something at the airport. But I always shop for snacks before heading out the door. I tend to grab something salty, something sweet and then a fun drink I’ve been wanting to try so that I have those to look forward to while I’m rotting away in my seat. — Brooke LaMantia, editorial assistant

Long flights are hell, and my friends who are rich enough to fly first class or bold enough to Xanax themselves into unconsciousness really have it figured out. I’m too paranoid to mess around with sedatives thousands of feet in the air, so I try to make things more tolerable by caring for my body the best I can. I use Colgate Wisps so that I don’t have to spend three minutes in a plane bathroom brushing my teeth, pack some nice-smelling travel-size hand sanitizer and lotion, and apply deodorant every few hours. It’s hard to feel like a human when you have approximately two feet of leg room. This helps. — Danielle Cohen, staff writer

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