Five essentials to bring on every long-haul flight

There are two keys to making any long flight seem short: comfort and distraction

Long-haul flights: bring your own devices and use noise-cancelling headphones. Photograph: iStock

Long-haul flights: bring your own devices and use noise-cancelling headphones. Photograph: iStock

 

There are long flights and there are long flights. Singapore Airlines has the longest haul currently, with nearly 19 hours from Newark airport in the United States to Singapore. But that’s bound to be eclipsed soon as airlines and aircraft manufacturers vie to be the first to pull off the last major nonstop air route: Sydney to London, estimated at over 20 hours.

As an inveterate traveller, I fly multiple long flights a year. My personal longest was 17 hours from Johannesburg to Atlanta, but 10-12 hour flights are my norm. But then, I’ve been on sub-five hour flights with fellow passengers lamenting how it was “such a long flight.” It’s all relative. No matter your definition, there are two keys to making any long flight seem short: comfort and distraction. Here are five(ish) items to help pass the time and miles.

Films, music and more

Every major airline, and most of the smaller ones, have seatback entertainment. Generally these are of the on-demand variety, letting you choose from a variety of films and TV episodes. But will they be the films and TV shows you actually want to watch?

You’re probably better off bringing what you want. Netflix, Amazon, iTunes and others all have mobile apps that let you download content to watch offline. If you paid for the film or episode, you shouldn’t have an issue downloading it. If it’s Netflix, or included with Amazon Prime streaming, there’s no guarantee though, and you should check well before your flight. You will not be able to stream anything from these services on the plane, even if you pay for the in-flight wifi. You’ll probably have a hard time downloading at the airport too, so this is all something best done at home.

A growing number of airlines are doing away with seatback entertainment and instead offer the same content via their own app, streamed internally on the plane’s wifi to your phone or tablet. Check if your flight has this beforehand or be prepared to download the app at the airport before you board.

Charging cable and battery

Since you’ll likely use your phone or tablet for a good chunk of the flight, you’re going to need to keep it charged. Long-haul flights usually have an airline’s oldest planes, so you can’t be sure if there will be a power or charging outlet available at your seat.

SeatGuru will help with this. The site gives you information about your specific plane, and even about the seat you’ve selected or been assigned. Sometimes there’s a USB port next to the seat back screen. Other times there’s a regular power outlet under the seat. No matter what’s available, you should keep a portable charger with you. A cable, perhaps a bit longer than you normally use, should be enough to let you use your device while it’s charging, no matter where the plug is at your seat.

Even if there is an outlet, a rechargeable USB battery is the most useful device to have while travelling after your phone itself. These let you charge on the go and extend your phone’s battery life for hours.

Noise-cancelling headphones

Noise-cancelling headphones reduce steady droning sounds like airplane engines. They’re not a cone of silence but can make flights can go from “clamourous and tiring” to “loud, but tolerable.” At least, the best ones can. For the past several years, I’ve reviewed every major noise-cancelling headphone on the market, and even though there are dozens to choose from, the vast majority reduce very little actual noise.

The best ones, such as those made by Bose, tend to be small and light, and you can somewhat-comfortably sleep with them on (at least, better than with many other options). Most importantly, they reduce an incredible amount of noise.

You could, if you want to go the really budget route, just use earplugs (which many airlines provide in amenity kits). However, those rely on getting a good seal between the plugs and your ear canals which, on some people (like myself), isn’t easy. Plus, even if you get a good seal, the sound of an aircraft engine probably isn’t going to be reduced as well as it would be with a good pair of noise cancelling headphones.

Travelling long-haul: having the right things with you can help pass the time and the miles. Illustration: Lars Leetaru/New York Times
Travelling long-haul: having the right things with you can help pass the time and the miles. Illustration: Lars Leetaru/New York Times

Layers

I’ve never been on a flight that had a steady or predictable temperature. It’s pretty much impossible, given the cold air outside, the humid, heat-producing mammals inside, and that pesky ball of fusion in the sky (or the lack thereof, depending on the time and weather). Layers are key. Some airlines will give you a threadbare blanket to “warm” yourself if it gets really cold, but I’ve never regretted bringing a hoodie or pullover. Worst case, it doubles as a pillow. I also tend to never wear shorts since I’ve been cold on planes more regularly than I’ve been hot, but you know your body best.

Different parts of the plane will also have some effect on the temperature. Window seats are likely cooler than aisles, and exit rows cooler than all others.

Anything you need for your personal comfort

There is a massive market for in-flight comfort products. Most are pretty useless. For example, if you only fly once or twice a year, spending money on a travel pillow probably isn’t worth it. Before you’re tempted to spend money on things you’ll use once or twice, consider saving that money for a seat upgrade.

However, other things may be good to pack in your carry-on. Most airlines on long, overnight flights will give you a sleep mask and a small tube of moisturiser, both of which you might find handy to bring yourself if you have a mask or brand you prefer. Aeroplane air gets very dry, and even at night there are lights around the cabin you might find distracting.

Usually you’ll get a bottle of water for free, but if you’re the thirsty type, bring an empty water bottle and fill it before you board. A snack won’t hurt either; just keep in mind that many countries, especially smaller island types, won’t let you enter with fresh fruit.

If you’re on the older side, consider compression socks. These should help keep the blood from pooling in your lower legs and feet, which can cause blood clots or uncomfortable swelling. But really, everyone should get up and walk around every few hours, especially on those long-haul flights. Safe rule of thumb, if someone sitting in your row gets up to use the bathroom, you should go too. Even if it’s just to walk around and stretch your legs.

Lastly, having a pen is handy. If you’re on a long flight, chances are you’ll need to fill out some sort of customs or immigration form, and airlines never have pens. – New York Times

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