All following tips are from my personal experience with 12+ hours flights. The more you fly the easier it becomes.
These are my top tricks to survive the long-haul flight in the economy:
Come early to the airport
Mostly to just avoid the unnecessary stress. Also doing early check-in gives you a very small chance of being upgraded. At least to some better seats (exit row, front row etc).
Have luggage with 4 wheels
This is a must! Find as smooth rolling wheels as possible and the luggage will move itself.
Strategy for picking the best seat deserves its own article.
1. If you are tall and want to walk around a lot, definitely pick aisle seat
- You can use aisle to stretch your legs
- You can go for a walk or to the toilet anytime you want
- People in middle and windows seats usually don’t go to toilet as often as you would expect
- You will out from the airplane faster
- you may need to stand up time to time to let people go to the toilet
- no view
2. If you want to sleep the whole flight, go for window seat
- No one will bother you
- Put a pillow on the window and you will have some more space to sleep
- Cool view
- you need to ask the person(s) sitting next to you if you want to go to the toilet
- in overall, less freedom to walk around the airplane
Don’t eat much
Airplane food is not the great. And it will eventually make you want to fart. This gets worse towards the end of the flight.
Walk a lot
Don’t be afraid or feel awkward. Stand and stretch next to the exit doors or toilets as long as you need. No one cares.
Sleeping management: Pillow, Eye Mask, Earplugs or Noise canceling headphones
Bring some kind of pillow, ideally some travel neck pillow. It’s very difficult to find a good sleeping position and even if the airline provides some pillow it is usually not very usable. Neck pillow will help.
If you are sensitive to light when you sleep, eye mask is a must.
I usually don’t use any noise canceling headphones or ear plugs but I have them always with me, just in case.
I never used any sleeping pills, so I can’t give you any recommendation in this area. To be honest, I rather get into the plane well rested so I don’t want to sleep on the plane. I rather get a proper sleep at the destination.
Toilet visit time management
Plan your toilet visits before the food is served or be ready to wait up to 2 hours after the food. 1–2 hours after the food everyone needs to go to the toilet so there will be queues.
Some airlines provide a toothbrush and toothpaste, however, bring your own. It’s nice to refresh your breath after the food, before landing or at the airport.
It’s important to stay entertained during the long flight.
Entertainment systems and movie selection are usually pretty decent these days.
But if you have some tv show, movies or games you love, download them on your phone or tablet. It will help you cut a few hours of boredom.
I always have my laptop with me so I can do some work. However, in my experience, 8 out of 10 times a minute I open my laptop to work, the person in front of me recline his/her seat and I am done. There is just not enough space.
Phones, Tablets, Laptops require energy. On the most flights lately there were power sockets and USB sockets, however, I always have a fully charged battery pack with me.
Have emergency clothes
For some reason, air condition in the airplane is usually set to ‘freezing’. Some airlines give you the blanket, some don’t.
Drink a lot
Air in the airplanes is very dry. Newer planes are increasing humidity but mostly it’s dry. If you have an aisle seat, you don’t need to worry about the need to go to the toilet.
Research your transport options at the destination on the internet before your flight! Can you book transportation? Pre-order some travel card, bus or train ticket?
You will be tired after a long time on the plane. It’s good to be ready to get to your accommodation as smooth and fast as possible.
I usually bring a lot of gadgets with me. Phone, Tablet, battery charger, headphones, pillow, passport, toothbrush, etc. There is just not enough space for everything. I’ve learned to bring a small bag with a clip so I can hang it on my chair.
Other things worth mentioning:
Frequent Flyer Programs
Flying a long-haul flight can give you a lot of mileage. Register in the airline frequent flyer program and get all the miles you can. It can help you to get some benefits (access to the airport lounge, priority check-in etc) in the future.
Colds, the flu, bacteria, etc. getting sick in general
There is a lot of talk around the internet about how are planes full of bacteria. In general, I totally believe it, but I don’t put any additional effort.
If you are living reasonably healthy lifestyle with the mediocre immune system you should be fine. If there is someone with the flu in the plane there is not much you can do to avoid being ill.
You will be fine.
Help from fly attendants
If you need something (water, some snacks, pillow, blanket etc) don’t be afraid to ask. Be polite and not too demanding (they have another 200 people to take care of) and they will help you.
Enjoy your flight!