Long-haul flights are generally considered to be those of eight hours or more, while those that extend beyond the grueling 16 hours are nicknamed “ultra-long haul.” The longest nonstop commercial flights currently available include New York to Singapore (18 hours and 50 minutes; 9,530 miles) and Perth, Australia, to London (17 hours and 45 minutes; 9,010 miles). Qantas Airways, Australia's national airline, plans to operate two even longer direct flights in 2025: Sydney to London and Sydney to New York, routes that will last up to 20 hours.
For travelers, flying at 35,000 feet for an extended period comes with its own challenges, including little room to move, dry cabin air, and time zone changes.
While long-haul air travel never gets easier, there are a few things you can do—before, during, and after the flight—to make it a little less terrifying.
Jennifer Bagnall, 40, a communications executive who frequently flies between her home in Los Angeles and Sydney, believes mentally reframing the experience is an essential first step.
“Instead of approaching it as a long period of time in a confined space with no escape, I think about how it's a long period of uninterrupted time with no responsibilities and where they can't contact me,” he said. “It's very rare that you get that.”
Pack your carry-on luggage wisely and strategize ahead of time
You will most likely have to check your luggage, so your carry-on bag will need to be well equipped. In addition to any items you are going to use for entertainment, think in advance about what will help you feel most comfortable. Bringing a change of clothes (if there's a layover, you might be able to find a shower at the airport), as well as a toothbrush and toothpaste, will go a long way toward helping you feel fresher during your trip. Make sure you wear comfortable clothing and a pair of compression socks to combat foot swelling from so many hours of little physical activity.
“Wear a hoodie,” recommends Nikki Greenberg, 40, a futurist and innovation strategist from Sydney who frequently travels abroad for work. “It's cozy, warm, covers your ears (less noise) and eyes (less light for sleeping), and creates a private environment.”
Find a way to get as much sleep as possible.
Do everything you can to ensure that you spend a large portion of your time on board sleeping. Some travelers find sleeping pills or melatonin supplements a must-have, while noise-cancelling glasses and headphones can reduce cabin lighting and help muffle the roar of the plane. A travel pillow like the Trtl pillow, which supports the neck, can help when trying to sleep upright.
It can also be helpful to map out your sleep schedule in advance, depending on when your flight(s) depart. Vanessa Quincey, 33, an advertising director from Melbourne, Australia, who has lived in New York for the past decade, stays awake during the shortest leg of her trip, from New York to Los Angeles, to make sure she's extra tired for the long second section. to Melbourne.
“Purchase a 'Do Not Disturb' eye mask if you plan to sleep during meal service,” he said. “The mask will block the overhead lights and 'do not disturb' will let the cabin crew know not to wake you.”
Plan how you'll spend the rest of your time on board: a 10-episode narrative arc of a television series will run much longer than a movie. You can check the airline's website to see what in-flight entertainment will be available on your flight. Be sure to download TV shows, movies, podcasts, and music to your devices before you arrive at the airport and have to rely on a spotty Wi-Fi connection. Bring a good book you've been meaning to read. Have some offline games that you can play on your phone or iPad. And don't forget a backup portable charger.
Patrick Quade, a 52-year-old tech founder from New South Wales in Australia, has made the trip between the United States and Australia more than two dozen times. He recommends setting a goal that takes more than 20 hours: “Learn Adobe Premiere well enough to make a three-minute short film with edits and soundtrack.”
Never stop hydrating
The air on board is extremely dry. Pack a decent moisturizer, lip balm, lubricating eye drops, and a small nasal spray. Try to avoid alcohol and drink as much water as you can during the flight – bringing your own empty water bottle to fill at the airport after customs can help with this goal. Powdered vitamins or electrolytes can be added to water to maximize hydration.
Move when you can
Many people prefer an aisle seat so they can get up frequently without disturbing their seat neighbor. Before booking, research the layout and model of aircraft on websites like SeatGuru to find the most legroom. Do some stretches while waiting in line for the bathroom and walk a few laps around the terminal during a layover to get your blood moving.
Think about your final destination
Without a doubt, the most important thing is to never, ever take a nap if you land during the day, no matter how tempting it may be after a strenuous flight. “It's really difficult to fly to Australia because you usually land early in the morning,” says Nathan Weinrich, who has been traveling to Australia from New Jersey for eight years. “But how quickly you adapt to the new time zone makes a big difference.”
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