How to be comfortable on several 24-hr+ flights & layovers?
October 8, 2015 4:43 AM   Subscribe

I have in my future several trips between the U.S. and Singapore, each one about 24 hrs partly from looooong flights and partly from airport layovers. What are your travel tips to being as comfortable as possible on these journeys? Please hope me!

Things I've been considering: pillows (Do those around the neck ones actually work? What about the ones you prop in front of you to lean on?) headphones (quiet, comfortable on the ears for many hours in a row), travel clothing, tricks for passing time at an airport.
posted by losvedir to Travel & Transportation (24 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Yes, the neck pillows work. I really like mine (which is air inflatable so I can tuck it away in my luggage afterwards). Recent long haul aircraft also have headrests that fold in to support your head. Also ear plugs and an eye mask. My e-reader stores a lot of books. I usually have some easy reads on there for when my brain is tired.

Does your layover airport have gym? Otherwise, the attached hotels will frequently let you use those facilities for a fee. You will likely have to be prepared to go outside of security, but carry your workout gear in your cabin baggage.
posted by TORunner at 5:02 AM on October 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

get noise cancelling headphones. I used to make the same type of trip (EU to Asia), and now mostly to the US and South America, and my Audio Technica noise cancelling headphones are *always* in my bag. If you haven't yet, then start collecting membership points on the airlines. If you have many trips then you could be well on your way towards upgrades and lounge access. Also get the hotel membership. Changi airport in Singapore is a great airport with amenities to make the trip easier (swimming pool, etc). I also have tons of books loaded into my Nexus 7 to pass the time :)
posted by alchemist at 5:06 AM on October 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

"vip" airport lounges are nice (quiet, often have showers, always have food and drink and internet). for some reason (ok, partly because i am rich, i guess) i have access to some via my credit card. you might check with your bank in case you do too.

also, of course, underwear and t-shirt at minimum in carry-on, just in case.
posted by andrewcooke at 5:10 AM on October 8, 2015 [4 favorites]

Neck pillows definitely work. My favourite is from Muji (heh, there are something like 10 outlets throughout Singapore, and one in Changi Airport, if you don't get one before you leave the US) and it has a little clip so you can clip it around a bag handle or your neck. It's also filled with little polymer balls, so it's not as stiff and awkward as an inflatable pillow - plus, machine washable!
posted by undue influence at 5:24 AM on October 8, 2015

Even if you don't have access to the VIP lounges through your credit card - it might be worth it to investigate whether you can buy a day pass for a reasonable amount of money. Plenty of times you can buy them in advance through the airline with which it is affiliated. I try to do this if I have a layover after a long flight and they really do make a difference.
posted by rdnnyc at 5:27 AM on October 8, 2015

Best answer: Yes, pillows are great, but the type and shape that is best is different for everyone depending on height and posture and airplane seat configuration. So think about how you are relaxed and comfortable and what position is going to work for you to decide on the sort you get. Like, something for lumbar/back support works better for me than a neck pillow. You might like one that is tall enough to hold to your torso and prop your chin on. Etc.

Bring a thick comfy pair of socks to change into and have shoes that you just slip on and off. Take your shoes off while sitting. (Different socks for the flight vs airport/walking around. For some reason the fresh sock sensation makes a big difference.)

Comfy headphones make a big difference for me but unless you have the cash to splurge they might not be worth it depending on various factors. If you have headphones that suffice for music and you don't think the plane noise will bother you too much, just wear them for an album or movie at a time and take them out for comfort. If you are okay wth earplugs, a good reusable pair that fit your ears makes the possibility of crying baby/yammering rowmates less of an issue.

I like to make sure I have something good to smell, because so often that recycled plane and airport air will put me on edge without my noticing it. It is important that this not offend other passengers, so stuff like a very lightly scented lotion for my hands, a type of gum that smells yummy, or a little lavender sachet are all things I can hold close to my nose without perfuming the air around me.

I also need lots of stuff to do with my hands, so I usually do origami on flights. Modular origami is great for zoning out but still being kind of active,because it is repetitive but engaging. Impressive animals and things that are a challenge to fold get practiced on in-flight with cheap paper so I can make them correctly on fancy paper when I have the focus. These days I also crochet up a storm on flights; a trans-pacific flight can mean a whole baby sweater set complete with hat. So whatever you do that uses your hands, bring supplies for it, just make it have various levels of focus required so you can do the zone-out parts when you are feeling muzzy and the difficult/complex parts when you need something to focus on.

Set up a world clock app on your phone so you can keep track of what time it is where you are, where you were, where you will be and so-on so you can better discern when a good time for a nap vs a walk up and down the plane aisle would be. Also important for stuff like calling relatives to know you landed okay, etc.

A few long haul international flights I have been on have had the unexpected pleasure of, in the sort of middle of the night/netherzone period, the flight attendants asking if anyone wanted a hot beverage or a cup noodle soup thing, the kind you just pour boiling water into. Oh man, you think that it wouldn't work, but a hot salty cup noodle is exactly what you need a bazillion miles above the ocean at who-knows-o'clock. If your flight doesn't have this luxury, you might be able to bring your own (plus wooden chopsticks) and then ask the flight attendants for boiling water. Even if this does not sound like your thing, try to make sure you stay hydrated and mix up your beverages and snacks so there is variety in heat as well as texture and content.
posted by Mizu at 5:32 AM on October 8, 2015 [6 favorites]

Yes, certainly, if you haven't already, and it's in your control, pick an airline and stick with it get a frequent flyer account. For the example of my airline, Delta, I would hit their first real status level after 2 and a half round trips to SIN. This gets me a phone number with no waiting time and an operator in Minnesota, my bags are among the first off, I can board somewhat earlier, lounge access overseas, access to slightly better seats (more legroom, free-er booze) for free, and a higher spot in the standby list. Don't leave that kind of stuff on the table.
posted by ftm at 5:32 AM on October 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

I personally think a smallish rectangular pillow (feather if you can find it, def. with a cotton or natural fibre cover) that you can squish into different shapes is way better than a neck pillow. Sew a loop of fabric or ribbon on it and clip it to the outside of your carryon, so you don't have to waste carryon space for it. I like the window seat because you have a surface to lean against, it's easier to get cosy, and you can make a nice vertical bed with your squishy pillow.

If you are a lady (or even if you're not), a big soft sweater coat (something like this) preferably with a hood is great - keeps you warm like a nice soft blanket but isn't too bulky or constricting like a coat can be and you can usually stuff it somewhere out of the way if you need to.

I have short legs so I try to get away with stuffing my carryon under the seat in front in a way that makes a footrest for me. If I had long legs, I would definitely stow it out of the way overhead. Also it's good to have a separate smaller flat sort of bag just for the stuff you need on the flight (tablet, iPhone, some toiletries, medication, headphones, etc etc) that can fit in the seat pocket. Keeping stuff together and easy to access is important - nothing is more frustrating than losing your chapstick for the fifth time in two hours and having to dig around in the seat to find it.

I'm a reader, but I find reading on the airplane difficult. I'd much rather sleep, but I often can't, so second- best is to binge-watch seat back movies (and make sure to download some stuff to watch on your devices and get an external battery charger in case the USB power and/or entertainment is missing or not working on your plane!)

In terms of general comfort on the flight or in the airport, if I am feeling tired/irritable/annoyed/cramped, it makes me feel better to brush my teeth, wash my face, moisturise, drink a big bottle of water, and stretch a bit. Sometimes 2-3 times on a long haul flight! I also bring a small thing of babywipes and a change of underwear/clothes in my carryon in case there are delays or I just start feeling gross. Even when you're exhausted and things are terrible it's easier to deal with if you're clean and smell nice.

Finally, this may be controversial, but I find that a long haul flight is much more pleasant with a small amount of Diazepam (Valium). Just a tiny bit. My doctor prescribes me just enough for my flights because I told him I'm not a good flier. Which is true. I'm not scared of flying, but I do get very anxious and unhappy when I'm cramped, bored, and uncomfortable and the medication helps (just don't drink at the same time).
posted by cilantro at 5:34 AM on October 8, 2015 [2 favorites]

Noise isolating canalphones provide greater noise reduction than noise cancelling headphones. They're incredibly light, put no pressure around your ears and they don't need batteries to run. I own a pair of Etymotic ER4-P canalphones and wouldn't travel without them. Find a store that will let you try them out before travelling as some people just don't like the fact they need to go deep into your ear canal (that's how they provide great isolation).

What about an extended layover somewhere if it's cost neutral compared to the direct flight, and you have the time? I occasionally fly between Perth (Australia) and Miami and it's a killer of a trip. I managed to convince my organisation to fly me via Hawaii and I had a day's layover. Splits up the trip nicely.

Mindless games on the computer / tablet - rogue-likes, turn-based RPGs, match 3 games, sudoku etc.

Wear loose clothing and in layers as the temperature on-board can vary - shirt / t-shirt / top, thin sweater, thin jacket, light long pants, comfortable shoes. Take a change of clothes (or at least a top) in your hand luggage. Freshen up and change during your layover or an hour before landing.

Drink plenty of water, more than you think you need. The dry air in the cabin dehydrates you quickly, and you feel much better if you're hydrated. Don't drink alcohol - speeds up dehydration.

I'm presuming you're travelling alone - if you're a sociable person, and you happen to be sitting next to another gregarious person, you can pass quite a few pleasant hours in conversation. Take a pack of cards and play games with the other person. Sit in the middle seat and you have twice the conversational opportunities!
posted by KirkpatrickMac at 5:47 AM on October 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

I always take a pashmina wrap on long flights, especially in winter; sometimes the blankets that the airlines provide aren't enough. A collapsible water bottle is also nice to have.

For me, the best way to pass time in the airport is to play games on my phone or tablet -- even really simple ones like Candy Crush. Get an external battery pack such as this to ensure that you have enough power.
posted by neushoorn at 5:50 AM on October 8, 2015 [2 favorites]

My long flight must-have is diphenhydramine (Benadryl/Simply Sleep). YMMV; it puts me out like a light and has saved me from jetlag many times.

2nding a pashmina - light, compact, and warm.
posted by Gordafarin at 5:57 AM on October 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

Download lots of podcasts for when you're too tired to read or watch a movie.
posted by ellieBOA at 5:58 AM on October 8, 2015

I used to do these kinds of trips 3-4 times a year, with a 36 hour travel time about equally split between flights and layovers. I trained myself to sleep on the plane and to use the layover time to have a nice meal, wash up and change clothes (at the very least changing underwear / socks) and then I'd watch TV on my laptop or maybe catch up on a bit of work. I also like to do a few handstands and a bit of stretching.

For sleeping on the plane, a neck pillow is nice, and personally I like having a podcast playing. After a year or so I would fall asleep before takeoff, even if I wasn't tired when I got on the plane, it was just reflex.

For the layover, a nice meal will usually be a bit expensive in an airport, but if you consider it as part of the overall travel budget it is not so much, and it is really worth it to have some good food that did not come in a plastic bag. Makes you feel human. This is also why I change clothes half way. (And if there are shower facilities, I take advantage of them.) It's not really necessary, but it feels good.

I also like to take a nice long walk around whatever airport I am laying over in. Explore the strange hallways. Find the nice seat that has an electrical outlet nearby. Mostly it's just to stretch my legs.
posted by Nothing at 6:58 AM on October 8, 2015 [3 favorites]

If you have a really long layover, check your luggage. It's a lot easier to mind a small shoulder bag than even a few small carry-ons. I'm all for full carry-on for short-hauls, but for long flights especially with long layovers and/or complicated inter-terminal transfers, I'm checking bags.

Echoing above, lounge access is game changing. You can get real work done, there's snacks and beverages, chairs that aren't deliberately uncomfortable to sit in. They have showers. There's nothing like a shower after a long flight. It's better to pre-arrange these, either through an airline, an affinity points system or a credit card. Some airports have lounges the public can pay to enter, but many do not.

If you've got very long layover, consider a hotel room, especially if you have kids or older adult with you. Many of the larger airports now have hotels in the airport. You need to consider timing what with leaving security and re-entry, but it's so much nicer to get a sleep in a quiet bed than zombifying in an airport chair.
posted by bonehead at 7:46 AM on October 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


If you are flying one of the new Airbuses, the headrest has wings that fold inward. I don't even use my inflatable anymore. The gap between the window wall and the seat is always a bit too wide to be comfortable for me to lean against (that pesky armrest digs into my ribs).

Obv get up and walk around as much as you can as well as doing in-seat exercises to avoid having your feet swell so much that you won't be able to put your shoes back on.

You don't have to wait for the flight attendant to come around for drinks/snacks, you can go to the galley.

Know what your layover time allotment is and set a countdown timer or something on your phone/iPad/whatever so you are not trying to count hours in a different time zone when you are half asleep. Also on the return flight to the US, you will probably be going through security again in the transit airport even though you are technically in transit, allow time for that.

2nding Benadryl or Dramamine to sleep. After many years of gutting it out, this has made a big difference.

Keep a pen handy for filling out the Arrival Card. Memorise your passport number, issue date, and expiration date.

Are you flying with Singapore Airlines? I have a couple hacks for that as well.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 8:02 AM on October 8, 2015

Two things that completely changed the experience of flying, and made regular trans-Pacific flights bearable for me were: 1) Noise-cancelling headphones (I have the same Audio Technica model mentioned above). Just leaving them on in noise-cancelling mode without music playing is helpful. 2) Don't eat any hot food served on the plane. I sometimes eat the salad and snacks that come with the airline meal, but never the "entree". I pack fruit, beef jerky, trail mix, and granola/protein bars in my carry-on. Remember to throw away any leftovers before going through immigration/customs.
posted by bradf at 8:38 AM on October 8, 2015

I find it especially critical on long flights to make sure I drink enough. Bring a giant water bottle, ask for the whole can whenever the drink cart comes around, take cups of water basically every time they come around with them, and don't be shy about going to the gallery for even more drinks. Otherwise I risk ending up dehydrated and feeling like garbage by the end.
posted by ktkt at 8:55 AM on October 8, 2015

I hate feeling grotty on long journeys, so I take one (or two!) extra pairs of underwear, baby wipes, deodorant, toothpaste and toothbrush, etc. in my carry-on, and spend a few minutes in the loo after each leg of the flight. It makes a huge difference to my ultimate comfort level.
posted by pickingupsticks at 9:35 AM on October 8, 2015

Depending on where your layovers are, many asian airports have nap room facilities where you get a private room with a clean bed and a private bathroom with a shower for pretty reasonable hourly rates. They have alarm clocks and/or wakeup calls, and plenty of outlets for device charging. I would voluntarily live forever in the ones in Narita and Hong Kong Intl.
posted by poffin boffin at 9:36 AM on October 8, 2015

This thing is awesome, allows you to relax your arms in a folded position to sleep in an airplane seat.

Bring your own snacks. I like salty and sweet. Gummy bears, salted nuts, that sort of thing. A Snickers bar is perfect. YMMV, of course, depending on what you like - maybe some sliced fruit or veggie sticks, or a pre-made sandwich or something. I've never had trouble taking food through security if it's in a zip-lock bag.

I agree with the above advice that a good pair of noise-cancelling headphones has made a huge difference for me when I fly. If you wear glasses, make sure you get some that aren't super firm in the ear cup, and try them out before you fly.

I always make sure I have chewing gum with me. Really helps avoid the ear-popping on the ascent and descent, but on long-haul flights it's nice to have during the flight as well if I'm awake.

Take a change of undergarments in your carry-on, as well as a toothbrush and toothpaste. You can get travel-size toothbrushes and toothpaste tubes that are pretty small and won't take up much space.

I like to have sunglasses and a ball cap with me. Sometimes you can't get away from having windowshades near you opened, or the overhead lights on, and I usually need sunglasses anyway at my destination. And sometimes, I want to have the overhead air conditioning blowing on me but don't want to feel it hitting my head, so I wear a ball cap. I'm probably a little out of the norm on that one.

And IMO, you should feel no embarrassment at taking a little bit of Valium if you are a nervous flier.
posted by hootenatty at 10:05 AM on October 8, 2015

Noise-cancelling headphones. I have both an active set (over ear) and a passive set (in ear buds that are kinda like earplugs with sound). I actually use the passive set more these days, because I can sleep more easily with them in (the over the ear ones get in the way when I try to rest my head on something-- also they ache if I"m wearing glasses after a while).

Water. Keep hydrated. This is a big challenge. I'll put the blanket over my nose and mouth when sleeping so it's a little more humid when I breathe in.

If you're going to sleep and you wear contacts, have a way to take them out (or just wear glasses).

Set your watch/phone/whatev to the time at your destination once you board.

Try not to choose British as your airline. They charge a big fee when you try to use your miles to get free flights through Heathrow (as in still a few hundred dollars for a "free" miles flight). Also then you fly through Heathrow.

Travel clothing: you likely need fewer things than you think. Take the minimum. Roll the things that are rollable. Versatile items are best (especially if you end up with trips that have more than one destination-- climates can be pretty different).

The two best ways to get over jet lag are to eat at the right times, and to exercise. (I fail on the first, but the second is critical... got sick on my last two trips back to Europe, and so Each time really took me a while to get reset! ugh!)

Passing time in airports: If you have a destination you go to or through regularly, get a pay-as-you-go SIM card for your phone there, if the airport doesn't have internet. Walk around trying to find a charger for your devices (at Heathrow you could do this basically forever..) Read on a tablet/smartphone. Get really into plane watching (there's apps for that).
My favorite way to pass time in an airport though-- Get into an accepting mind state and marvel at the wonder that is international plane travel-- you're in an international airport. You could go anywhere. It's a modern miracle. (Of course, you won't, you'll get on the plane you're supposed to, but the fantasy is nice.)
posted by nat at 10:48 AM on October 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

One thing that has made me feel heaps better flying long haul - saline nasal spray. The dryness on airplanes really, really bothers me so I use saline spray about once every hour and at the same time I re-moisturise my face. I drink a tonne of water but the moisturising and saline spray has made a massive improvement.

An antihistamine before the flight is good if you have any ear problems.
posted by kitten magic at 4:25 PM on October 8, 2015

*loose fitting knit pants
*short sleeve shirt with a hoodie on top
*Slip-on shoes without laces
*light weight socks that don't pinch your legs

*Fanny Pack containing:
* passport and ink pen
*eye drops
*saline nose drops
*chap stick
* Gum
*your phone
*USB charging cable and wall adaptor
*hand project (Kumihimo loom)
*eye mask (contoured)
*sleep pillow (I have strong preference for Dog Bone pillow, because it prevents my head from rolling forward)
* bandana (wear it as a mask to increase humidity, hide drooling while you sleep; tie around your neck like a scarf if the air conditioning is too cold; sneeze into it)

the fanny pack creates a shelf so I can cross my arms across my waist and not need the arm rests.
stash your carry-on in the overhead compartments, and be functionally independent. Like many others, my carry-on contains baby wipes, toothpaste and toothbrush, comb, spare undies or panty liners, deodorant or antiperspirant. Your carry on should be on wheels or a back pack.

During layovers, you should walk from one end of the terminal to the other. if you sit, elevate your feet.

I agree with others that airline club rooms are THE BEST and you should pull every kind of string to gain access to them.
posted by ohshenandoah at 8:50 PM on October 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

I can't believe no one mentioned compression socks. They really do help to keep your feet and ankles from swelling and will make you a much happier traveler the next day. They also help to prevent deep vein thrombosis, which is no joke.

Splurge for whatever your airline calls deluxe economy; you will appreciate the extra leg room and wider seat every minute of the trip. You'll also enjoy your seatmates more when they aren't encroaching into your space with their elbows and knees.

Put the stuff you know you will need during the flight (noise-canceling headphones and an extra battery, devices, charger, cables, book, minimalist toiletries, water bottle, etc) in a nylon shopping bag. Put that bag inside your wheeled carry-on with your coat, a full change of clothes and enough nightwear to get you through an unexpected night in a motel. When you get to your seat slip the nylon bag into the seat back pocket and stow the wheeled bag overhead.

And finally, avoid black in all your gear. When the lights are turned way down and you drop your charger, you'll be able to find it much more easily if it's brightly colored.
posted by acorncup at 9:05 PM on October 8, 2015 [4 favorites]

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