Help! I've got a Long Haul Flight - Pre-Flight Checks

How to get the most enjoyment out of the long haul flying experience...and no, I don't mean the mile high club!

Over the years I've done a fair bit of long haul (anything over 6-7 hours in the sky) - I'm even writing this over two flights on an Etihad Airbus between London Heathrow & Tokyo. So, as you can imagine, I've managed to pick up a few tips along the way that I thought should be shared.

If you really want to get out, and see the corners of the world, common logic dictates that eventually you will end up sitting in a big cramped tube for several hours on end. As a pilot myself, I also have a more little knowledge on this subject than most - check out my list of pre-flight pointers below!

Booking flights

Most, if not all young travellers, will be flying cattle (economy) class. Booking as early as possible, (probably goes without saying), allows you to pick up the cheapest fares which is fantastic when you're on a budget. Most major carriers now allow you to reserve specific seats (occasionally with a small surcharge, but many offer the service for free). This can be really useful when you want to catch a particular view down below or if you really want an aisle seat. Use the website SeatGuru to check the seats before you book – this website tells you which seats are the best or worse for the particular flight and route you’re taking!

What to pack – hand luggage 

What you pack depends a lot on you as a person, where you're flying to and which airline you're using etc. To start, I always take a warm fleece, when you're sat at 30000 feet and the outside temperature is -35C (as it currently is - remarkably warm in fact - there's a storm outside), the inside doesn't feel all that much warmer and it's nice to have something to supplement the often weedy airline blanket.

Secondly, a toothbrush and shaver is great especially if I'm stopping anywhere. There's nothing worse than spending 12 hours stuck in an aircraft without washing facilities and arriving feeling like the armpit of a Bombay rickshaw driver. So these two items are great to keep up that fresh feeling.

Also on the list, some form of entertainment, book, iPad, iPod, iPhone etc plus headphones. Most, if not all, long haul airlines have inflight entertainment, usually on mini tv screens on the back of the seat in front. These can vary from basic tv like screening on a few channels on repeat to 1200 on demand channels plus music and gaming options. A lot of aircraft (including this Airbus A380) have in flight Wi-Fi too but it's usually a pay as you go type deal that can really rack up huge bills. However, I always believe in being prepared, so loading up with some movies, music and books on your person is a great bit of advice should all else fail.  

BIG TIP -  secure your valuables. Whilst you’re tucked up asleep for a few hours, there is a huge opportunity for other passengers to rifle through your bag.  Minimise this risk by burying valuables deep inside your luggage or on your person.

NB: Obviously the liquid rule applies for pretty much every flight (nothing more than 100ml/item, in a marked, transparent, resealable bag.)

What to wear

I'd recommend loose fitting garments and shoes - they are also key to maintaining that fresh feeling!  Anything with many pockets is good for keeping passports and boarding cards tucked away.  I do admit that I rigidly stick to jeans, but they’re comfortable and never look too scruffy!

On the day; the airport

  • Always aim to arrive at the airport around three hours before a long haul flight. This will allow for any delays, and you won't rush through the airport - meaning a much more relaxed start to your journey.
  • When you say goodbye to your checked luggage, just double check that your suitcase has the label for the airport that you're actually going to - I've heard countless stories of luggage going missing whilst in transit etc.
  • Once you're checked in, when you see security and customs scans approaching, take your belt, watch, phone etc. and put them inside your hand luggage. It saves so much messing about!
  • So now you're all checked in and have lots of time to waste. Have a light meal and a small drink. It's always good to get this done as early as possible... I do it to reduce visits to the toilet once in the cruise – always a bonus as none of us like those cupboard styled loos on the planes.
  • When boarding commences, the departure gate turns into a scene reminiscent of a rugby scrum as everyone fights to board first. There really isn't any need for it, all passengers have seats, so keep relaxed and wait for the majority to go through. Take advantage of the time to gather all the things you'll use during the flight (headphones, iPod, phone, pillow etc) and keep them in your hands.
  • Once on the aircraft, you can then pop these on the seat and quickly slot your bag into the overhead locker. Well... Unless you happen to be seriously vertically challenged!

Enjoyed this? Keep an eye out for my follow up on how to keep comfortable on the flight itself and to combat the trial of jetlag so you can get on the go as soon as you touch down!