I love to travel, but I hate flying. Scratch that. I hate flying economy on a long flight.
But sometimes there’s no other way to do it. And that’s why I’ve compiled a list of tips on things to do on a long flight for people who hate flying.
I’ve also included some tips on how to get into a better mindset and emotional space to deal with long-haul flights.
Long-Haul Flight Tips
Hate long flights? These long-haul flight tips won’t reduce their flight time, but they might help you get into the right mental space to stuff yourself into a tin can for 10 hours.
There’s little reason to think of things to do on a long flight if you’re in first or business class.
When I’m flying business or first class (or even in some carriers’ economy plus), the time just seems to fly by.
There are so many meal and drink services, and the seating is so comfortable (or at least so much comfier than in economy) that I somehow forget I’m on a plane at all. Plus, it’s easier to sleep in business and first class, thanks to lie-down seats, no seat kickers, and no screaming babies.
That being said, I realize it’s not possible to upgrade to first class on every flight (unless your name begins with a K and ends with an ard-a-shi-an). And I don’t upgrade to first class on every flight — never mind every long-haul flight.
In fact, I have a few tips for saving money on upgrades to make your long-haul flight a little more enjoyable.
Credit Card Hacking
With first-class ticket prices hovering in the thousands of dollars for international flights, it’s not financially feasible to fly first or business class if you don’t have hundreds of thousands of airline miles banked up.
That’s why I do credit card hacking.
The basic principle is to sign up for a credit card that offers a large miles bonus. Complete all the qualifying events (spend the minimum amount of money in the timeframe allotted, make payments on time, etc.) and get a huge chunk of miles for your next trip.
Most airlines offer anywhere between 25,000 and 120,000 miles with these promotions.
Of course, these miles may only get you part of the way to your destination.
First and business class seats on a domestic flight cost anywhere between 20,000 miles for a shorter haul flight and 100,000 miles for a longer flight. If you’re still coming up short, you may want to try some of the tips below.
I also have a “rule” that I don’t fly first class or business class on flights shorter than four hours (though for flights longer than two and a half hours but less than four hours, I will upgrade to economy plus).
I can handle sitting in coach for a few hours, and it’s not worth the money or miles to upgrade for such a short flight.
This is a great way to help budget your trip when you’re trying to decide what to splurge or save on.
Purchase a Coach Ticket First
Purchasing a first-class or business-class ticket outright is almost always going to be more expensive than upgrading an economy-class ticket.
I’ve been offered cross-country upgrades for as little as $150 to business class. When I flew from NYC to Mexico City, I was offered a business class upgrade for $125.
After you purchase your coach ticket, you may see an offer for an upgrade right away.
So, sometimes I’ll purchase a coach ticket, see if I’m eligible for an upgrade, and cancel the ticket (by federal law, airlines must refund your money if you cancel an airline ticket within 24 hours of booking) if I don’t see an upgrade offer.
Another way to get a little extra comfort, attention, and freebies during a long-haul flight is to book a comfort-plus seat.
Though the seats in comfort plus are the same size as the rest of economy, they’re located in the front of the cabin, come with priority boarding, and free drinks (and sometimes free food).
The downside is that you’re sharing the flight attendants with the rest of economy, so you’re not going to get the same level of service you would in first or business.
Choose Your Coach Seat Wisely
If you can’t swing first, business, or economy plus, I’d recommend at least avoiding basic economy on a long-haul flight.
You will pay more, but at least you’ll be able to choose your seat.
Some airplanes feature a little more leg room in regular economy in certain rows. You can always check a site like SeatGuru to find out if your economy seat is the “best” option on the plane.
Usually the seats at the back of the plane are the least desirable, so avoid those.
I like to try to book a seat behind a seat that doesn’t recline (usually in front of the exit rows) because seat recliners are my arch nemeses.
It’s also not a bad idea to know your seat preferences. And by that I mean, aisle or window. I’m definitely an aisle girl because I still feel cramped whenever I’m stuck by the window. The ability to sneak my legs into the aisle or over the armrest (respectful to the other passengers, of course) is a godsend for me.
Split Your Trip
If you really hate flying coach on long-haul flights like I do, you can always split your trip (and sometimes you may be forced to do so anyway).
Layovers can help mitigate the discomfort of a long flight, and they can split the time into two shorter segments.
Flying two segments of two and a half hours each is way easier than flying for five hours. Yes, there are more opportunities for something to “go wrong” if you’re worried about delayed or canceled flights.
But if your trip isn’t on a strict time budget, it’s doable.
Sometimes I book two separate flights and stay a night or two in the connection city and I get two destinations in one!
Schedule Your Activities
One of my favorite things to do on a long flight is to schedule my activities — especially if I’m on a long-haul flight in economy.
It makes the time go by much faster than if I was just staring into the abyss board for several hours.
In fact, it’s something I like to do whenever I’m bored and trying to kill time. Knowing I only have 45 minutes until my next “scheduled” activity is better than the despair I might feel knowing I have hours until we land (or at the very least the next meal service).
My “schedule” on a five-hour flight might look something like this:
9:15 PM Take Off
9:45 PM Beverage Service
10:00 PM Movie
10:30 PM Dinner Service/Movie
12:00 AM Nap
1:30 AM Beverage Service
1:45 AM Land (30 min)
2:15 AM Arrive in the Azores
Take-off and landing immediately shave at least 30 minutes at each end off of a flight. Plus, watching take-offs and landings are kind of a bit of entertainment you can only get while flying.
Dress for the Occasion
While not necessarily one of my “things to do on a long flight”, dressing right can help make your flight comfortable and way more enjoyable.
While there are tons of articles advising you to dress a certain way to get an upgrade or freebies on a plane, you’ll notice that most people in first class or business class aren’t dressed to the nines anymore anyway.
In fact, even business travelers dress down a little on the plane (especially for long flights) and ask the flight attendants to hang their suit jackets (and even business pants) for the duration of the flight.
When it comes to flight wear, you can’t go wrong with leggings and stretch denim.
On domestic or daytime flights, I usually wear jeans with a lot of stretch in them. On overnight flights, I usually wear casual black leggings, a tank top, and a sweater (or a light comfortable jacket).
I’d also usually wear a pair of slip-on loafers or cute running shoes or street shoes.
What Not to Wear on an Airplane
Anything restrictive or uncomfortable. Never wear skirts, restrictive jeans, tank tops (without a coverup like a sweater, sweatshirt, or jacket),
It’s also not a bad idea to consider security when planning your flight outfit.
Boots with lots of laces that are difficult to take off, sweatshirts or sweaters without a shirt underneath (you may be asked to remove your sweatshirt or it could get hot if you’re waiting on the runway), are a no-go.
For footwear, never wear flip-flops, heels, boots, or other restrictive or unsupportive shoes.
And whatever you do: never take your shoes off on an airplane. Your feet get bloated in the air, and it’s not always easy to put your shoes back on when that happens.
Bring Your Own Entertainment (BYOE)
Another tip for things to do on a long flight is to bring your own entertainment (BYOE). These days, you don’t always know if an airline will offer in-flight entertainment or monitors.
Some airlines offer in-flight entertainment but not the use of a monitor, so you’ll need to download the airline’s app to access movies and TV shows on your tablet or smartphone.
It’s also not a bad idea just to bring your own entertainment either way. Now that airlines are trying to creatively cut costs, in-flight entertainment is often on the chopping block. Plus, you can’t control if your seat’s monitor will work or if there’ll be any issues with the in-flight service.
And while in-flight wifi is now standard on most flights, there’s always the chance that something could go wrong.
Streaming services like HBO Max, Netflix, Amazon Prime, and more allow you to download movies and TV shows before takeoff.
Consider Your Accessories
I can make all the lists of “things to do on a long flight” and will never feel satisfied unless I remember to pack my in-flight accessories.
Just some of my must-haves on an airplane include an eye mask, headphones, electronics, chargers, and a water bottle.
I’m a terrible plane sleeper. I just can’t do it for long. I’m the type of person who needs complete darkness to fall asleep (at home or otherwise), and an eye mask is a must — not just for the airplane — but for any unexpected too-bright hotel rooms or Airbnbs, too.
The days of free headphones on planes may also be dwindling. Even if you’re in first class, you may not get free headphones anymore if there’s no in-flight entertainment.
Because I like to be prepared, I bring a pair of Bluetooth headphones for my laptop or iPad.
I don’t need noise-canceling headphones because I’m not fancy, but investing in a pair of inexpensive noise-canceling headphones isn’t a bad idea if you’re a light sleeper or want to avoid the sound of screaming children.
If you want to watch in-flight entertainment with your Bluetooth headphones, this Airfly Duo wireless transmitter can be plugged into the in-flight entertainment jack and connected to your wireless headphones.
Tablet OR Laptop
I try to only bring either my tablet or laptop on the airplane — just to cut down on the sh*t I’m carrying.
If I’m going on a trip where I need my laptop, that gets first priority. If I’m going on a trip just for pleasure, I always bring my iPad so I can read all the digital magazines I buy on Kindle.
Yes, a lot of planes are now equipped with power outlets at most seats. But not all planes are — and you can’t guarantee these outlets will work. That’s why I bring a small, iPhone portable charger or a light power bank to charge all my devices.
I also like to keep a portable charger on hand for walking around at my destination. That way, I’m not annoying restaurant workers to help me charge my phone or worried that my battery will die.
Collapsible Water Bottle
I love the idea of carrying a water bottle so I don’t need to buy water at the airport or wait for the flight attendant to bring one. But I hate the idea of carrying a stupid water bottle around all day with me.
Enter: the collapsible water bottle.
These roll up and fit easily in your carry-on throughout check-in and security. Just before boarding, fill it up at a water bottle filling station.
I’ve been going on and on about collapsible water bottles since I was an NYC tour guide.
Tourists used to schlep heavy plastic bottles of water with them around the city when they could easily find cheap water for $1 or a Starbucks offering free Venti ice water to fill their collapsible bottles with.
12 Things to Do on a Long Flight (That Aren’t Basic)
These 12 things to do on a long flight aren’t basic. I’m not going to tell you to work or walk around the plane or devote three different list items to different games.
Are these 12 things to do on a long flight stuff you’ve never done before? Probably not. But you might remember activities you’ve long forgotten or get inspired.
One of the top things to do on a long flight is read. I see people reading all the time on planes.
Sadly, I can’t really get that immersed in books on planes anymore. Something to do with the altitude? Who knows?!
The last book I found myself immersed in on a plane was Twilight. When it was still an “indie” novel. It’s been a while.
I have a lot of digital magazine Kindle subscriptions I never have time to read throughout the year (who has time to read a flippin’ magazine anymore?). So I save them all up to read on airplanes.
It takes about an hour or two to get through all of them. And it doesn’t take a lot of brainpower when my mind is already fogged up from the altitude.
What I might do is read a book about my destination. I’ve already planned the trip, but reading a travel book is just one way to lean into my “I’m too excited to fly” feeling.
Listen to Audiobooks/Podcasts
Another popular thing to do on a long flight is listening to audiobooks or podcasts. Again, I can’t really get into these things. For some reason, my attention span is non-existent on flights.
I also don’t really know where to let my eyes land when I’m listening to an audiobook on a plane. What do I look at?
Now, I can listen to an audiobook or podcast while reading a magazine. And that’s actually a great combo. If I’m on a daytime flight, I usually budget about an hour and a half for listening to audiobooks or podcasts and reading magazines.
I’m a terrible plane sleeper. I really hate those people who can fall asleep for several hours seated upright and when the plane lands they’re all, “Oh, we’re here already?”
Those people suck.
If it’s an overnight flight, I can sleep for about one and a half hours to two hours max, but I don’t try to force myself to sleep more than that because I know it’ll never happen. I also need sleep masks, travel pillows, and noise-canceling headphones to do so and that’s just way too much accouterment for me.
But if you’re one of those people that can sleep, by all means, a nap should be one of your things to do on a long flight.
Catch Up on TV/Watch Movies
Probably one of my favorite things to do on a long flight is catch up on TV. I’ll try to save a few episodes of my favorite shows to watch on a long flight. Or, I’ll download a movie I’ve been waiting to see.
I just download them on Netflix, HBO Max, or Amazon Prime. Watching TV is one of the few things I can do on a plane that makes the time pass relatively quickly.
Another one of my favorite things to do on a long flight is play games. I actually forget how much I love playing games on my phone like Candy Crush or Dots until I fly and have time to waste on just playing games.
I try to get games for my phone or iPad before leaving so I’m not lugging around a bunch of puzzle books in my already crowded carry-on.
Watching in-flight entertainment is possibly one of my favorite things to do on a long flight — right behind watching downloaded TV shows and movies.
As long as the airline still offers in-flight entertainment (I’ll always check to see if I need to download an app before takeoff), I’m all about those recently released streaming movies.
I also love watching the old episodes of shows that are often available.
Crafting is something that I’ve more recently started on flights. It’s a great accompanying activity to listening to a podcast or audiobook. I know exactly where to look, and the two activities manage to keep my attention.
Enjoy the Meal Service
My favorite thing to do on a long flight is eat and drink. There are no rules in the sky when it comes to food. And even though airplane food isn’t great, the meal services are a great way to break up the time in the air.
When I create a long flight schedule, I always schedule my activities around meals (I do this when not in the air, too).
Most airlines start a drink service about 30 to 45 minutes after takeoff and the meal service (for long-haul flights) shortly after. Depending on the length of the flight, there will probably be at least one or two more drink services after the meal.
I’ve usually booked my entire trip before flying. But again, I sometimes just like to pass the time (between scheduling things to do on a long flight) by oggling my destination.
If your flight offers wifi, search for your destination on Instagram. You might find some off-the-beaten-path streets, activities, or photo ops.
Things to Do on a Long Flight Home
I find that it’s not such a big deal to schedule things to do on a long flight home.
The flight home doesn’t feel as long as the one before the trip. For some crazy reason, I’m not as super excited to get home as I am to arrive at my destination.
But if you’re bored on the flight home, you can always try one of the above tips or plan your next trip or organize your photos from your previous one to take some of the sting out of going home.
Plan Your Next Trip
One of my favorite things to do on a long flight home is plan my next trip!
Sometimes that looks like planning a trip back to my most recent destination to hit all the places I missed. Sometimes it’s planning an entirely different trip.
Now that basic wifi is available on most flights, you have hours to plan your next big adventure. Need some inspiration? Check out my destination guide!
Organize Your Photos
The flight home is the perfect time to organize the photos you took on your vacation, and it’s one of my favorite things to do on a long flight home.
If you wait until you get back home, they might be forgotten. If you do it on your trip, you might miss out on adventures.
Take some time on your long flight home to organize your photos and make notes and edits while the memories are still fresh in your mind.