10 Tips for Making Long Flights (Somewhat) Bearable

Long haul flight

Long flights are, quite frankly, the worst. You are stuck in a small seat inside a pressurized tube racing through the sky at 30,000 feet. You have what feels like about half an inch of leg space, the air is all recycled, the food is mediocre, and the person sitting next to you is a stranger. But hey, look on the bright side: you only have 8 more hours left in the flight! Fortunately, there are a few tricks you can use to make long flights a bit more bearable (without having to fork over a fortune for first class).

1. Try taking a sleep aid.

For really long flights, you may be able to have your doctor prescribe a medication like Ambien (generic Zolpidem), which is a common sleep aid used to combat insomnia. Ambien is pretty powerful and you should talk to your doctor about possible side effects. I once accidentally took too strong a dose on a trans-pacific flight. When I woke up in New York I found out I had engaged in a conversation in my sleep and I was inexplicably sitting on a chicken sandwich. An alternative, which is less potent but will give you a more natural sleep, is tryptophan, a common over-the-counter drug. I’ve personally had great luck with it. Even though it is over-the-counter, you should still consult your doctor about potential negative side effects and interactions with other medications.

2. Bring earplugs.

This is a good idea even if you don’t plan on sleeping. Airplanes can be noisy places, especially if there is a baby on board (young children often don’t respond well to changes in pressure and sitting still for many hours at a time). Additionally, the noise of the engines may bother you. Older aircraft, especially, are not as good at insulating the noise. You should bring earplugs so you can be prepared for anything.

3. Drink lots of water—and no alcohol.

The air at 30,000 feet gets pretty dry. This will dehydrate you quickly and can make you feel ill. Drinking alcohol on long flights will make the dehydration issue much worse. In addition, cabin pressure is typically kept at about the equivalent of 6,000 feet above sea level, so your oxygen is limited. Alcohol is not a great solution for long flights...water is.