There is absolutely no doubt that choosing the right place to sit on a long-haul international flight will make a big difference to your travel experience.
Unlike my post about short-haul flights which is mostly trivial stuff, when you take long-haul flight you really need to put some consideration into where you would like to sit if you are given the opportunity to do so.
But just before we get into properly, I should probably define what I classify as a long-haul flight.
For me, I tend to define a long-haul flight as anything longer than 4 hours. Basically, if you can watch two full movies whilst onboard your in in long-haul flight territory.
While typically international flights, there are definitely long-haul domestic flights as well. Sydney to Perth as an example.
Be that a domestic or international flight, 4 hours is the cut off for a short-haul flight. Basically, if you can more than two full movies, you’re on a long-haul flight.
Although it isn’t always the case, these flights usually happen during reasonable hours of the day. So it’s unlikely you would be looking to get any mid-flight sleep or have several meals during the flight.
Unlike short-haul flights, these flights can often be at awkward hours in the day, meaning that you’re much more likely to want to catch up on sleep mid-flight. Food, entertainment and bathroom trips are also worth keeping in mind.
Now we’ve covered that, here are my tips:
My first piece of advice for you is to do whatever you can to get upgraded. It will make a massive difference to your long-haul flight experience. Massive!
A general Economy seat definitely get you to where you are going. No worries at all. But how you feel when you get there will be significantly improved if you can snag a Premium Economy, Business Class or better yet First Class seat upgrade.
Now I know paying for those seats are expensive… Properly expensive. Which can be a really big chunk out of your travel budget. So why not check out my post on tips on how to get upgraded the next time you fly post.
Sit at the Front
You might not realise it, but the main reason the premium cabins (First Class/Business Class) are always located at the front of the planes is to get away from the engine noise.
Being at the front of the plane has a few other benefits as well, but you experience much less engine noise sitting in front of the wings than behind.
Obviously, when you are travelling on long-haul flights, particularly really long international ones where you are looking to get some sleep, this can make a big difference.
More modern aircraft like the Boeing 787 and Airbus A350 are a bit better at managing engine noise and noise-cancelling headphones make a big difference, but I’ve always found trying to sleep with headphones on somewhat problematic.
If you get the opportunity, sit as far forward in the plane as you can… Back to my previous point if possible.
A couple of the other benefits include the meals services being served front to back so you will more likely get a favourable meal choice. Then once you arrive at your destination you’ll be able to get off the plane and stretch the legs more quickly than those at the back of the plane (well, usually).
If I’m travelling on a long-haul flight then I will always choose to sit in an aisle seat where possible.
The main reason for this is that the longer the flight, the more likely you are going to need to get up at some (or several) points during the trip. Bathroom breaks, stretch the legs, even just to grab a pen out of your bag so you can fill in your arrival card.
If you’ve got an aisle seat you will be able to do all of this at your own convenience without being forced to wake someone else up. It will also let you stretch out into the aisle without getting out of your seat. Just watch out for those drinks trolleys.
Pro Tip: When travelling on wide-body aircraft, anything that has two aisles, which are typically the ones doing the long-haul international flights anyway, always choose the aisle seats in the center of the aircraft.
Why might you ask? The great thing about the center is you have the two aisles to choose from and anyone unfortunate enough to get stuck in the middle seats will have the option, meaning if you fall asleep there is only a 50% chance they will wake you up if they need to get up.
Fly Off Peak
Flying outside of peak times might be the biggest trick if you can get away with it.
If you’ve flown a lot, then you’ll understand the pure joy that comes from realising the seat next to you is going to vacant the entire trip. This is especially so during long-haul flights.
Try to book your flight during times that the planes are less likely to be fully booked. Middle of the week, outside of school holiday periods etc…
A simple thing like flying on a Wednesday can make a huge difference to your experience. And if you are really lucky you might just get an entire row to yourself
A Few More Tips
If you don’t like turbulence, which is more common if you flying over the equator, then opting to sit towards the middle of the plane, near the wings, is your best bet.
It will be noisier, but the seats near the wings are less like to feel the turbulence, as this is the most stable part of the plane.
The day of your flight make sure you put in the effort to walk around, even if that is doing an extra lap of the airport terminal while you waiting to go.
You are going to be stuck sitting for a long stretch, getting your body moving before (and after) your flight is going to make a big difference to how you feel.
Whatever you do, keep hydrated. Drink lots of water, start well before you fly and keep it up during. Without a doubt, this is the number one thing that will carry over to the first couple of days of your trip.
If your in for the long-haul and you want to sleep jeans and fitted shirt probably aren’t going to be your best bet. Either wear, or pack in your carry-on that you can change into, something a bit more roomy and relaxed so you can be comfortable for the duration of the flight.
Pro tip: A hooded jumper/jacket doubles as an eye mask which can be handy if your sleeping schedule doesn’t match the daylight or the routine of others on the flight.
You know those horribly expensive travel sized essentials, deodorant, tooth paste, etc… Trust me they are worth it on those really long-haul flights (Sydney to London/Sydney to Los Angeles etc). Being able to freshen up before you land will make a world of difference especially if you can’t check in to your accommodation for a few hours after you’ve landed.
These tips should make your next long-haul flight experience much better. If you’d like some other tips, I’ve also got posts on short-haul flying and how to get your seat upgraded the next time you fly.
For more travel tips, make sure you check out the rest of my blog posts as well.