Air Travel

Your looooooong flight survival guide

“I can come back any time, bro” I said to my friend Dylan last week as we lounged in his backyard in the Los Angeles hills. “It’s only a 12-hour from Manila.”

Your looooooong flight survival guide

I caught myself. Something is really wrong with me, and it wasn’t just the copious amounts of wine I’d consumed talking. In my mind, it really was no big deal taking a full half-day flight to come back for a special occasion. In fact, I’ve taken quite a few ridiculously long flights lately, since I live in Southeast Asia but come back to visit family, friends, and clients in the United States at least once a year. Flights that are 8, 10, 12, and even 14 hours long are the norm these days. So, too, are shorter flights, as I’ve taken nearly 100 flights one hour or less over the last two years by my estimation. Those long ones, though…

In fact, I have an upcoming ticket booked from John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City allllllllll the way to Manila in the Philippines, approximately 8,000 miles away. The time in flight? About 15 hours.

I know it will be friggin miserable and I might go bat-shit insane around hour 11, but that’s nothing new. With the advent of these new behemoth aircraft and innovations in technology, it seems that flights literally across the world will be something we see more and more, and that’s fine by me!

Still, I’m not sweating it too bad because I’ve developed strategies, techniques, and hacks to help me deal with marathon flights over the years.

Here are a few:

Book a direct flight!
The problem with most long travel days isn’t solely the length of the flight, but the fact that you have to take more than one flight. The time it takes to land, taxi, get off the plane, possibly get your bag and/or go through customs, check in again, wait for a long layover, take off again, and do it all over is prohibitive. For instance, that 15-hour flight from New York to Manila would probably be a 24 hour travel day if I took the typical route and landed in Japan, Korea, or Taiwan for a layover. Go direct whenever you can.

Business class is way about my pay grade (and first class is nothing but a pipedream). But, these days, there are a whole lot of ways to try and get creative for a better seat. That includes Premium Economy or even paying a little bit extra for an exit row seat. Some airlines also offer a bidding process (like Philippines Airlines), so you can make an offer for a better seat. You won’t know if you’ll get the seat until about 48 hours before the flight, but, at that point, you’ll get an email alerting you that your bid was accepted (and your credit card charged). I just got a business class trip from Manila to San Francisco on Philippines Air and it was HEAVEN!

Or, get an exit row.
Sometimes, you don’t have to pay a cent for an exit row seat – just show up about four hours before your international flight or three hours before a domestic flight and you’ll probably be first in line. Simply show up and ask and they usually have one available.

Where should you sit?
Window seats are for rookies who want to see the view. Center seats are for suckers. And the aisle row is where veterans of the flying game sit. Likewise, try to get a seat in the front or back of the main cabin, so you’re closer to one of the bathrooms.

Adjust for the dry air
The atmosphere on an airplane is about seven times more arid than normal breathable air.So, I adapt by bringing a chapstick, wet wipes,and skin lotion and use them several times, as well as drinking tons of water. I also use rewetting eye drops periodically, but that’s just me because I have bad peepers.

Limit the alcohol.
This may not be popular, but limit the alcohol in your system because that can dehydrate you even more, and contribute to jet lag. There is also NOTHING worse than starting to get a nice buzz in the airport while you’re waiting or on the plane, only to wake up six hours later and you’re hungover and you STILL have hours to fly.

It ain’t exactly clean.
I make sure to carry several antibacterial sprays or hand sanitizers, and reach for them like a gunfighter in a shootout at high noon. Antibacterial wipes are great, too, as they literally NEVER clean your armrest or the tray table on airplanes.

Try to eat healthy.
For those same reasons, don’t overeat and try to keep your food healthy. It’s harder for your body to digest under those stressors and at altitude, so anything you eat will sit like a lump in your stomach, and make you feel more bloated. Especially avoid fried foods and salt.

Get up and walk.
By the time the flight is over, my feet and ankles look like I’m a stunt double in a remake of Eddie Murphy’s The Nutty Professor. Not only is it important for me to dress in loose clothing and wear comfortable shoes, but I have to remind myself to get up every hour or two, walk around, and stretch a little. Even when I’m sitting, I can still flex my calves, roll my ankles, etc. to keep the blood moving.

What to wear.
Speaking of which, I have a normal outfit (like jeans and a sweatshirt or shorts and a tank top) for the airport, but then throw my comfortable clothes in my carry-on bag for the flight. That means big loose sweatpants, basketball shorts underneath, warm, fluffy, loose socks, a dry fit compression shirt, and a big super warm sweatshirt. I also wear those Adidas athletic sandals that let me shuffle around in comfort but are open enough to accommodate those big socks. There’s nothing worse than tight shoes for a 12-hour flight!

Movies, movies, and more movies. A series of Game of Thrones you haven’t yet seen will be like paradise on a long flight! Books are fine too, of course. Oh, and check ahead of time to see if they have outlets at your seat so you can regulate your laptop or iPad’s battery accordingly. Noise-cancelling headphones definitely help.

Bring a pen.
I usually carry a spare pen so I can fill out my visa or immigration forms on the plane instead of in a rush when I land. Oh, and try to get some currency of the country you’ll be visiting before you get on the plane.

Emerg-C it.
To put it bluntly, airplane air is nasty. It’s recirculated throughout the plane the entirety of your flight, which means you’re breathing everyone else’s germs. That exposure to so many coughing sneezing and who-knows-what-else people is hard on the immune system, as well as time changes, lack of sleep, etc. So, I always take zinc tablets or Emerg-C a few days before the flight, the day of traveling, and a few days after. It helps!

Earbuds or eye shades.
If you have trouble sleeping.

Chewing gum.
I bring gum for the takeoff and landing, as it helps my ears.

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Norm Schriever is a blogger, Amazon best-sellling author, cultural mad scientist, and enemy of the comfort zone. His work appears in the Huffington Post,, Good Morning America, The Anderson Cooper Show on CNN, NBC, MSN, Yahoo,, and media all around the world.
Norm grew up in Connecticut and graduated from the University of Connecticut, where he was never accused of overstudying. After expatriating to Costa Rica in 2011, he started traveling the world and documenting what he saw. He now lives in Southeast Asia, writing his heart out and working with local charities.

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