If you’ve never experienced a long haul flight before - or whether you’re a seasoned traveller - preparation is key to ensure that your transit process and arrival in your destination goes smoothly.
As you get ready to embark on your study abroad journey, you’ll want to make sure that you have everything you need to not only travel comfortably, but also to rest assured in the knowledge that you’ll have everything you need to quickly settle in at your destination.
What is a long haul flight?
When travelling by flight, the length of your total journey is typically referred to by three categories.
Plane trips called “short-haul” flights are estimated to take around 3 hours in duration, while “medium haul” flights can take between 3-6 hours. “Long haul” flights run for 6-12 hours or longer.
Most travellers seeking to travel internationally will at some point endure a long-haul flight, which can either be non-stop to a specific destination or can route through multiple airports or airlines - with breaks in certain airports, referred to as ‘layovers’.
While anyone may find even a short-haul flight stressful, long haul flights may be more complex given that not only is your expected time in a passenger cabin far longer, you may have to carry more than one valid visa depending on how your travel route has been constructed and the airports you intend to pass through to connect to your destination.
Long haul flights may also mean that you may need to be considerate in packing your on-board luggage, considering that you might also wish to bring items such as pillows, a neck support, or entertainment to keep yourself comfortable.
I’m travelling on a long flight for the first time. What should I know?
How to board a plane for the first time
If you’ve never travelled by plane before, you may feel anxious about navigating an airport and boarding your plane successfully. The good news is that the overall experience and process is straightforward, and you don’t need to feel any worry in beginning an exciting travel experience. All you’ll need to do is remain calm, comfortable, comply with any instructions given by a member of an airport or airline staff, and you will be ready to jet-set.
The process of ‘boarding’ actually begins before you reach the airport. As you’re leaving home, you’ll want to do a final check of your luggage and carry-on baggage to ensure you have everything you’ll need to reach your destination comfortably.
The most important things you’ll want to check you have with you are:
- A valid ID and passport
- Copies of your flight itinerary
- Your boarding pass (you can either sign in at an airport, or online)
- Valid visa(s) for your intended destination(s) if necessary
- Proof of your accommodation at your destination
How the check-in process works
Airplane travel is simple and only needs minimal preparation. You should arrive at the airport at least 2-3 hours before your flight is scheduled to depart. Once you arrive at the airport, you’ll want to head to your airline’s check in counter, where you can alternatively check in to their airport and deposit your luggage as cargo, or simply drop off your checked baggage in the event you’ve already checked-in online. If this is your first time flying on a plane, you can let your airline’s staff know - they’ll be able to explain any steps that you’re unfamiliar with.
At the check-in, you’ll be provided with a final boarding pass that will contain the details of your flight(s) as well as your departure gate.
You’ll then want to head to your intended departure gate (which is usually marked with an alphabetical character for the terminal, and number for the gate in question, such as A13). You will then need to wait for your flight to begin boarding, which will be announced over an intercom or on a departure board.
Once boarding has begun, you’ll be able to queue in line, have your ID and boarding pass checked, and then board the aircraft. You’ll need to sit in the seat assigned to you, or that you chose during the check-in process. If you sit in a seat in an emergency exit, you will be briefed by the flight crew on the responsibilities you would take on during an emergency. If you do not accept these responsibilities, you can opt to be relocated to another seat in the aircraft.
Once arriving at your seat, you’ll need to stow any carry-on baggage for take-off in a compartment (traditionally above you). From there, once you’re safely in your seat, you can relax! The flight crew will then present a briefing on the take-off process, where you may be requested to temporarily turn any electronic devices off.
The airline will then taxi on to the runway and will eventually take-off - this may feel daunting, but be assured that airlines and aircraft follow rigorous safety procedures and your pilots will be well experienced.
How to be comfortable on a plane
Comfort on any flight can be difficult, given that most airline seats are compact without much legroom and some may not recline to provide back support.
Before boarding a flight, be sure to drink plenty of water as many travellers find the process of travelling dehydrating.
What to wear on an overnight flight
Ensure you’re wearing clothing that you feel comfortable to sleep or rest in. Wearing compression socks or comfortable shoes can enable you to relax more fully in your seat, given you will have limited space to move. A face mask can also enable you to block out intrusive light if you wish to rest, and noise-cancelling headphones or ear muffs can help reduce sound in the cabin if you find yourself unable to sleep.
Things to do on a long flight
Most modern flights offer in-flight entertainment, and you will usually be able to watch the latest films or television series to pass the time. You may also prefer to bring your own laptop, smartphone, or tablet with your own entertainment as well.
What’s the best face mask for long haul flights?
If you are concerned about COVID-19 or other diseases when travelling internationally, a quality face mask can help reduce the spread of airborne viruses. Most local and international health regulations suggest that travellers wear a NIOSH-compliant and properly-fitted disposable N-95 face mask for long-haul flights.
TIP: Remember to check both travel advisories and COVID-19 health regulations in your intended travel destination to ensure you can comply with any laws or applicable guidelines.
Tips for long flights
Buy your ticket as early as possible
If you haven’t yet purchased your travel tickets, the best advice possible is to do so early.
Seat prices become more expensive towards the airline’s intended departure date, and purchasing a ticket early can enable you to not only save money but further select a comfortable seat.
Generally, the first and last passenger row in Economy provides the greatest legroom. If you’re willing to accept the responsibilities that come with sitting in an emergency exit row, you may be able to find more legroom there as well. However, not all airlines allow this row to be pre-booked.
Bring comfortable clothing, pillows, and earplugs
Unfortunately, few people find international flights truly comfortable. Ensuring that you are wearing loose, flexible, and warm clothing can ensure your flight will be as relaxing as possible.
Additionally, you may wish to invest in a travel pillow or neck support, as well as ear muffs, ear plugs, or noise-cancelling headphones to reduce sound in the cabin space while you travel.
Bring your own snacks, if possible
While some airlines pride themselves on the cuisine served during flight, airline food does not have a reputation for being appetising. Additionally, in-flight meals can be pricey; meaning you’ll want to keep a close eye on your travel budget.
If your airline allows it, you may prefer to bring your own food and water aboard for snacking while you travel. Be sure to accommodate breakfast, lunch, and dinner while you travel.
It is not recommended to drink tap water from the tap in an aircraft’s bathroom, and for that reason you may want to bring water aboard or ask the cabin crew for bottled water.
Hydrate and bring moisturiser
As aircraft cabins are pressurised and recycle air, you may find yourself feeling dehydrated or unwell during a long-haul flight.
To prevent this, be sure to drink plenty of water - and if you find your skin becomes irritated, you may additionally wish to bring moisture to ease your discomfort while travelling.
Do light exercise while in the air
Sitting for prolonged periods during an international flight can cause you to feel still and uncomfortable, and it’s generally recommended that you try to do light exercise while you are in flight.
Exercises to perform include simply walking up and down the passenger aisle when permitted, rotating your ankles, extending your calf, and trying to stand for periods when possible.
Taking your next step as an international student?
Explore our resources and find guides on visa and travel updates, and read our easy-to-follow guide on how to secure international student accommodation!