Answering your top questions about what long flights will be like, once you're up in the air!
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I've written a couple of times about long haul flights - How to Enjoy a Long Haul Flight, and How to Pack for a Long Haul Flight and 10 Days in Europe. I really enjoy traveling, especially long flights, and it seems to be a topic that people are super curious about! It can definitely be intimidating/scary, especially the first few times.
Today I want to focus on the specifics - what's surprising about long flights, specifically international flights, and how are they different from domestic or puddle jumper flights that we're all used to? What do you need to know to be fully prepared before you board?
Additionally, I know a lot of people get nervous about long flights, and even after years of experience, I sometimes do as well (but it's gotten way better). But, I was super nervous before my first flight, partially because I didn't know what to expect. Being prepared is not only part of the fun of getting ready for a trip, but also does help me decrease some of my anxiety, if I know what I'm walking into.
So here we go! What you need to know before a long flight, especially if it's your first!!
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Long Haul Flight Surprise: The planes are nicer
Before I boarded my first-ever long haul flight for our honeymoon to London, I had flown quite a bit in the US, including pretty long domestic flights, but I had focused largely on flying from New York to Atlanta, Richmond to Indianapolis, etc.
I had completely envisioned this nightmare vision of being stuck in one of those cramped, vaguely smelly, regional jets, but for at least 7 hours, overnight.
The good news is that most (not all) long haul planes are far nicer than the tiny planes in which you're used to zooming around the U.S. domestically.
Even in economy, you'll have slightly more leg room than you're used to on domestic flights. The planes have bunches more bathrooms, they actual monitor and clean them during the flight, and there are even a restrooms couple that you can fit into without having to hold your breath and squeeze sideways (whoa!)! The planes are massive, so if you need to stretch your legs a bit, you can, without having to pace back and forth in front of the same 15 people for 10 minutes.
Long Haul Flight Surprise: There's actually overhead space
Obviously no guarantees with air travel these days, but in my experience, there is far more overhead space on transatlantic flight. Not only are the planes themselves just physically larger, but I find that a lot of people aren't trying to work with just a carry-on, since checked bags are often included in the ticket price.
That said, I prefer a cabin bag for long haul flights, so that I can actually open it on the plane if I need to, unlike a roller bag.
Long Haul Flight Surprise: They keep the drinks flowing
We all know that booze doesn't come cheaply on domestic flights, if you're in economy. You've got to really want a beer to pay $7 for it, and let's be honest, we do! And, you're going to be hard-pressed to get a second round, if you're interested in one!
Not so on international flights, even in economy!! Once you're in the air, on every international flight I've been on (which, I'm happy to say is double digits at this point, and on various different major airlines!), the flight attendants keep the drinks coming - within reason!
Best part - it's all included in the price of your ticket! Drink before dinner, wine with dinner - yes ma'am! If you want additional drinks after that, they'll generally come by and offer wine again, but if they don't, you can go back and ask for some - without even getting the strange look that would probably earn you on a domestic flight.
On the majority of airlines, this only includes beer and wine, but Delta includes liquor without an up charge - bring on the gin and tonics!
If this is setting off the will-I-be-hungover alarm bells for you, check out my discussion of drinking v. not drinking on long flights in How to Enjoy a Long Flight.
Long Haul Flight Surprise:The food is actually edible
It's not exactly fine dining in economy, but you do get two meals on a transatlantic flight, in addition to a few rounds of snacks! And, I'm always fairly satisfied with it! You normally even get to chose among 3 options for your main meal!
Generally, on an East-West flight, you'll get drinks, dinner and drinks - dinner includes a small salad, a roll, and entree, and a tiny dessert, and breakfast- normally yogurt, cheese, and a croissant or some other sort of pastry, with coffee/tea. For dinner, I normally go for the pasta, with which I've generally had the most success! Though I had delicious chicken on my trip to Paris last Fall.
West - East, you'll get drinks, lunch and drinks, sometimes snacks, and then a hot snack at the end, which is generally like a giant pizza roll or other re-heated sandwich (my least favorite of the dining options). Lunch options normally include a hot option or a salad.
Like I said, it may not be the best food you've ever had, but it's certainly fine, and hey - they're feeding you, which is more than we can say for most domestic flights!!
Long Haul Flight Surprise: Far more entertainment options
Gone is the domestic: "Want to watch a movie other than these 3 options? Pay us."
International flights have a wide and varied list of tv, documentaries, and movies that are free to watch! I keep myself happily entertained watching a bunch of different things - gotta change it up every so often during that amount of time!
Wifi is still generally only available if you pay, but hopefully that'll change someday! Delta even lets you text (WhatsApp/iMessage), while you're in the air. I can't help but think that's coming soon to the other airlines, as well
Long Haul Flight Surprise: It gets SO COLD at night
I really was not expecting how cold the plane would get at night over the Atlantic. Especially in the window seat, next to the exterior of the plane, the area near the floor gets super frigid.
Definitely keep this in mind when picking shoes for your flight! Personally, I would not recommend wearing shorts, as I think your legs would be super cold. I like to bring a wrap to warm me up, in addition to the sort of icky airplane blanket in its single-use-plastic bag.
It's a bit cold during the day time flight on the way home, but not quite as chilly, in my experience.
Long Haul Flight Surprise: People actually sleep
Don't plan to be up reading all night on an East-West flight! The vast majority of people try (and some succeed!) at sleeping on the flight!
The overhead lights turn off shortly after dinner service is cleared away and then you'd better turn off your personal light or your neighbors will get upset! A lot of airlines will actually provide you with a sleep mask, but I like to bring my own, to make sure it's effective.
They turn the big lights on about an hour and a half before you land, in time to wake everybody up, give you your breakfast, and get ready to get off the plane!
International Haul Flight Surprise: You get to fill out forms!
Depending on which country you're entering, you may have to fill out forms, even before exiting the plane! You'll often be given an immigration form by the flight attendants, which, once completed, you'll give to an immigration or customs officer at the airport as you're entering the new country. Don't be intimidated! Sip that coffee, try to remember your name, and write legibly!
Pro tip: This form will often ask for the address at which you'll be staying during your time in the country, in case they need to get a hold of you. You should 100% have this address saved on your phone, for several reasons, including getting there from the airport, but also for this reason. I just take a picture of the hotel's name and address. You usually need your passport numbers, too, so don't store them away somewhere that you can't get them back out easily.
Thanks so much for stopping by! Have a relaxing and safe flight!
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