My first long-haul flight was direct from New York to Taipei, Taiwan—it was 17 hours, 15 of which I slept. Granted, I have a proclivity for sleeping, perhaps more than the average person, and I’m abnormally good at it. I can sleep as well sitting up in a middle seat, sandwiched between two armrest-hogging strangers, as I can lying on a Tempurpedic mattress in the comfort of my own home.
I usually pass out before the flight crew even go over their safety procedures prior to take off. It’s a blessing and curse because, while excruciatingly long flights feel like mere minutes for me, I’ve slept through in-flight meals more times than I’ve eaten them.
Most flights I’ve taken have been at least eight hours—in fact, anything under five hours feels like teleportation to me. I don’t even like hopping on flights under three hours because, by the time I reach the REM stage of my precious nap, the plane wheels hitting the airstrip at my destination wakes me right back up. And then I’m just grumpy.
If you’re not quite as gifted at sleeping like a rock, however, or perhaps don’t want to sleep to prevent jetlag, there are other ways to entertain yourself on a ridiculously long flight. Here are some tips on how to catch some Zs and other small mercies that’ll make time fly by.
If you’re wondering, I don’t take any sleeping aids in the pill form to induce sweet dreams for hours on end. My recipe is simple: a restless night the evening prior coupled with two glasses of Pinot Noir in a dimly lit airport bar just before departure. For me, it works like a charm. If you need something a bit more targeted, however, consider taking some all-natural sleep enhancers. You might want to throw back a Snoozeberry or Nighttime Nectar sleep shot from Dream Water; it’s got a combo of ingredients to help you relax and get some quality shuteye.
If you have the option to select your seat during booking, you’ll probably want a window seat so neighbors aren’t waking you up to use the restroom and so you can lean on the window to rest. If you don’t do it ahead of time, trying asking about available seats at the gate. I also recommend packing a neck pillow like this professional hooded one for added comfort and privacy, or even this face cradle for position versatility (you’ll be that guy—and may end up on someone’s Snap story, but it’ll be worth it). Most airlines will provide you with regular pillows, blankets and sometimes even cozy socks. And I’m an advocate of wearing comfortable clothing—even pajamas—for air travel. Bring layers in case the person seated next to you has their air vent cranking.
2. Read a book.
Who has time to read anymore? You do. On that long-haul flight of yours when you’ve got nothing better to do. Pack your Kindle or download the Kindle app on your iPad or iPhone and finally turn the pages of that book you’ve been meaning to read since your friend lent it to you two years ago. If you can’t decide what to read, consider one of Amazon.com’s best sellers of 2017 in Kindle e-books—these include everything from The Handmaid’s Tale (#1) to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (if you haven’t already) to Little Boy Lost (#25).
Just think, if you’ve got a book that’s about 300 pages, and the average person spends about two minutes per page, it’ll take you about 600 minutes—a.k.a 10 hours—to read a book cover to cover. Depending where you’re flying, you could knock out a whole novel.
3. Catch up on movies.
Most international airlines offer you in-flight entertainment such as movies. What I don’t recommend is watching one that has anything to do with plane hijinks that’ll freak you out or profuse sex scenes that’ll freak out the parent of the wide-eyed toddler next to you. What I do recommend is scoping out the array of appropriate movies you’ve been curious about but never wanted to spend $20 on to go see in theaters—like Baywatch. Maybe even check out that Oscar award-winning movie you never got to see for yourself.
Some noteworthy airlines that are recognized for their in-flight entertainment bundles include Virgin America (which also offers satellite TV, a music library, games, digital shopping and the ability to order food and drinks whenever you want… plus power outlets in every seat), Singapore Airlines (which, on top of all the essentials, has some aircrafts that feature iPod and iPhone connectivity via USB ports so you can turn the screens into personal media players or PDF readers) and Emirates (which, on most routes, lets you choose from more than 1,500 channels and even get a glimpse of views from their aircraft-mounted cameras).
Editor’s note: Give some foreign flicks from the region you are flying to a shot. Some are amazing!
4. Start or finish a series.
Like movies, you can also binge-watch new or favorite television shows. American Airlines, for example, offers The Walking Dead and United offers Game of Thrones. Assuming the average length of an episode of most shows is an hour, you could bang out an entire season.
If you’re really keen on getting your fix, check out what shows will be available on different flights before booking. If you can get from Point A to Point B in about the same time for about the same price via two different airlines, go to both airlines’ websites and see if they display their in-flight entertainment options there. Qatar Airlines, for example, allows you to search for TV shows (and movies, audio and more) by plugging in your route; it’ll pull up the most commonly used aircraft for that route, and you can then check out the program for that aircraft.
5. Listen to podcasts.
Podcasts are evermore popular these days. I assume it’s because people are tired of reading words all day, since we constantly have our noses in our phones or our computer monitors. Podcasts are ideal because all you’ve got to do is listen. They’re especially ideal for long flights because you can close your eyes while you listen and maybe even fall asleep.
There’s something for everyone out there, from murder mystery podcasts like Up and Vanished, to news podcasts like The Daily from the New York Times, to podcasts that explore history like Uncivil to podcasts that explore an array of fascinating topics like Six Pack. The Atlantic recently shared its top 50 podcasts of 2017, which might be a good place to start.
6. Get ahead on work.
If your airline offers in-flight Wi-Fi, and you’ve got a good amount of work to do, buy it. It may be expensive since antennas increase drag, which adds to fuel costs, and Wi-Fi comes with engineering and maintenance costs for airlines. But heck, you can probably expense it. And some airlines offer free Wi-Fi on all or most of their flights, including Norwegian, Emirates, Qatar Airways, JetBlue Airways, Turkish Airlines, Air China, China Easter and Nok Air. Note that most of these vary by cabin class or offer free internet access only up to a specific amount of time or megabytes, though. If you need to get some work done, you should check out the airline’s Wi-Fi services ahead of time and plan accordingly.
If the airline doesn’t offer Wi-Fi, you can still be productive. Do anything you can that doesn’t require the internet—writing in Word documents, filing Excel sheets or putting together PowerPoint presentations. You can even answer emails offline if you have a Gmail account by simply downloading Gmail Offline to your Chrome Browser—your emails won’t send immediately, but they will automatically dish out once you’re reconnected to the internet.
7. Play games.
Like movies and TV shows, most in-flight entertainment systems also offer video games. For example, the most popular one on Air Europa, the third-largest airline in Spain and a GUE Tech client, is Garfield Kart. The game was originally released on Nintendo 3DS, and it was adapted by the company for Air Europa’s Panasonic eX3 system on board two Boeing 787s delivered in June 2016. Air Europa says it was played more than 5,000 times during the first month of service.
If video games aren’t your thing, bring along a book of Sudoku, word search or crossword puzzles. Those things will certainly eat up your time, and probably eventually put you to sleep, as well.
Maybe you’ve never been the type to journal—but maybe your 10-hour flight to Eastern Europe is the time to start. Sitting on a plane for hours on end leaves a lot of time to be alone in your thoughts, and we all know how dangerous that can be. But we also know how productive that could be. Think about all the novel ideas you have when you’re sitting on the toilet or taking a shower—really the only times we ever spend in isolation these days. Now think about all the novel ideas you could have in hours instead of those few minutes.
Consider the flight ample meditation time to think mindfully and actually write down your thoughts—ideas, questions, anxieties and so on. If you think you need a little guidance, get yourself The Book of Me: A Do-It-Yourself Memoir before you fly. Inside you’ll answer prompts and fill out multiple-choice questionnaires that’ll get your creative juices flowing. Just make sure to give us a cut of the proceeds from the lucrative book or movie deal that follows.