Flying over Sydney Harbour. (Photo: @robbie_fid/Instagram)
No matter how great the destination waiting at the other end (Australia? Philippines?), there’s not much that can make a long-haul flight fun. Not even a 16-hour Empire marathon. But there are things you can do to feel so much better during and after your next long, long journey. Here, pros from doctors and flight attendants to beauty experts, nutritionists, and more share their best long-haul-flight-survival advice.
1. Moisturize your body before you get dressed. “It can make a huge difference in whether or not you feel comfortable in your own skin,” says Abbie Unger, former flight attendant and author of Looking Skyward: Turn Your Flight Attendant Dreams Into Reality. “Use an unscented lotion because strong smells could make you, or your very close seat mate feel airsick.”
Nuts? OK. But skip the pretzels. (Photo: Thinkstock)
2. Stay away from carbs before and during the flight. “Carbohydrates [make you] hold water,” says Annie Lawless, certified holistic health coach and co-founder of Suja Juice. “Most of us feel puffy and bloated from travel, and having a carb-heavy meal does nothing but exacerbate that effect.” Instead, plan ahead and pack snacks like nuts, turkey slices, and low-fat cheese for the airport and flight. Or if all else fails, choose the chicken or fish airplane meal instead of the pasta.
3. Adjust your facial skin-care routine. Skin can get extremely dry on the plane, but there are ways to keep that to a minimum. “Make sure to taper off exfoliators like Retin-A, retinaldehyde, or retinol products. Any deep exfoliation should also be avoided for two weeks prior to a long flight,” says Austin-based dermatologist Ted Lain, as being up in the air for an extended amount of time can exacerbate the harsh effects. Also, try switching from body and face lotions to creams, which are thicker — “they fight off the dry air on a plane.”
4. Wear compression gear. Especially on flights over four hours, “It’s so important to keep circulation coursing, not only to avoid blood clots but also to keep your body energized by preventing all that blood from just getting stuck in your ankles,” explains Dr. Jamé Heskett, founder of the Wellpath NYC. Wear compression socks while you’re immobile during the flight. You can buy them at most drugstores or on Amazon.com.
5. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Drinking water regularly will help the texture of your skin, ward off germs, and aid blood flow, but that’s not all. It will also prevent your muscles from becoming so stiff. “Muscles won’t be as elastic if they’re dehydrated, which makes you more susceptible to cramping,” says Jeffery Richardson, fitness expert and a personal trainer at Equinox gym in New York City.
6. Use breathing techniques. “It will calm you and keep your whole body oxygenated and energized,” says Heskett. What to do: “Take a deep breath in through the nose. While breathing in, contract your muscle groups starting with your toes. Exhale through your nose and release the contraction,” she explains. In other words, breathe in, contract your toes and feet and hold. Breathe out and relax your toes and feet. Next time, breathe in and contract your calves and hold. Then breathe out and relax your calves. Then move up to your thigh muscles, then abdominals, and so on. “All the way up to and including your face,” says Heskett. “It forces blood and oxygen and nutrients all over your body instead of leaving everything stagnant during a long flight.”
7. Ice your eyes. Though we never recommend ingesting the ice on airplanes (the water they came from may be questionable), “flight attendants will happily bring over a cup of ice so you can rest a cube over each eye for a few minutes,” says NYC facialist Ildi Pekar. Slip it in a plastic bag and place it on your lids. “It helps reduce puffiness and delivers a hydrated, well-rested appearance.“
8. Brush your Teeth. "One of the biggest mistakes people make on a long flight is to throw their normal habits to the side,” shares dentist Sivan Finkel of NYC’s the Dental Parlour. “Not only will a clean mouth make you feel fresher, but it can also help prep you for a snooze on the plane. A relaxing routine — such as brushing your teeth — lets your body know that it’s time for sleep.” Plus, it’s equally as important for cavity protection: “The change in air pressure dehydrates us, and a dry mouth doesn’t have as much bacteria-fighting saliva.”
9. Have a positive mindset. “A long plane ride can be a good opportunity to catch up on books and movies or to sleep, meditate, or write a business plan for your dream job,” suggests Sherrie Campbell, a California psychologist and author of Loving Yourself: The Mastery of Being Your Own Person. Instead of dreading the flight, find ways in which the uninterrupted time can be beneficial.
10. Stretch out your neck. Place your right hand over the top of your head and pull your right ear down toward your right shoulder. Hold for 15 seconds while breathing. Keep pulling, but now look up and hold for 15 seconds, then look down for 15 seconds. Repeat on your left side. “It stretches all the major muscles of the neck,” says Heskett. Repeat about every hour.
11. Go makeup-free. Use the flight time to give your skin a break. An oil-free moisturizer and a light lip gloss are OK, but definitely skip foundation, eye makeup, and the rest of the works so they’re not sitting on your skin throughout your flight, says New York City dermatologist Barney Kenet.
12. Treat pimples that pop up with aspirin. In addition to alleviating any head and body aches and having blood-thinning properties (both helpful on flights), aspirin also has beauty benefits. Petra Strand, creator of Pixi by Petra, swears by this easy blemish-fighting tip: “Crush the aspirin and combine it with club soda to make a paste, then dab it onto the pimple to reduce swelling and take out redness.”
13. Bring your own tea bags. Pack a couple bags of your favorite type of tea, suggests Heskett, depending on the effect you would like it to have. To relax, try chamomile; for stomach ailments, go with peppermint or ginger; to energize, drink green or black tea, says Heskett. If you forget, hot water with two pieces of fresh lemon is a great alternative.
14. Boost your immune system. The easiest way to do so is to go easy on the sugar. “Even one high-sugar snack will suppress your immune system for over 12 hours, making you more susceptible to catching that virus circulating around the airplane,” explains Frank Comstock, MD, co-founder of Freshly.com and author of Anti-Aging 101.
15. Recline your seat. We know it’s controversial, but reclining your chair can also help. “The reclined position will give you more extension in the hip flexors,” explains Equinox’s Richardson, which can help prevent painful lower back issues.
16. Do a face mask. Celebrity makeup artist Michal Cohen slathers on a moisturizing face mask before snoozing on long flights. “The environmental change can make skin dull and dehydrated,” she explains. “You want a product that will lock in moisture and provide a protective barrier against all of the recycled air.” Her choice? Kate Somerville’s Age Arrest Hydrating Firming Mask. “As soon as the lights dim, I put it on. When I wake up, I’m hydrated and refreshed.”
17. Move your body. You should get up at least two times an hour and stretch your legs — 50 to 70 yards of pacing up and down the aisle, says personal trainer Richardson. And if you have a layover, don’t spend it sitting — take a walk, even if it’s a quick one.
18. Use acupressure points. There’s a great spot on the inside of the ankle that will help with jet lag and general well-being. It’s in the depression located halfway between the Achilles and the most prominent point of the ankle bone, says dermatologist Carl Thornfeldt. Use the back of a ballpoint pen or your finger to rub or press the spot for 20- to 30-second intervals for 10 minutes.
19. Moisturize your nostrils. A product such as Aquaphor can be applied to your nostrils to keep them moisturized. Why is that important? Plane air is dry like the desert, which parches your nose, according to Katherine Harmon, director of health intelligence at risk management company iJet. When that happens, your body tries to remedy the situation with a runny nose, and runny noses are a breeding ground for bacteria. Bonus: You can use Aquaphor on cuticles, lips, and hands to combat dry skin from recirculated air, as well.
20. Eat during the last meal before landing. Whether you bring your own food or eat the meal the plane provides, it will help you adjust to your new time zone and schedule says Tina Ruggiero, dietician and author of The Truly Healthy Family Cookbook. “Resist the urge to snack unnecessarily throughout the flight, but before you land, absolutely have breakfast or whichever meal they’re serving.”
21. Hack a computer desk. Pack a sweater in your laptop bag and make it into a laptop pillow, suggests Heskett. That way, you don’t have to hunch over your laptop, which is terrible for your neck, back, and overall posture.
22. Do seat exercises. Try these two, from trainer Jeffery Richardson. 1) Get a mini exercise band (with light resistance) or just use your body weight. Sitting up straight in your seat, put the band over your wrists (you don’t want too much tension). Bend your elbows at a 90-degree angle, with your elbows stuck to your rib cage. Keeping your elbows at your ribs, move your wrists away from your body, out in a horizontal movement (creating more tension on the band). As you do so, rotate your thumbs away from the body. Then move back to starting position. That constitutes one rep. Do three to five sets of 10 to 20 reps. “It promotes better posture,” says Richardson. 2) Sit up straight in your seat. Tighten your stomach by lightly contracting the muscles. Breath in, letting your stomach out, but not fully — “it should still be somewhat contracted,” says Richardson. Then breath out so your stomach goes in, and contract the stomach muscles further. “This is not a deep breath,” he says, “but as if you’re breathing through a tiny straw. This helps stabilize your core.” Repeat several times.
Landing lips (Photo: Thinkstock)
23. Apply “landing lips.” Ladies (or so-inclined gentlemen), that’s flight attendant speak for a fresh coat of red lipstick applied upon landing. It’s an instant beauty boost, says former flight attendant Unger.