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A view of an airplane engine and wing flying over the clouds as the sun sets.

Finding Serenity on Long-Haul Flights

Article by Leena Kim 03.06.2019

It’s no secret that air travel has become a bit less glamorous than it once was — but when it comes to exploring the world, it’s a necessity. Discover how to find a sense of peace on even the lengthiest flights.

Singapore Airlines recently unveiled new nonstop flights from Newark to Singapore (and later introduced direct routes from Los Angeles and San Francisco), officially setting the record for the longest flight in the world: 19 hours in air. As airlines continue to break new ground in long-haul flying with enticing new routes (from Doha to Los Angeles, D.C. to Hong Kong, London to Perth, Houston to Sydney, Mexico City to Shanghai) and aerospace companies discover the technology to build aircraft that can be ultra-long range and fuel-efficient, travelers are faced with the challenge of relaxing in the close quarters of an airplane. Here’s how to find a bit of inner peace and comfort at 30,000 feet.

A view of an airplane engine and wing flying over the clouds as the sun sets.

Practice: Mindfulness

Flight delays, noisy neighbors, turbulence — air travel can be fraught with stressors, especially on lengthy journeys. Ward off nerves and agitation with a simple meditation: sit up straight in your seat, feet planted on the floor. Place your hands on your lap or the armrest and close your eyes. Take 10 slow, deep breaths through your nose and focus on the white noise of the engine, while noticing the sensation of your body moving through space. For an added dose of calm, consider traveling with an essential oil roll-on in lavender, which is known to promote calm and relaxation. If you’re a nervous flier, try a guided meditation app to help you relax — on long-haul Air France flights, seatback entertainment screens now have apps devoted to mindfulness. For a more low-tech solution, find a pen and paper and try writing your name with your non-dominant hand. The simple exercise requires so much focus that you may end up distracting yourself from the nerves.

Practice: Kindness

Air travel isn’t known to bring out the best in people, but tempering your criticism may lead to a more peaceful flight, both for you and for those around you. Practicing random acts of kindness can release neurochemicals that result in a sense of well-being — dubbed the “helper’s high.” Even just witnessing an act of kindness can release the same feel-good chemicals in your brain that ease anxiety, stress and anger. And it doesn’t have to be anything monumental — something as minor as helping another passenger with their bags or smiling at the parents with the crying baby can lead to an increased sense of serenity onboard.


Three water glasses sit on a white background.

Practice: Careful Consumption

To feel your best while stuck in the air for 12-plus hours, be intentional about what you eat and drink. Before you impulsively reach for that dessert or glass of wine, think through how it will make you feel, as excess sugar and sodium can contribute to sluggishness. To avoid dehydration, the Aerospace Medical Association suggests drinking eight ounces of water every hour you’re in the air. The longer the flight, the more hydration matters, so if you’re imbibing, be sure to pair each glass of bubbly with one of water. If caffeine tends to make you jittery or anxious, stay away from coffee, tea and soda and reach for sparkling water instead. When it comes to food, try to review the menu in advance of your flight so you have time to make any necessary dietary requests. More often than not, airlines are able to accommodate a variety of diets, ranging from vegetarian and gluten-free to low-sodium and halal.

Practice: Self-Care

Prioritizing wellness in the confines of an airplane takes a little imagination, but it can go a long way in ensuring a more enjoyable flight. Strive for a bit of movement at regular intervals, such as a stroll every hour. If you’re seat-bound for a bit, try this simple stretch to improve circulation in your lower back: with your feet planted firmly on the floor, extend your left arm and place your left hand on the outside of your right knee, gently twisting to the right. Repeat on the other side, and always include your head and neck in the twist to get the most out of the stretch.

Practice: Rest and Relaxation

As flight lengths edge up near the full-day mark, securing a good night’s sleep becomes a necessity. Thankfully, airlines are recognizing this and offering private, bedroom-like spaces for premium class travelers. But even with amenities like plush duvets, French beauty products and lie-flat double beds, sleep can often remain elusive while in the air thanks to changing time zones and disturbed circadian clocks. To help hit the reset button, walk yourself through a wind-down routine. Enjoy a cup of tea, read a book, listen to relaxing music — anything to help signal to your brain that it’s time for rest. And while it may be tempting to spend extra hours catching up on work while in the air, prioritizing sleep will allow you to wake up refreshed and ready to hit the ground running in your destination.


An open book is held next to an airplane window.

Practice: Sparking Joy

While the youthful excitement of air travel may wear off early into adulthood, the forced down-time of a long-haul flight can provide a great opportunity to indulge in a few favorite activities. Bring along that book that’s been gathering dust on your nightstand, devote some time to a passion project or try different relaxation methods like journaling or coloring. Given the harried pace of day-to-day life and work, you may even find yourself looking forward to these quiet moments in the air.


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