I’m a former flight attendant. Here are 12 ways passengers ruin their experience on long-haul flights.

plane window (left), plane meal (right)

My years as a flight attendant taught me ways to maximize comfort in the air.Tiffany Hawk

  • As a former flight attendant, I’ve found ways to make traveling less stressful and more enjoyable.

  • Some people drink too much alcohol, which can lead to dehydration and poor behavior.

  • Others forget to dress in layers and spend the entire flight feeling too hot or too cold.

I used to work as an international flight attendant and have seen many travelers repeat the same mistakes.

flight attendant standing at the airport with a carryon bag

I serviced over 100 international flights during my time as a flight attendant.Ekaterina Pokrovsky/Shutterstock

As a travel writer who used to work as an international flight attendant, I’ve crisscrossed the globe many times over.

I’ve serviced every cabin and sat in just about every seat on the plane, from a first-class sleeper suite to the middle seat in the last row of economy. In doing so, I’ve learned many of the tricks of the trade the hard way.

Here’s what I’ve noticed many travelers do, consciously or subconsciously, to sabotage their comfort and overall experience on long-haul international flights.

Some have a hard time waking back up after taking sleeping pills in the air.

Pills spilling out of prescription bottle - stock photo

Consult with your doctor before taking medication in the air.Tetra Images / Getty Images

Don’t assume you can wash down a sleep aid with a couple of drinks and stay comfortably asleep for precisely the right amount of time.

Some sleeping pills can lead to grogginess and other side effects, and you need to be able to be awake and alert in the case of a mechanical issue or other emergencies on the plane.

If you have a hard time getting up after trying sleep aids for the first time, having a stronger-than-usual reaction to one, or taking too many sleeping pills, you could wake up to a frustrated flight attendant in front of your face.

Always talk to your doctor before taking prescription medication in the air. And if you’re taking over-the-counter sleep aids, make sure you follow the instructions closely.

Many fail to test out their bulky neck pillow before the flight and don’t end up using it.

neck pillow sitting on plane seat

Always try out your pillow before carrying it onto the plane.PhotoHelin/Shutterstock

Some people swear by those classic U-shaped neck pillows, and my daughter actually loves hers.

But more often than not, I’ve seen passengers schlep them all over the world only to hang them up on the plane after finding them uncomfortable.

Before you burden yourself with such a bulky addition to your carry-on, test the pillow at home to make sure it’s a good fit.

Passengers who let their kids watch TV series and movies the entire flight might have to deal with jet lag the next day.

international plane meal

There’s no guarantee that you’ll love the in-flight menu, so bring snacks just in case.Tiffany Hawk

As a mom of two, I don’t judge parents for loosening their usual rules to get their kids through a long flight. My oldest would happily hop on the world’s longest flight just for the opportunity to watch TV and movies the whole time.

The amount of kids’ TV shows, movies, and games on most international flights is glorious, but if you don’t mix in some analog entertainment options — like coloring books, sticker books, or mazes — your kids will probably be too wired to wind down and sleep.

And without sleep, they’ll probably experience jet lag the next day.

I’ve seen travelers walk around the cabin without shoes or socks.

plane cabin

Airplane floors don’t get cleaned very frequently, so do your best to wear slippers or shoes.Tiffany Hawk

There’s nothing like settling in for a long flight by kicking off your shoes and pulling on a comfy pair of socks, an amenity that crew members often hand out in first class.

But you’re supposed to wear those socks when you’re sitting down in your seat, not when you’re walking around the cabin.

When I was working as a flight attendant, many airplane carpets didn’t get deep cleaned very frequently. Because the cabin can get bumpy when the plane flies through turbulence, the liquid on the lavatory floor might not be water.

If you want to walk around without shoes on, pack some slippers to avoid direct contact with the floor.

Some people don’t layer enough in the plane cabin and are either too hot or too cold.

Do you plan?

Temperatures in airplanes tend to run either too high or too low.Getty Images

It’s hard to please everyone, and that’s especially true when it comes to the temperature inside an airplane that’s hurtling across the world thousands of feet above the ground.

There’s a high probability that at some point, the cabin will be too hot or too cold for your liking. You can ask a flight attendant to tweak the temperature, but keep in mind that another passenger may have just requested a change in the opposite direction.

Play it safe by dressing in layers that are easy to pile up or remove.

Many travelers rely on in-flight entertainment, which doesn’t always work.

screen on airplane tv

There are a lot of entertainment options on international flights.Tiffany Hawk

A long-haul flight is a perfect opportunity to catch a new movie release or a TV series that streams on a channel you’re not subscribed to at home.

But seat-back TVs can be finicky, so there’s a chance the one in front of you won’t work. If you’re not the kind of person who can sleep all night on a plane, bring your own entertainment.

A lot of passengers don’t charge their devices before boarding because they mistakenly assume the outlets by their seats will work.

plan outlet

Even if there are outlets on planes, they’re not guaranteed to work.ShutterStockStudio; Shutterstock

It’s smart to load up your devices with movies, shows, and e-books before a long flight.

Just make sure to keep your devices fully charged before you board because it’s not uncommon for the outlets in a seat, a row, or an entire plane to stop working.

To be extra safe, bring a book or download a few podcasts, which won’t drain your battery and will help you stay entertained through the night.

People who drink too much alcohol can act out of turn.

two drinks on the plane

People should pace themselves with alcoholic beverages and drink plenty of water.Tiffany Hawk

Because of decreased blood oxygen levels from low cabin pressure and dehydration from low humidity, alcohol’s effects can feel like they hit much harder in the air.

I’ve seen inebriated passengers embarrass themselves, start fights, and vomit after boasting about how much alcohol they can handle.

I’m not saying you can’t have a glass of wine with dinner — I rarely pass up the opportunity — but please keep in mind that even if you don’t misbehave, too much alcohol and dehydration can lead to a brutal case of get wet

Many plane travelers don’t drink enough water and arrive at their destination dehydrated.

A person fills up their reusable water bottle at an airport.

Fill up a reusable water bottle at the airport.myboys.me/Shutterstock

If the captain is constantly switching the seatbelt sign on and off or you have to climb over other people to get to the lavatory, it can be tempting to ration your water intake on flights.

But the dry air and high altitude can both contribute to dehydration, which can then exacerbate jet lag symptoms or lead to other health issues.

Flight attendants should frequently sweep through the cabin offering water, but if that’s not the case, don’t hesitate to ask for more.

To have more control over the situation, you can bring your own water bottle on the plane. Most airports have water stations, so consider bringing an empty bottle to fill once you pass through security.

People don’t always remember to bring small items, like earplugs and moisturizers, that make the journey significantly more comfortable.

Inside of a long distance new airplane with passengers sitting and resting during a long flight with picture taken from the back of the airplane

If you prepare correctly for a long flight, the experience will be much more enjoyable.Artur Debate/Getty Images

If you’re in a premium cabin, a flight attendant may hand you a cute amenity kit. But if you’re in the back, you’ll probably have to bring your own.

The air in plane cabins tends to be low in moisture, so bring lip balm to keep your lips from chapping and lotion to keep your skin from flaking.

If you don’t have noise-cancelling headphones, bring earplugs to block out the sound of people chewing, chattering, coughing, and pacing up and down the aisles.

An eye mask helps cover your eyes from flashing TV screens, flight attendants’ flashlights, and the light streaming in from any open window shades.

And after a long night of eating airplane food, sipping wine, and then waking up to breakfast and coffee, you’ll appreciate having travel-sized toothpaste and a toothbrush. Or at the very least, bring a stick of gum to freshen up your breath.

People often reach for gassy food and drink carbonated beverages.

international plane meal

There’s no guarantee that you’ll love the in-flight menu, so bring snacks just in case.Tiffany Hawk

Some airplane food is very processed, so it makes sense that travelers want to fill up on salads and fresh vegetables at the airport.

That said, do your best to lay off anything that can give you gas, including carbonated beverages. The low air pressure at cruise altitude causes gases to expand.

That’s the reason your bag of chips inflates like a balloon, and it explains why you have to loosen your belt to accommodate your in-flight bloat.

All that trapped wind can be agonizing, which is why my airline trained its flight attendants to put passengers in flatulence-friendly positions to ease their pain.

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