What to pack on a long flight

As an Australian living abroad and working in travel, I’ve done my fair share of long-haul slogs. I’ve lost luggage, missed layovers, fluked upgrades and eaten too many sad airport sandwiches that I care to admit. I know that Qantas offers the best in-flight snacks (mango ice cream bars!) and that there are shiny clean showers and sleep areas that are free to access at Incheon International Airport in Seoul. With each flight, I become more savvy and determined to hack my way to making a long journey as enjoyable as it possibly can be. Snacks are an obvious tactic, as is saving your favourite TV show to binge on the plane. And then there are the little things – an organised bag, a soft scarf, a toothbrush kit – that can make all the difference at hour 10- of a 12-hour flight.

A compact carry-on suitcase

For short flights, it’s easy to get away with storing everything in a backpack or tote bag or travelling with carry-on luggage only. But for a long flight, especially if you are travelling for a week or more, it’s worth investing in quality luggage. At the very least you want suitcases that fit the exact luggage allowance of your airline and are easy to lift, manoeuvre and move at a fast speed (there’s nothing like a broken wheel to put a damper on a trip). For carry-on luggage, I love cases with external pockets for easy-to-reach storage. Here are some styles I recommend or take a look at our best carry-on luggage guide for more.

Clifton cabin suitcase with pocket

Size: 56x35x23cm

Carl Friedrik the carry-on pro in black

Clifton cabin bag

Size: 55x40x20cm

Pack a change of comfortable clothes

Once you have a reliable, zippy case, take your time to pack only the essentials. Most items should be stored in your check-in case, so only pack items you’ll need during the flight or “just in case” in your carry-on. The majority of the space in your case should be allocated to any tech you need (laptops, tablets) and a comfortable change of clothes. Even if you don’t plan on getting changed during the flight, unexpected delays can happen, and drinks can be spilt – a cabin crew member once accidentally poured a mango smoothie into my lap before takeoff on a flight to Mexico.

Adapted State High-Rise Jogger

A smaller bag for the essentials

The overall quality of your second smaller bag is less important. Instead, the focus should be all on function. The bag needs to be lightweight, easy to carry and easy to find your essentials – your passport, travel documents, wallet, keys and phone. Look for styles with zips too for added security. Our editors swear by Uniqlo’s viral £15 bag which you can wear across your body so everything is safe and easy to reach. If you’re prone to being unorganised, Anya Hindmarch’s thoughtfully designed flight bag with labelled organised pouches is foolproof.

A travel pillow

Most airlines provide small pillows on long-haul or overnight flights but I find these are best placed in your lower back or on your side rather than offering neck support. At the very least be sure to curve your headrest around to give you support. Or better yet, bring a quality travel pillow with you. The latest styles are incredibly compact and are more focused on offering neck support at the front (to help prevent that dreaded nodding) and the side, so it’s possible to sleep while sitting upright.

A portable charger

An essential for not just the flight but your trip in general, a portable charger is an important safety net for being able to access important documents and details. It’s also a lifesaver when it comes to passing the time (especially if your flight is delayed) with your favourite entertainment. Opt for a charger that is small and lightweight. If you’re travelling in a couple or with family, a charger with at least two charging ports will come in handy.

iWALK mini portable charger

Anker PowerCore 20100 portable charger

Noise-cancelling headphones

It’s hard to imagine life before noise-cancelling headphones. When a flight would mean enduring a maddening soundtrack of rattling drink trolleys, crying babies and various cabin dings. Most airlines on long flights will provide passengers with earplugs and headphones but the only way to truly down out the noise is with a pair of noise-cancelling headphones. If ever there was a time to take the plunge and invest in a pair, it’s right before a long flight.

Apple AirPods Max noise cancelling headphones

Bose noise cancelling headphones 700

A luggage tracker

Since 2022 was seemingly the year of lost luggage, a luggage tracker has become a travel essential for 2023. These smart accessories are particularly useful on flights that involve a stopover, or if you’re travelling with bulky items such as car seats that typically take longer to make it through to baggage handling. Before you fly make sure your tag is attached to your check-in luggage securely and download the relevant app so you can track where your bag is at all times.

TUVOS Smart Bluetooth Item Finder

A reusable water bottle

Our bodies lose roughly eight ounces of water an hour during a flight, so bringing a bottle of water is non-negotiable. At the same time, the biggest source of plastic waste created by travellers is water bottles. This is why the days of quickly buying a single-use plastic water bottle at the airport before your flight are over. Make remembering to bring a reusable water bottle on your flight as important as your passport and keys.

Stanley IceFlow water bottle

LARQ self cleaning water bottle

Lip balm

The recirculated air on a plane has a humidity of 10-20 per cent compared to around 40-60 per cent on land. Even the Sahara desert has a humidity of 25 per cent for context. Any moisturising beauty products, so long as they’re under the required 100mls, will come in handy. In my experience though, the one item that often takes up the smallest room in your wash bag but makes the biggest difference on a flight is lip balm. These balms are often multi-use too and can be added to your face and hands if you’re short on space.

Dr. PAWPAW ultimate red balm

Summer Fridays Lip Butter Balm

Ultra Violette Sheen Screen Hydrating Lip Balm SPF50

A toothbrush

Some airlines include a small toothbrush kit in their flight amenity kits. In case they don’t, it’s worth packing your own. The simple act of brushing your teeth before landing can make a world of difference to your overall mood when arriving at your destination, plus you can use the brush throughout your trip as well.

Colgate travel folding toothbrush

Hand sanitiser

The antibacterial became a necessity during the pandemic and is still commonplace in many public areas, including airports. For something more gentle on your skin though, especially while onboard, pack a lightweight option like this citrus-smelling mist by Aesop.

Aesop rinse-free hand mist

A blanket or scarf

The temperatures on planes can fluctuate wildly, with typically warm cabins during boarding and landing, with chillier temperatures during the middle of the flight. Most airlines aim to maintain temperatures between 23℃ to 25℃, but this can drop for several reasons, for example, cool air during turbulence can help with motion sickness. Wearing light layers is key to surviving unpredictable temperatures, as is bringing a soft scarf or blanket. If you don’t have room for it in your bag, wear it on you on the plane with you.