Study Abroad Tips: Long Flights!

Author: Katie Martin


My first international flight was from LAX in Los Angeles to Hong Kong, and it was 15 hours. I rememeber not being able to fall asleep yet feeling exhausted while everyone else was sleeping around me. I finally fell asleep, yet awoke to a tray of ice waters being spilled in my lap. There I was, sitting in a puddle of water and feeling confident that I would be moved to first class or enjoy some sort of luxury considering I could no longer sit in this seat. I was then reassured by the stewardess that there was no other open seat on board the aircraft, and I would be sitting in a puddle for the rest of the flight. To make amends, I was given an extra blanket and a free bag of cheetos.

I guess there's nothing about this situation that I could've prepared for, but there are plenty of flight mistakes that I've made and would like to share particularly because many students study abroad while at Notre Dame - whether that be during the summers or for a semester (and sometimes a whole year!). You can see a list of all the study abroad locations at In addition, there are many other reasons students travel overseas such as an International Summer Service Learning Project, Keough-Naughton Summer Internship, or Undergraduate Research Grants.

So, let's get started with the tips learned from my flight mistakes:

1.     Use online check-ins.


If your airline allows you to pick your seat through an online check-in, then try to check into your flight as early as possible so you can choose an aisle seat! These are good because you have more space and feel less claustrophobic. Another good seat is a window seat because you can lean against the interior of the plan in order to sleep - and looking out the window is always fun.  Basically, get anything but a middle seat.


2.     Bring bottled water.


Of course you have to buy it in the airport after security checks, but it’s important to stay hydrated on planes especially after a few meals of sodium-packed airport food. If you don’t bring it (or can’t), make sure to ask for extra water.


3.     Wear layers.


Planes can get pretty cold, and the blankets they provide can get pretty thin. You can bring an extra blanket, but I find it easier to just layer with a heavy sweatshirt – you can always take it off.


4.     Download movies before the flight.


I hardly ever watch movies at home, but I find they are the only way I get through 10+ hour flights. Usually the in-flight entertainment has a good selection of movies, but I would bring your own just in case you've already seen a lot of what they have available. One time I told myself I was going to read the whole time and that definitely didn't happen either. Therefore, I would advise preparing yourself with some mindless entertainment.


5.     Bring snacks.


Last flight I took from Istanbul to Chicago, I swear we didn’t get a meal for six hours straight. At one point, when the lights were dim inside the cabin and everyone else was sleeping (hunger was keeping me awake), I heard some shuffling in the flight crew quarters. I was just attentively watching and waiting to see that food cart roll through the aisles, when eventually I realized how creepy I must have looked staring out behind the seat in front of me. Moral of the story: don't do this; bring food.


6. Be well rested.


If you have an "overnight" flight, some people will advise you to stay awake the night before so that you can sleep on the plane and be adjusted to the time change once you arrive at your destination. I tried this once, and I ended up not being able to fall asleep on the plane. I was dead tired when I got to my destination and still had to stay up another 14 hours because it was morning when we arrived. In total, I hadn't slept for over 30 hours and it was painful. Personally, I would advise getting as much sleep as you can before your flight just in case you don't sleep well on planes!


7. Don't overstuff your "lap" item.


Only put flight essentials in your purse or drawstring bag that you intend to keep in your lap or under your seat. In long flights, you don't want anything competing with your leg room if it doesn't need to be there.


These are all the long flight tips that I have for you! Happy travels, and be sure to look into all of Notre Dame's travel opportunities!