How to survive a long-haul flight: the apps and gear you need

Noise, discomfort, tedium, sleep deprivation and jet lag can make a lengthy flight a nightmare. Here are some gadgets to take the pain out of air travel

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 04 August, 2015, 1:58pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 05 August, 2015, 11:02pm

Is there anything more uncomfortable than a 12-hour flight in economy? Confined and constricted while crossing more time zones than our bodies are designed to cope with, most of us arrive at our destination jet-lagged, jaded and in need of soem serious rest. However, help is at hand from a new class of innovations, gadgets and apps designed to take the edge off long-haul flights.


One of the biggest problems with long-haul flights is the noise, with the inside of a Boeing 747 reckoned to reach 85 decibels. Is there anything you can do about it? Absolutely. The first is to sit as far away from the engines — the source of all that din — as possible, which is easier to do than you might think. SeatGuru, a free app from TripAdvisor, shows you a map of the interiors of all commercial aeroplanes. Consult it before check-in (using only your flight number; the app does the rest) and you can choose your seat. It's almost always quieter to sit in front of the wing, but even with SeatGuru on your phone you have to be quick; savvy business travellers tend to pinch all the good seats mere minutes after online check-in opens.

Wherever you sit on the plane, general plane noise and other passengers (especially if there is a young child in a row near you) can still prevent you from sleeping. The answer is to don a pair of noise-cancelling headphones. These use built-in microphones that monitor ambient noise and create sound waves of their own to cancel out the low frequencies. A longtime favourite of frequent fliers, this tech produces sweet silence that's addictive for in-flight entertainment and sleeping.

Some of the best and most stylish headphones with noise-cancelling modes include the Plantronics BackBeat Pro (HK$1,998, Fortress, Times Square, Causeway Bay, tel: 2544 4385), Logitech UE 9000 (HK$3,299, and Sennheiser PXC 250-II (HK$1,538, Cyber Audio, Cheung Sha Wan Road, Sham Shui Po, tel: 6201 0680). However, they can be bulky, so if you're travelling light the Bose QuietComfort 20/20i earphones (HK$2,580, are the ultimate choice. Comprising two earbuds, a cable that has an in-line control for volume and a small battery pack that charges via micro USB (the same as an Android smartphone), the QC20 (for Android, BlackBerry and Windows) and the QC20i (for iPhone and iPod) are by far the easiest to wear while sleeping.

The economy choice is to improve what you already have by adding Comply TX-200 tips (HK$155, to any pair of earphones. Made from a special foam that slips into ears and acts like a high quality earplug, the tips create a sonic barrier and are a good substitute for an expensive pair of noise-cancelling headphones.

Whether or not you invest in noise-cancelling tech, what you listen to when airborne can make a huge difference. It's only available for iPhones, but the free Airsleep app effectively combats noise in aircraft cabins with a scientifically calibrated soundtrack. Engage natural sounds including Rainy Day, Beach Sleep or Desert Wind and the randomly generated ambient music envelopes you with a background track of slow-wave "sleep-frequency" audio that cancels out external noise.


Sleeping on a long-haul trip isn't just about noise. Getting comfortable, especial in an economy seat, is not easy, but there are products that can help. Good for any seat position is RestAHead (HK$307,, which concentrates on neck support, while the Kuhi Comfort (HK$310, travel pillow supports the sides of your head, has various custom positions, and also slips over the handle of your carry-on luggage. So does the Bosign tablet/travel pillow (HK$280,, which behaves as a regular U-shaped neck pillow, but can be reshaped to act as a support for a tablet positioned either on a lap or on your tray table.

Although Apple Watch alerts people to move after an hour of sitting, it can be difficult to do on a plane if others are sleeping around you. Calf Flexors (HK$266, U-shaped slip-on slippers allow long-haulers to exercise while sitting down, thus avoiding the risk of deep vein thrombosis.

Your smartphone can also help you adjust to the new time zone, but you need to begin a few days before leaving home. JetLag Genie (HK$23, iTunes) finds your exact flight from its database and prepares a customised sleeping and napping plan designed to get you to your destination with your body clock already adjusted.