What to wear on a long haul flight is part art, part science. The art is the emotional bit that makes you grab things you love, and the science part is packing what fits!
I’m writing this fresh as I get off a 12-hour flight from Asia, while I still remember what I wish I’d had and what I know I’ll never use.
And 12 hours is nothing.
Because these days, you could spend upward of 16 hours on a single flight. Qatar Airways will fly you from Doha to Auckland in 16 hours and 23 minutes. If that’s too short, United Airlines will whisk you from Houston to Sydney in 17.5 hours. And Sydney-New York is now being tested: when that comes online, you’ll be in the air for an interminable 20 hours. That’s almost a full day, sleep included.
Other than a chance upgrade to Business Class, the only hope of relaxation you have is wearing comfortable clothes and having your in-flight necessities within reach.
And here’s another thought: What if your flight gets delayed? Cancelled? What if your flight is transiting through another destination and you have to stay longer than planned?
Like the Scouts’ motto, Be Prepared!
WHAT TO WEAR ON A LONG HAUL FLIGHT: HOW TO CHOOSE THE BEST TRAVEL OUTFITS
Putting together the perfect long haul flight outfit
Before we look at concrete recommendations (click here if you want to jump to the comparison chart and shop right away), here are some guidelines to help you pack for a flight that will last the better part of a day.
1. Your travel clothes should be comfortable
That should go without saying!
But… what’s that I spy sashaying down the aisle? A tight-fitting blouse with popping buttons, a snug wide belt and non-stretch jeans?
Enjoy, because I wouldn’t. I need things that flow, that breathe and that stretch.
Think about it: a long flight is like waking up in the morning, sitting down ALL DAY, then going to bed. It’s that long.
And what if your flight is delayed? You could be stuck in the airport for extra hours before take-off, or in transit – with no access to your luggage and clean clothes.
2. Your inflight wardrobe should be light and easy to carry
Given that you’ll be wearing rather than packing these clothes, make sure they’re lightweight so you can crumple and fold them if you take off a layer, put them to the side or stuff them in your bag. Better plenty of lightweight items than one heavy one.
There’s an exception: if you’re going somewhere you need heavy clothing, such as a parka for winter in Canada or a major hike that requires heavy boots. In that case, by all means wear them on the plane (unless baggage weight is not an issue for you).
3. Consider wearing layers
This is one of the more important tips I can share with you because inflight temperature will not stay stable – anywhere:
- There can be many degrees of difference between the airport, the access corridors and the plane. Your teeth could be chattering one minute and you could be covered in sweat the next.
- Temperatures inside the plane change: notice how you’re sweltering while you’re waiting for takeoff, but freezing in the middle of the night?
- If you’re headed to destinations with wildly differing climates – Australia in winter to Southeast Asia, for example, or northern Europe to southern Spain – you’ll be grateful to have things to take off (or put on).
Whatever the circumstance, you need to be able to regulate your own temperature and layers are the easiest way to do this.
4. Avoid bulk or sharp things – as in jewelry, buttons or metal
Metal and chains can actually be dangerous: they can cut flesh, and get caught in such things as trays, armrests or passing trolleys. Space is so confined you can scratch someone with a fancy metal button just by turning around, or get it caught in something.
5. There’s no reason you shouldn’t wear chic travel clothes
I try to be chic when I travel – as long as the chic doesn’t override the comfort.
Linen is chic, and some of the newer stretch materials look natural and classy.
But that’s up to you. If I’m being met on arrival or have meetings as soon as I land (ugh, it happens), then I’d like to make a good first impression. If I’m on my own (the most frequent scenario) I’ll happily be more casual.
You can also improve your chic quotient with a few well-chosen accessories or a bit of makeup before landing.
6. Stick to neutral or patterned colors
If you’ve ever worn white on a long trip, you’ll know why I say this. Two or even three meals on a bumpy flight probably mean a small spill or two, some crumbs, perhaps a little smear.
Wear a pale color and you’ll be showing off those splashes.
Patterns or neutral shades, on the other hand, have a better chance of hiding those unfortunate accidents.
7. Choose your material carefully
This is hugely personal. Most people recommend against linen, because it wrinkles. But – it’s supposed to wrinkle so to me, that doesn’t look bad at all. Linen breathes well and seems to adapt to my body temperature.
Whatever you choose, it’s key to wear a material that breathes. It’s dry up there in the sky and you don’t want something that clings and makes you sweat.
There’s also a security issue. Should a fire break out, synthetics can be dangerous, both for the way they melt and for the fumes they could emit.
8. Make sure your feet are protected
There are two reasons for this: safety, and hygiene.
Safety first: A plane has many surfaces and corners just waiting to bump into you, and breaking a toe is not fun (I speak from experience). Not only that but a trolley can damage those toes severely, and if there’s a (God forbid) emergency, you’ll want to be able to move around solidly and safely.
The other issue is hygiene. Airplanes are among the dirtiest environments around, and bathrooms even more so. You’ll want something robust on your feet if you’re wandering into the toilet…
The packing list: comfy travel clothes for your flight
Now that we have some clarity about how to choose the best travel clothes for long flights (plus other inflight necessities), here are some recommendations for fashionable travel clothes.
Your main long flight outfit
Remember all that talk about layering? Here’s where it all comes together.
Let’s start with the tops.
You really need three layers:
- a very light top as a first layer (I’m not counting your travel bra as a layer, by the way!)
- a light, airy short- or long-sleeved top, or oversized T-shirt or man’s shirt, or long-ish cardigan or jacket as a second layer
- a shawl or pashmina to throw over it all
Then the bottoms.
This would be a single layer and I would choose between stretch pants (elastic waistbands are nice for flying) and other comfortable travel pants. You could also wear a dress or a travel skirt but I find these less comfortable for long hauls, especially if you’re stuck at the airport for any length of time. Whatever you choose has to be super comfortable because you’re going to be sitting for hours so some level of stretch is a must. And remember, too-tight pants can increase the risk of DVT, or deep vein thrombosis.
Do you suffer from jet lag when you fly long distances? If so, this article may help!
The following are some recommendations and items I like. Just make sure that style-wise, these items fit with the rest of the wardrobe you’re taking with you.
Comparison chart: Best clothes to wear on a plane
|Wantschun Womens Silk Satin Camisole||This kind of camisole should be part of your long haul travel outfit: Plenty of sizes and attractive color combinations | Silky touch (made of satin) so comfortable on the skin Elastic straps | Double-layered bust prevents transparency.||Buy Now!|
|Boody Body EcoWear Women’s Cami||Here's another camisole made from a more unusual fiber: bamboo. Nicely designed with shoestring straps. | Moisture wicking | Ultra breathable and temperature regulating. | It is made of 80% bamboo-based rayon, 13% nylon and 7% spandex.||Buy Now!|
|WSLIFE Women's 100% Pure Mulberry Silk Tank Top||If you prefer a tank top to a camisole, this one is nicely made: It's 100% mulberry knitted silk, which allows it to stretch | Attractive design with wide, comfortable straps | Breathable and anti-bacterial | Perfect for layering.||Buy Now!|
|Youtalia Womens Casual Blouse||To wear on top of your camisole or tank top, choose a comfortable blouse that doesn't wrinkle easily. Here's one: This one is polyester but because it's a second layer, you can take it off and keep the camisole, along with a scarf or wrap (that said, it's a comfortable polyester) | Lightweight and breathable | Stylish and comes in a variety of prints and colors | Can be worn easily over any kind of travel or yoga pants.||Buy Now!|
|Dressmine Womens V Neck Long Sleeve Shirt||The most important thing for this layer is comfort (note that you can also use an oversized T-shirt or man's shirt as this second layer). This V-neck has several features: It's breathable | The material is stretchy: 98% Polyester + 2% Spandex | Easy to wear with leggings or other types of pants | Comes in several colors.||Buy Now!|
|Women's Long Sleeve Soft Bamboo Solid Fall Cardigan Sweater||This is a stylish cardigan you can easily wear on the plane and throughout the airport if you want sleeves: Bamboo, which works well in both hot and cold weather | Soft and anti-allergenic anti-bacterial | 96% bamboo, 4% spandex | Soft and comfortable | Tons of colors.||Buy Now!|
|Arolina Women's Stretchy Palazzo Pants||Flowing pants like these provide maximum comfort on a long flight: Comfortable, soft and stretchy: 92% Polyester and 8% Spandex. It is thin stretchy soft and comfortable to wear all the year around. | Flowing style adds to comfort for long wear. | Plenty of patterns and colors.||Buy Now!|
|SCOTTeVEST Margaux Cargaux Travel Pants||Particularly interesting if 1) you need a lot of pockets in flight and 2) if these are pants you plan to use at destination. Here's what they offer: 11 pockets | Super secure, pickpocket-proof, super and snaps, zippers and drop-in sections | Comfortable, with stretchy fit and folding drawstring waistband | Can be converted into capris.||Buy Now!|
|Hoerev Brand Spandex Harem Pants||If you get a loose pair of these, you'll find them super-comfortable for the plan: They come in a variety of fun colors. | Made of modal (a natural birch fiber) and spandex | Soft and comfortable | May show lines and shapes in some of the lighter colors.||Buy Now!|
|Spalding Women's Bootleg Yoga Pant||I won't suggest any leggings (you can find them everywhere) but these to me perform the same function but are slightly more elegant. | Comfortable and stretch, made of 92% cotton and 8% jersey spandex. | Well made and wear well. | Be sure to follow washing instructions or they may shrink a bit in length.||Buy Now!|
|Plum Feathers Tapestry Pashmina Scarf||If you don't want to use a travel blanket but worry about getting the shivers on your flight, a pashmina is idea to throw over your shoulders, and you'll also be able to use it to dress up your travel outfits. | 70% pashmina and 30% silk. | Soft & Silky. | Comes in many beautiful patterns and colors.||Buy Now!|
Whatever you decide to wear, make sure it is comfortable. You never know how long you may be in the same clothes!
Pampering your feet
The issue of comfy travel shoes emerges each time air travel is discussed.
In my opinion, the best thing to wear on a plane are low-heeled slip-on comfortable shoes. They’re easy to remove at security or in an emergency, and you can slide them on and off quickly to go to the bathroom. (I use Sketchers and have several pairs.)
A few things to keep in mind when choosing the best shoes for flying:
- Wear shoes that are a bit roomy. Your feet tend to swell in a plane and if your shoes are tight-fitting, you may have trouble putting them back on after a long flight.
- Get a breathable material. I know some of you will swear by leather but unless it is the softest, most malleable of Italian skins, I would go for something that is made for breathing.
- Wear close-toed shoes rather than sandals, because planes are full of metallic corners and sharp edges, not to mention getting to and from the airport and walking around uneven cobblestones at your destination.
- Consider wearing compression socks to help fight swelling in flight and reduce the risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT).
- Finally, whatever you do, please protect your feet from the dirt on the plane. The floor is dirty and the bathroom will most certainly be so after a few uses. Do NOT walk around barefoot, ever, and don’t wear socks or absorbent slippers – put your shoes back on!
WHAT TO PACK FOR A LONG FLIGHT – TRAVEL GEAR AND AIRPLANE ESSENTIALS
Clothes are all well and good, but there’s a lot more that goes into that packing list for your long flight travel essentials.
Don’t lose sight of your papers
I admit it’s never happened to me but I have heard stories of people rifling through belongings in the overhead bins while everyone is asleep. Urban legend? Perhaps. But do I want to take a chance? No I don’t.
So I keep my important papers with me on the plane: I alternate between a cross-body travel purse that I keep on me throughout the flight, a money belt that stays invisible under my clothes or an infinity scarf that also keeps me warm.
Long haul flight essentials: best travel accessories for long flights
We all have our preferences but here’s what I would take on the plane:
- Glasses or contact lenses and whatever you need to read or watch movies
- Reading material or other entertainment if you don’t like watching the small screen (cards, sudoku, you name it!)
- Any medication you need inflight or for the first few days after you land (in case your luggage gets lost), as well as standard meds for the flight (paracetamol for headaches, throat lozenges, antacids etc)
- A pen (for those boarding cards) and a small notebook (in case you get an irresistible idea for your next novel)
- A note with your passport number, flight number, hotel address and other pertinent information (so you won’t have to fumble through your papers when it’s time to fill out that boarding card)
- A travel pillow if you’d like to bring your own
- A travel blanket or pashmina to stay warm (and to roll up as a pillow if needed)
- Healthy snacks, in case you wake up hungry in the middle of the night
- Eye mask and earplugs if you use or need these
- A pair of clean underwear, panty pads and hygienic towelettes or wet wipes
- A small toothbrush and toothpaste
- A comb or hairbrush
- Face cleansing towelettes, moisturizer, lip balm
- Small bottle of hand sanitizer or tea tree oil (for your hands but also to clean your tray)
- Headphones (I’ve started using these little ear pods) or noise-cancellation headphones if you want to block it all out
- Battery charger for when your phone runs out of juice
INFLIGHT FASHION ETIQUETTE: WHAT NOT TO WEAR ON THE PLANE
There’s a lot of conflicting information out there about what to wear on a long haul flight – and what not to wear. We all have our opinions – here’s mine, based on more than half a century of spending a lot of time cooped up in the air.
The thorny question: can you wear flip flops on a plane?
You CAN – but you shouldn’t. You could easily cut a foot on some of the metallic edges and in case of an emergency, you want to make sure your feet are protected. So the answer is No, unless you stick them in your bag and use them to go to the bathroom, and even then.
And another: can you wear hats on a plane?
There’s no reason why not – other than your own comfort. You can wear your hat onto the plane but if you’re on a long-haul flight, you’re not going to want to keep it on if you have any hope of being comfortable.
Can I wear pyjamas on a long flight?
Technically yes – but why on earth would you want to look like you’re just getting out of bed? I certainly don’t enjoy looking at passengers who think so little of themselves they can’t be bothered to get dressed to go out, let alone to travel. You can find plenty of comfortable clothes you can sleep in without looking like you should have stayed home.
The issue of perfumes and scent
What may smell nice to you may turn a flight into a nightmare for your row-mate. Some people are extremely sensitive to smells and being subjected to perfume for the equivalent of half a day is unkind at best, or downright dangerous if someone has an allergy or asthma.
Speaking of smells, remember that the recycled air and closed-in space of an airplane can intensify odors so a rumpled outfit that seems all right after a quick sniff may be close to overpowering by the end of the flight. If you can, save a clean outfit for your flight – you wouldn’t wear dirty clothes for a day of sightseeing so why would you wear them for a day of flying?
Use these tips to make your long-haul flight bearable. No one enjoys spending a dozen hours cooped up in the sky but there are ways to make that time pass a little more comfortably and enjoyably. Have a great flight!
Note: This article has been crowdsourced from the savvy readers at Women on the Road and represents their collective wisdom. A big thank you to Amber, Beth, Brenda, Cate, Cathy, Chere, Coby, Dawn, Freda, Jan, Janine, Jo, Joan, Lesli, Maureen, Melanie, Natalie, Pari, Terry, Trish, Victoria and Wendy!