In the last two years, I've been on 10 transatlantic flights. Each is between 11 and 15 hours flight time but up to a whopping 30 hours from leaving home to getting to my destination.
I know lots of people have written guides on both the survival part and the staying cute (or as cute as you can be?) part and I'm sure my tips will overlap with many others but these are the things that I personally do.
1. Try to book an overnight flight
I've mentioned this before in my How I book flights post, but as well as being cheaper, I find these far easier in terms of jet lag. The UK to the west coast of the US has an 8 hour time difference so jet lag can be a killer.
If you fly overnight, it gives you the chance to sleep according to the time zone you're flying to.
If you can't sleep on planes (and I'm with you!), all the flights I've been on recently have variable lighting that works in a similar way. During daytime in your destination country, they'll have fairly bright blue lights to simulate day time, and these darken and change to yellow/orange to simulate sunset. They also feed you at the appropriate times. Kind of. Don't be surprised if they give you breakfast at 4am after dinner at 11pm just because you're landing soon
2. Your clothes make a difference
I understand the urge to fly in sweatpants and a hoodie. There's nothing actually wrong with that, however, I'm always hopeful for an upgrade and many airline employees have stated that if they are giving upgrades to business class they're more likely to give one to someone who is dressed the part. This means I tend to fly in comfortable, but smart clothes. Something like a maxi dress and soft blazer, but you can't go wrong with jeans and a nice top.
It's important to consider warmth too. I like to dress for my destination, but this means that often I would freeze on the flight over. Remember planes are usually cold and the blankets they give you are never enough!
I think scarves are perfect accessories even in warm weather, so while I may pack a couple in my suitcase (or overhead carry-on) I always make sure to have one in my bag with me or I'll wear it onto the plane (space saving is key! I'll also be writing a post about saving space when I'm packing shortly). This can be used as an extra blanket or even a pillow on board. It also helps to have an extra jumper or a warm pair of socks. There's also no reason you can't wear one set of clothes onto the plane and then change into something more comfortable for the flight. For some people, this also helps with the whole not being able to sleep aspect since it is part of their 'going to bed' routine. Though it's up to you whether you want to spend the extra time in the on-plane toilet!
3. Drink the water
I tend to forget about this one more than I should, partly because I hate using the bathroom on planes, but planes will dehydrate you. So keep drinking water. It's best to avoid coffee, alcohol and most soft drinks because they will dehydrate you more. I always take an empty bottle through security and refill before boarding the plane, as well as taking every opportunity when they're handing out snacks and drinks on board.
4. Eat well
Following on from drinking your water, eating well is one of the best things you can do on your flight. Avoid the salty snacks they pass at the beginning (I keep the Bombay mix and pretzels for snacks at the beach or on hikes, but recently a woman was fined for going through customs with an apple given to her on her flight! So be very careful with fresh food), take your own snacks if you need to.
One of my flights I decided not to pay the extra £25 each way for food, so prepared some sandwiches and snacks of my own the morning of the flight and was still happy. I'm a big fan of these Super easy banana oat cookies which are both filling and healthy.
5. Take your essential makeup and skincare products
I don't wear makeup so you may wonder why I'm writing about this.
Well... My daily skincare routine is pretty simple but gets more complicated on flights. How can you wash your face from those tiny sinks in the bathroom? (I'm also not convinced your face would be any cleaner after using that water) so, I take a little bag of essentials that you can read about here
6. Take your own entertainment
My last flight to California on BA was on a relic of a plane, the inflight entertainment screen smaller than my phone and the headphone jack broken.
Just look at that.
Luckily the flight was underbooked and I had two seats to myself so I could sleep a little easier, but it would have gotten very boring very fast if I hadn't downloaded a couple of movies from Netflix.
I typically take a variety of choices, movies/shows from Netflix, books and audiobooks, music, and activities like crosswords and sudokus, and two types of headphones! (one pair is much better at noise-canceling, the other are more comfortable if I'm trying to sleep).
7. Get a window seat
This goes back to points 1 and 6. I've always found it much easier to sleep in a window seat. You can lean against the wall of the plane and don't have to worry about your neighbours waking you up if they have to go to the bathroom, or being hit by people walking down the aisle.
If you're not planning on sleeping much or its a day flight, the window offers so much in terms of entertainment. I've seen the northern lights, thunderstorms from above, the grand canyon and the hoover dam, icebergs, and forest fires (I'll admit the last two aren't quite as cool). There have been incredible sunsets and sunrises and I even enjoy just watching the clouds! Yeah, I'm that sad person who tries to take photos on their phone through the plane window.