How to Recover From a Long Flight, According to Flight Attendants

It's nice that you can traverse the globe in the same amount of time it took to ride from New York to Chicago a hundred years ago. But train travelers never knew the words "deep vein thrombosis." Swollen legs, blood clots, jet lag, nasty colds, and general meh-ness are just some of the wonderful side effects from flights lasting over six hours. 

Flight attendants work these transcontinental mega-flights all the time, then turn around two days later and do it again. So what's the secret? Many airlines specifically train FAs on how to quickly and efficiently recover from long hauls. We asked a handful of 'em to divulge their methods. 

Kick up your feet

As soon as you get back home (or to your home away from home), elevate your feet against a wall or headboard for five to 10 minutes. Feels a little silly, sure, but it helps relieve swelling in your legs and ankles. One flight attendant we spoke to compared it to "putting tea leaves through a strainer," essentially draining all the fluid from your legs and leaving the muscle fibers less saturated. 

Stay awake until a normal bedtime

Few things are harder to resist than the post-flight nap. Maybe ice cream. Or Instagram. But resist you must, because passing out when it's still broad daylight out is a bad idea. You're not giving your body a chance to adjust to the local time, which throws a serious wrench in your sleep cycle. "In order to sleep the night, you should stay up when hitting your destination," says flight attendant Kamiana Domingo. "If you must nap, take a quick one no longer than an hour, because anything after one hour makes you more tired."

And don't sleep in

When you do finally get to bed, conking out for 18 hours straight will effectively undo all the work you put into staying awake in the first place, and that would be foolish. Instead, set your alarm for a reasonable hour and make an appointment to be somewhere in the morning. Even if you're a little sluggish, waking up earlier is better for your body in the long run.

Load up on carbs

If you've sworn off starchy stuff, or have a self-invented intolerance of gluten, make your long-haul flight day the day you rampantly cheat. High levels of insulin have been shown to help your body adjust from your regular feeding-and-resting schedule to a new one. So if you're traveling between time zones, feel free to get weird at the Dunkin' Donuts before you board and go straight for the pizza when you land.

Flush your nose with saline solution

Chugging back eight glasses of Emergen-C doesn't guarantee you won't catch whatever that guy next you was hacking up. Kick your defenses up a notch and flush out your nasal cavities with a saline solution (not while you're on the plane, dude). It'll wash out a lot of dust and other germ-carrying particles that can make you sick, and hopefully keep you fully refreshed for the trip home.

Get some exercise

Your body will probably give you a giant middle finger at the very thought, but exercising as soon as you arrive gets the blood flowing from your swollen into your upper extremities. "Traveling through multiple time zones can certainly do a number on the body. If possible, get a quick workout in as soon as you get settled," says FA Heather Sanchez. Even a few minutes of yoga in your hotel room will increase mental alertness and acuity, and will go a long way in helping regulate your sleep cycle.

Or at least some fresh air

Those myths about recycled cabin air being filthy and germ-infested have been largely debunked. It might not make you sick, but it's still dry and dehydrating, and the lower oxygen levels are a big part of why you feel fatigued. To wake up your brain and get the fresh oxygen a-flowin,' flight attendants suggest taking a brief constitutional in the great outdoors, even if it just means pounding the pavement near your hotel. Of course, if your 17-hour flight is landing in Dubai in August, or O'Hare in January, maybe skip this one.

Book a massage

It doesn't need to be of the $185 hotel spa variety. It can be of the Chinatown "MASSAGE ONLY" variety too. Taking the time to have someone work the fluids, lactic acid, and sore muscles in your legs gets you ready to turn around and do that long haul again. As if you really needed a "reason" to get a massage anyway.

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