Reader Request: What to Wear on a Long Flight

What to wear on a long airplane flight

Sarah V had this request:

I would love to get your take on what to wear for a long flight. I want to look nice but be comfortable and not get too hot.

I can’t say that I’ve got any amazing or unusual tricks for long flight comfort, but I’m happy to share my formula!

Knits

Since long flights generally involve long stretches of time spent in airports before and after, picking soft, stretchy fabrics will be key. I stick to knits – jersey, ponte, and various sweater knits all of which can look chic and sophisticated in the right styles and cuts.

Leggings

I have finally come back to enjoying denim, but NOT for long airplane trips. I can’t remember the last time I wore anything other than leggings to travel, as they’re comfortable, lightweight yet cozy, and allow you to move freely.

Cardigan or jacket

I am generally freezing on long flights, so Sarah’s concerns about being too hot amaze me. Regardless, a lightweight cardigan or jacket is a good idea as temperatures can fluctuate. Throw one on with a knit tee and leggings for added interest and potential warmth.

Scarf

This is the real key piece. Even if you tend to overheat while traveling, give a scarf a try. Ideally something large and lightweight. It will add polish and interest to your travel outfit, can be removed and stuffed into your carry-on if temps become too high, can be thrown over shoulders or legs if temps become too low.

Boots or flats

Again, I skew cold so unless I’m traveling to a much warmer climate, I generally opt for boots. Otherwise, comfy ballet flats run a close second as they can slip off easily for security checks but look more polished than sneakers.

Originally posted 2013-05-07 06:04:36.

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  • Thursday

    There’s a huge difference between a 5 hour hop and 30+ hours in transit on an international long haul. Most of the above also apply to the latter in my experience, although I do wear jeans because pockets are very useful when you want to keep your passport close. I would never wear boots for true long haul flying however, as they tend to cause problems at security, are more difficult to put on and take off, and take up valuable legroom when you need to slip them off. Sturdy walking shoes or comfy flats are my go-tos. You also need to choose your underwear very carefully – if you can happily go without an underwire, I envy you.

  • Amanda

    I used to fly 12-14 hour hauls to Asia with some frequency. I would try to look pretty pulled together for check-in and boarding (always the hope for that business class upgrade, and it actually happened once!), but would stow yoga pants for pajamas once the flight got going, and after meal service was done. Bring clothes that won’t fight your body, no matter how squinched up in a seat you get.

    Also, a small kit with a toothbrush and some face wash will help you get alert and ready to wrangle getting to your destination (or alert for customs) after you land.

    Typing this in an airport right now, though I only have a 3-hour flight. Bon voyage!

  • Emma

    I take long flights regularly (at least twice a year) and I generally try to stick to something I know will be comfortable. I often get very cold during the flight, just because they keep the temperature up there extremely low, so I often wear a long-sleeved shirt and I bring another light layer for warmth. I agree, scarves are a good idea, especially since they can be rolled up and put in a purse and when you’re cold you can just wrap it around your shoulders more tightly. (I often braid my scarf through the crossbody strap of my purse so it doesn’t take up space inside of it. One time a woman from the TSA complimented me on it.)

    I’ve never caught onto the leggings thing, but I definitely would agree with no close-fitting denim. I generally wear loose jeans or other pants. Just make sure you don’t need to wear a belt, because those are annoying to take off at security and they can be uncomfortable when sitting for extended periods of time.

  • Emma Hill

    Think carefully about the shoes. My feet swell on long flights (even with compression socks) so I wear trainers or other soft shoes that can be loosely laced when I get off the plane. During the flight I take off my shoes and wear slipper socks.

    But in general I echo the above, light stretchy layers that aren’t going to crease too badly, a large, light scarf, oh and your comfiest underwear. When the plane lands add a light but slightly structured jacket, the scarf worn loose around the neck and over the front of your body (to hide crinkles, spills etc), a pair of shades and some lip gloss and you’ll look like a rock star when you disembark.

    I used to fly UK to California regularly for work and my flight kit contained (among other things): baby wipes, moisturiser, hand cream, lip balm, slipper socks, pashima, eye mask, ear plugs, toothbrush, toothpaste, clean panties, clean socks, deodorant stick, comb, tiny pot of hair gel, mints or gum and mini make-up kit (to reapply just before landing).

    • Eden

      I’m going to print off your “Kit” list. You’ve thought of everything!

    • f.

      I fly long-haul about once a year and I endorse this list. Also, I definitely layer up, so that I can strip down to a tank top or be in a long-sleeved tee, cardigan, and fleece sweatshirt. You never know what the climate control will be like, or when you might have to dash for a flight and get really sweaty! A pashmina is a great idea, I also always bring a wool hat. As for bottoms, I like to wear a relaxed pair of chinos, or go with a dress-and-leggings combo.

      One thing I would add to the kit is, buy a cold caffeinated drink before you get on the long-haul flight… it’s always awful when the lights come back on and you wake up before the coffee cart has arrived!

  • LK

    I’ve only done short flights but I’d recommend packing an extra shirt and underwear in your carry-on. Mostly the shirt since its so easy to spill things on your shirt in a plane! Plus if your bag gets lost at least you have something with you.

    I often brought a scarf with and used it as a shawl if it got cold. Worked great!

  • Celia

    I’m about to fly a long haul, Australia to UK, and like to start off looking good, so wear a great short sleeve top and pencil skirt which are lightweight, breathable, wrinkle free and roll up into nothing, with comfy but smart, low heeled wedge pumps. I have only one bag which is small enough to sit under the seat in front of me but big enough to carry a cardigan, Pashmina, Ponte pants, a light-weight, long sleeved Tee, DVT socks, undies, a book, a reading torch, MP3, noise cancelling earphones, only the most necessary toiletries, my passport etc. I also have little soft slippers with a little extra protection for my feet when in the loo! The Pashmina can also be used as extra padding behind my back if I get uncomfortable. I don’t like storing luggage overhead as I nearly knocked out my front teeth one time, while getting my bag down! I find these clothes cover flights that run either hot or cold and getting through security is a breeze.

  • I just got back from a not so long flight – 5 hours. I was very happy with my decision on camisoles this time. It seems that my tops always get pulled every which way with luggage and the twisting and turning needed to get into small places. I was always either gapping at the bustline or noticing that my blouse/top had gotten pulled down and the entire top of my bra was exposed. I wore opaque stretchy camis this time and did not need to keep checking. Also, they were long. So I could quickly pull them down in back as I stood up.

    I especially noticed on this flight the number of women in yoga pants. Could I suggest that most of us don’t have mirrors at home in the closeness and angle that would allow them to see what I was seeing? Everyone else on the plane is seated as we watch you walk up the aisle. It’s like your butt is being featured in a documentary or something and we’re all examining it from odd angles. Close-up, nothing else to focus on, bored audience. I just kept staring.

  • Susan in Boston

    My greatest concern is not having to schlep heavy or awkward bags through the various security and transportation labyrinths. I don’t much care what I look like because I’ll never see these people again 😉 So I tend to wear the biggest, bulkiest items that I need to take with me. In the winter, I wear the fat boots and the thick, colorful heavy wool sweater. In the summer, I wear the sturdy shoes I’ll need for hiking or walking and tuck the sandals in my bag.

  • Aubrey

    Boots? I’m guessing you’ve never done NYC to Sydney! I go for yoga pants, long tunic, shawl/scarf and flats. I keep socks in my carry-on bag, and use a lot of moisturizer during the flight.

  • Jenn

    As a busy woman, I’ve learned from experience that you need to choose your neckline wisely. Remember that most people will have a bird’s eye view of you. Another instance where that scarf comes in handy.

  • poodletail

    Leggings, long-sleeved tee, cardigan, large cashmere shawl, raincoat (can be stowed above), the heaviest shoes/boots I’m carrying for the trip (so they’re not in my luggage). I pack a pair of Tom’s shoes in my carry-on and change into these as soon as I take my seat.

  • Anne

    My cool weather travel uniform is a pair of jeans with stretch, tee-shirt, cashmere sweater, scarf, and either chucks or ballet flats. (It’s also perfect for a day in S.F.) Warm weather travel uniform is jersey dress, cardigan and scarf. I stick with the chucks or flats here too. I usually bring a pair of thick socks to wear on the plane.

    When I was a little kid, I remember that everyone dressed up to go on flights. Flying has become such a generally unpleasant experience from start to finish that I understand the yoga pants/jammie mode that everyone has adopted. It’s survival mode these days.

    • Anna

      Oh, yes, the good old days of dressing up to fly. I left for college in a skirted suit, frilly blouse, stockings (those were the panty girdle days, too), and hat. Can’t imagine doing that now.

  • Heather

    I like a knee-length knit dress with cardigan and scarf, boots in winter, walking sandals in summer – since I’m prone to motion sickness I really prefer not to have anything that might be binding around my waist. Unless I’m traveling with my young son, in which case I prefer some kind of pants so I can sit or crawl around on the floor of the airport with him without exposing my undies.

  • LQ

    Nothing the matter with yoga pants on a plane. Just for the love of God remember that they are like leggings and require a tunic-length top. Otherwise it all goes to hell like Kitty says.

    • Thea

      Amen!!!!

  • Sam

    TIP: Don’t wear yoga pants or longer jeans because you don’t want anything accidentally touching the ground on the plane washroom.

    • Anna

      Good point, but just as in a public washroom, you can always roll up the legs before sitting.

  • Somewhat similar — knit dress & leggings, but flats not boots, at least not for an international flight. 10 hours with heavy shoes is really tedious; it’s nice to be able to slip off flats mid-flight (wear or bring socks for comfort & bec. flights get messy). Also, I prefer a short-sleeve or tank dress worn over a camisole & layered with a cozy cardigan, plus a big scarf. Airplanes can get hot sitting on the tarmac & then freezing cold at night, so layers will help you adjust your own temps. Do bring your coat, hat, gloves, etc. on board (not stowed), & you can use them as a pillow if you don’t need to bundle up. Oh & while I usually love jewelry, I ditch it for the flight or go super minimal bec. anything metal sets off the security alarms.

  • Andrea

    While I wouldn’t go for boots as tall or fitted as Sally’s gorgeous ones pictured above (at least not for a flight of more than a couple hours), I love to wear shorter (12″ or less) slip-on boots when I travel long-distance. My feet get too cold to wear sandals on a plane, and I don’t wear ballet flats or sneakers at any time. My Frye harness boots have probably got more air miles than anything else I own, because they’re comfy all day, I can hustle down a concourse in them, they slip off easily at security, and on the plane, I can just kick them under the seat in front of me. Besides, they’re too darned heavy to pack!

  • Marie

    Ditto to scarves and cardigans for the fluctuating temperatures. I echo what someone else said about bringing in your carry on luggage a pair of extra panties and basic toiletries. In fact, On the outgoing trip, I always pack a complete set of clothes for both myself and husband in case any checked luggage gets lost.

    For the first time in many years of flying, we were delayed on our return trip a couple of weeks ago, and I hadn’t made the same attempt to be ready for eventualities. We were delayed overnight in Amsterdam w/out any clothing or basic toiletries. Fortunately, KLM put us up at a decent hotel and gave a good emergency kit, including a t-shirt to sleep in and laundry detergent to was intimates, so we were able to continue the flight the next day without feeling disgusting. But the experience made me determined to keep spare panties and basic toiletries with me on all flights.

  • Diana

    I always wear my biggest shoes because they take up so much room in my luggage, and I like to travel light. I usually take off my shoes while in my seat so it doesn’t bother me if they are heavy or too warm (I do wear socks though and I put the shoes back on if I have to get up – a flight attendant once told me it’s amazing how many people go to the bathroom on planes in their socks or even bare feet – ick!).

    I like jersey dress + leggings (if cold), or a top, looser jeans, and cardigan. Agree on the big scarf – you can also use it as a pillow. And a little secret – on long or overnight flights I’ve been known to unhook my bra.

    Lately I find i am always hot on planes too. Perhaps it’s because I’ve switched to mostly flying Jet Blue, which seems to keep its planes roasting. You’d better believe I always fill out the online survey after each flight complaining the plane is too hot!

  • I’ve done the Europe to New Zealand flight several times. I’d agree with most of the tips above, although I do wear stretch jeans as I never wear leggings.

    I get really cold on a long plane flight (it’s the sitting still for 12+ hours, I think), so my cashmere pashmina is brilliant for warmth, a cushion, a pillow etc. If I’m doing a reeeeally long flight (24 hours+) I take spare knickers and a spare t shirt to help me feel fresher.

    I always take sleeping pills (I’m not good at sleeping on the plane), eye cover, neck pillow, EAR PLUGS, compression socks (I just tried those last flight and they really helped keep the swelling down to minimum), nasal spray and eye drops (long flights are very dehydrating). My husband doesn’t like them, but I find homeopathic anti-travel sickness tablets helpful (even if they don’t do anything, it’s nice to think they might).

    One last thing I think of is wearing earrings I can sleep in.

    It is a heck of an ordeal to get through a really long flight, but it’s worth it when you get there!

  • dg

    Best long-haul traveling advice I ever got: wear a panty liner, regardless of what time of the month it is. When it’s a long day and you feel gross, you can remove the panty liner and feel almost like you have a fresh pair of undies on. 🙂

    • Andrea

      This is genius!

  • I second the usefulness of a scarf. I love the idea of baby wipes. When I went to Germany on an overnight flight, I ended up using hand sanitizer on my arm pits because I was in dire need of a shower. When going somewhere warm, I always have a small amount of sunscreen on hand. I don’t want to avoid all sun because my luggage was misplaced along the way.

  • Maureen

    Reading this with interest, as I’m travelling Manchester to Orlando at the start of next month.

    My usual travel wear is cotton/linen blend trousers, normally combat style for the pockets, light t shirt and a cardigan – basically trying to dress for two very different temperatures! Footwear? I live in skechers ballet pumps, and they’re great for flying in.

    Based on the comments above, I’ll be keeping a pashmina handy, particularly on the way home, back to the colder climes!

  • Annabeth

    Appropriately enough, I am reading this as I recuperate in my hotel room after a 11-hour flight to South America. Seconding most of Sal’s suggestions here: Knits are the best (I am particularly fond of J. Jill’s Wearever line, with pieces as comfy as pajamas but okay to go out to a nice restaurant or business event in a pinch); scarves are your friend in matters of both fashion and temperature; and cardigans (or at any rate layers) help with the variable temperatures you can face both in transit and between two far-flung places.

    I have a pair of comfy flat boots that work very well for travel, but I have mixed feelings on ballet flats. They’re perfect UNLESS you turn out to have to run for a connecting flight/you’re running late/etc. Then you’re slowed down by these shoes that could fling off your feet at any moment. I usually go for a sport Mary Jane that is still very easy to slip on and off but has that helpful strap. That said, if you don’t have a connector and are confident in your ability to get to the airport on time, the ballet flats are probably good.

    A couple of other great things to have: A comfortable bra that nonetheless provides enough support (if you need/desire a bra at all). I have a godsend of a bra that I can sleep in and yet look good in. I second the vote for a second pair of panties, but barring that, pantiliners are your friend; you might not have opportunity to change underwear, but you can feel like you have! Hand lotion and lip balm are great, because air travel is dehydrating and long-haul flights even more so. If you’re going from a very hot climate to a very cold one, or vice versa, the same outfit may work if you add/subtract a pair of warm tights under it all.

    OK, back to recuperating!

    • Wow, talk about timing! Feel better, lady!

  • Interesting to hear that some of you are boot-averse for travel! Boots are my preferred style of shoe and I generally bring a pair unless I’m going somewhere aboslutely sweltering. Wearing them in-flight means one less bulky item in the suitcase, which is key for packing light. Pull-ons or zip-ups are fairly easy for me to get off while waiting in security lines, and I’ve never had problems with them even flying from L.A. to Sydney. Clearly not the footwear of choice for all, though.

    I’m absolutely fascinated by how many of you have recommended moisturizers of various kinds, too! My skin is super sensitive and dries out easily, but I honestly don’t recall being affected by air travel. Got an upcoming flight to Europe, and will pack some extra lotions and balms on your recommendations.

  • Michelle

    Long haul, I wear a short-sleeved dress with flats, cardigan and scarf. I take a pair of leggings to put under my dress, especially if I’m going from hemisphere to hemisphere (like last June….42 degrees in Dubai, snowing in Christchurch).

    I always get really really dried out sinuses flying long haul so will take saline nose spray alongside moisturiser, baby wipes and panty liners. Other must haves include noise cancelling headphones, earplugs, a neck pillow and my Kindle 🙂

  • LydiaG

    Hi — great suggestions about long haul flights! I travel lots (almost every summer on 10 hour plus flights), and I have a HUGE list of many essential items that I do not want to be without at an airport/ on a plane, or when I arrive. Here Goes!
    I suggest that if you swell and bloat like me (crazy nausea as well on a plane), leggings with a dress, or tunic are so comfy. I love cardigans, but for travel, I forego my lovely cardis for a stretchy zip jacket (like a hoodie with no hood -type). This is warmer, and closes much better than cardis — and cardis snag lots (for me at least). This layer doubles a jacket when I arrive at said destination. I take a scarf as well. I wear sketchers (no lace kind) — these slip on and off, and are my heaviest shoe when I travel — sometimes I have a walking show — not always the best with leggings, but ballet flats kill my feet! (I take a two sandals — both for walking, but that can be dressed up).

    I take a HUGE purse that is from faux leather — leather gets so dirty on planes, and I sanitize the purse as well after flying. This large tote/purse has — wipes, hand sanitizer, lavender oil, ginger, crackers, snacks, a book/ ipad, pens, journal, passports, itineraries, moisterizer for the face and hands, advil, and if I have an upset tummy — pepto or tums (no where to buy those on the plane!) I also carry my basic makeup — lipstick, powder, and shadow. I take earplugs, a sleeping mask, and a microbead pillow, that I actually put in a pillow case. As well as a purse I take a smaller backpack that can be folded into the purse (or the purse into it). In the backpack I place extra kleenex, gum, extra water and snacks. The purse is stored under the seat during take off (so I can access stuff), and if I need more snacks, I go into the backpack.

    I sometimes take an extra pair of leggings or an extra top/ dress & I reccomend jersey dresses with sleeves for travel (not easy to find…). After over ten years of long haul flights, I think the most useful thing I have learned is that most travel (even business class seats) is tiring, messy, and full of unclean areas. Magazines try and romanticize the experience and though it is fun to think of ‘dressing up’ when you fly — staying healthy so you can get the most out of where you are going is the most important. Thank you for reading this novel!

  • LydiaG

    Sorry — I meant ‘shoes’ not shows.

    Also wanted to add, that throat lozenges are great, and those sample size moisterizers are well suited to travel. Keep those smaller bottles so you can transfer your favorite products, and take things that you can leave behind.

    Another tip is to travel with a few older items (older shoes, top), and after using them up on the trip, throw them out/ or donate them(the hotel often has a box/ area for this) — this way I return with an emptier suitcase… unless I buy some new things, which sometimes happens!

  • Shaye

    Cotton jersey skirt all the way, baby. Leggings under if it’s cold.

    Skirts are heavenly on planes. It’s what I wear for long car rides, too. That, a fitted top and a silk scarf are the perfect way to look chic while it feels like you’re wearing pajamas.

    For shoes, I almost always wear my Clark’s Instructured “ballet” flats when traveling. They have the same shape but are comfy and padded, come on and off easily, and are great for walking/running for the plane. I went to Iceland in January and packed my boots in an extra suitcase because I couldn’t fathom wearing anything but my Clark’s on the plane.

  • My life is made so much easier by not caring much about cleanliness! I don’t feel dirty easily so I don’t feel the need to freshen up and I don’t care about public toilets or other spaces. Makes life so much easier in so many ways, especially travelling.

    I try to remember to take a face mask (like many Asians wear, or surgeons/nurses in theatre) because my nose can’t stand how dry airplanes get. I wear the face mask so I can breathe more moist air and avoid headaches and nose pain.

    I would consider a scarf to be a necessity on a flight these days, even a fairly short haul. They’re just so useful. Warmth, pillow, emergency face mask, tying things up (I used my scarf to create a waist band for a backpack so I wasn’t using my shoulders to carry it) or even putting it over your head for some darkness in a pinch.

    I obviously get much colder than most people because I have to wear a coat and a cardigan on flights, as well as a long-sleeved merino top and a scarf. It’s a bummer trying to carry the coat around if I’m going somewhere warm, but I just get way too cold otherwise.

  • M-C

    No point in worrying about being too hot on a long flight, even in the middle of summer. Freezing is much more likely. Even in airports along the way, as they’ll also be overly air-conditioned. Be sure to bring at least one large pashmina-type thing for a flexible coverup, from scarf to blankie. I also like knit pants.

  • Rachel Q

    I’m totally with you on the leggings and scarf for comfort and warmth, respectively. If you’ve got those, everything else comes easily. I also find that I like to dress up a bit for airline travel. I don’t know if I’m inspired by the glory days of the 1950s and 60s when commercial flight was new and people celebrated the occasion (my grandmother worked for the airlines back then and she tells me about this). But something about seeing hundreds of new people in new cities makes me want to put my best foot forward clothing-wise. Dressing nicely also helps perk me up when I’m feeling exhausted or frustrated by the not so glamorous aspects of air travel.

  • I’m totally with you on the leggings and scarf for comfort and warmth, respectively. If you’ve got those, everything else comes easily. I also find that I like to dress up a bit for airline travel. I don’t know if I’m inspired by the glory days of the 1950s and 60s when commercial flight was new and people celebrated the occasion (my grandmother worked for the airlines back then and she tells me about this). But something about seeing hundreds of new people in new cities makes me want to put my best foot forward clothing-wise. Dressing nicely also helps perk me up when I’m feeling exhausted or frustrated by the not so glamorous aspects of air travel.

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