How to master the long flight to New Zealand

Fly to New Zealand from the US

The excuse I hear the most often for not visiting is the fear of the long flight to New Zealand. “I just can’t handle that long of flight Liz”. Kiwis had to become accustomed to long flights to visit anywhere outside of Australia or the Pacific. For Americans any flight longer than the West to East coast flight is not greeted with the same acceptance, let alone excitement. I don’t blame you. It isn’t the easiest of flights, especially as we get older, but trust me it is so worth it! Let’s break it down as we look at my top tips on how to master the long flight to New Zealand.

The top tips for the long flight


“I think I can, I think I can”. Like the little engine that could the mindset you bring to this 12 hour plus flight is the key to your success. The time will go, and with the right mindset, some preparation and a few handy aids you will be landing downunder in no time!

Firstly, to level set, I am talking to the economy class flyer. Which is most of us. Saving airmiles or your dollars might help you secure a good deal for premium economy or business. If your budget allows it I am all for it! Whatever class you do fly these tips will help.


What time of day are you flying? All flights from the US are overnight and you will lose a day in transit. I once lost my birthday in transit, sadly it didn’t make me a year young. You will leave the US early or late evening. For example fly out on a Friday night, you will be landing on Sunday morning in New Zealand. Flights leave everyday for NZ. While you lose a day traveling there, you will gain a day when you return.

With the flight being overnight you have ample of time to enjoy a meal, movie(s), maybe a glass of wine and get some sleep. I don’t recommend trying to stay up the entire flight. You land into New Zealand between 5.00 am to 8.00 am on most flights and you’ll have a very long day ahead if you haven’t managed to get at least a few hours of sleep.

Before you board the plan make sure to put in a small bag, that can fit under your seat, all the things you will need access to during your flight. Put other items in the carry on bag you store above your head.

Window or Aisle Seat?

For the long haul flight I recommend Window seat. The main reason is you don’t get disturbed by fellow passengers who need to constantly go to the bathroom. Secondly, you don’t get knocked by the airline “trolley” or hear the voices of the helpful staff asking people if they want some more wine!

If you know you need to get up often through the flight then aisle is worth it. Preparation and knowing what is best for you is how to make this decision. In Premium economy or business you have more leg room space so the location of the seat is not as important.

The seat recline

In Economy when you go to recline the seat, if you can, move it back a little. It really makes for a cramped space in economy when reclined fully. One thing that surprises non Kiwis is hearing Air NZ ask all economy passengers to bring the seat upright when there is a meal service. Cheers to comfort for all. Especially when eating.

Break it Up

The flight is 12 plus hours (eek!). Let’s break it into 4 parts.

The first part

During this phase, the first 3 hours it is all about take-off, getting settled, enjoying refreshments, dinner service and watching a movie. It might be worth going online to Air New Zealand website to check what movies/shows are being shown. Less of a need now as there is so much choice and unlikely you can’t find something to keep you entertained. After the dinner service Air New Zealand will be turning the lights off to provide a dark atmosphere to help you sleep. PRO TIP: Fill out any visas, forms you need for immigration during this time, when you near the end of the flight you are very tired and mistakes are more likely.

The Middle Part

Part 2 and 3 is when you want to be resting and attempting at least 4 to 6 hours sleep. What will help you sleep?

Flying Air NZ business class in December 2005

My must-have is an eye mask and ear plugs. I always take my own as you can never rely on the airline to give them to you. Noise canceling headphones can be useful. Only if you find them comfortable.

Natural aids, sleep medication, jet lag tablets are up to you. To help me feel drowsy I take an over the counter antihistamine only on the long flight to New Zealand. This is where I have to say “please consult with your health professional”. I am not one of those! It works for me, make sure to do what feels right for you.

The must list of items to take on board

  • Eye Master
  • Ear Plugs
  • Headphones (optional – noise canceling)
  • Ankle socks
  • Compression socks – extra support to help with any in-flight ankle swelling
  • Toothbrush/toothpaste
  • Small moisturizer
  • Any must have toiletries
  • Healthy snacks – Kind bars, Nuts etc
  • Pen
  • Passport
  • Visa (if needed)
  • Reading material
  • Misc (credit card, money, tissues etc)

The end part

Part 4 is about waking the body up and get ready for landing. I normally wake up as the flight is over Fiji (sadly it is dark and you can’t see beautiful Fiji)! That’s around 3.5 hours to go. It will give you time to use the bathroom, wash your face, clean your teeth, watch another movie and get ready for breakfast which is served a few hours before you land. Of course if you can sleep longer go for it! At breakfast time I always like to ask for green tea to feel refreshed. Then it is time for a coffee.

To drink or not to drink?

Water, yes. Alcohol. Not ideal. The free alcohol can be enticing and in my younger days I certainly had more than 2 glasses. If I fly Premium economy or business I do drink a few glasses. For economy I generally stick to water. My focus is to get the best sleep I can! PRO TIP: Pick a lighter meal to eat to help with digestion. Vegetarian, fish or chicken vs heavy meat/creamy pasta. If you choose when booking you can request a special meal (gluten free, vegan etc). The benefit apart from dietary preference is your meal will be served first.

Keeping hydrated is what the experts will tell you is key. I balance that out with wanting to sleep and not having to get up to the bathroom every hour.

Take Off!

Time to kick back and possibly surf the net. Air New Zealand announced in March 2019 they will offer free Wi-Fi on some if not all international aircraft.

Air New Zealand have won many awards for their hospitality and lead the way with extremely entertaining safety videos. Check this epic one out (for you Lord of the Rings fans).

Cheers to you and enjoying the 12 hour plus flight! No worries right?

Got tips of your own? Leave a comment here as I would love new ideas! You can also connect with me on Instagram @kiwlizb

Tips from my Facebook Page!

I have a sleep playlist for the long haul flights which is great with the noise cancelling headphones. Also 1Above is great for combating jet lag. I swear by it, and have converted some skeptics – Kristal D

Diazepam – Simon J

Zopliclone to align to timezone you are heading into – Mike M

I try and reserve seats behind a bulk head so no seats in front to recline on you. If not the seats for 2 only down the back have more leg room by window – Nicola M-J

Don’ look at your clock. Consider the trip as a whole and plan sleep accordingly. Stay hydrated – Kristina A

Water, water, water….oh & zopiclone – Jackie H

Try and upgrade to business class, otherwise water, walks aroudn the cabin, no carbs, go easy on the alcoholic beverages, noise canceling headphones, always take a scarf that can double as a blanket/roll up to help more your seat more comfy and don’t forget eye cream – Nicola C

2 thoughts on “How to master the long flight to New Zealand

  1. My family laughs at me during long plane flights. Unfortunately, the new aircraft 777 that fly to NZ are not as fun as the 747’s and I’ll explain. To make the flight as enjoyable as possible. I get out of my seat and wait in line at the bathrooms. While in line I chat with passengers (most are happy to talk). It’s fun to speak with Kiwis and foreign visitors. I give out tips and advise for visitors to NZ, things to do and see that’s not always in the guide books. I’ve talked way across the Pacific on countless trips often departing the plane while waving to folks I’d yarned away with for hours. My wife and kids often tell their version of the story quite different to mine. I walk into stores in NZ, restaurants and bars and strike up a conversation with anyone who is friendly. I live on Long Island, NY for more than 20 years and I’m from a fishing farming village called Kaiaua.

    1. Hi John, I love this idea re talking with fellow travelers and there is always someone friendly right? Boarding Air NZ flight and hearing the kiwi accent always makes me smile. Kaiaua? I had to google that, what a great spot and right btwn Akld and Coromandel. New Zealand really has some many stunning areas. I am going to write this weeks blog about things to do in NZ in the winter as was asked by an American re things to do in August. Loved to hear your non guide book ideas. Cheers!

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