What to wear on a long flight

Nikki ParkinsonFashion 78 Comments

This post has been updated: please head HERE to read the 2019 version.

Do you know which are my fave celebrity paparazzi photos? The ones where someone beautiful and famous has just stepped off a plane looking like they’ve just been on a three-day-health retreat, not a long-haul flight.

Yes, sitting (or lying down) up the pointy end of the plane certainly does help in these circumstances. Good on them I say.

I don’t envy that. What I do envy is their ability to look so effortlessly chic as they walk off the plane.

It seems I’m not alone.

I received this question from SY reader Sophie asking for some help about what to wear on a long flight.

She’s not talking about a relatively quick flight into Bali or Thailand where you can get away with just adding a light wrap to your summer casual outfit.

Sophie is talking about the long-haul stuff. The kind of trips that take days for most of us to recover from.

I’d love some ideas on what to wear on a long flight. I fly on a 35-plus hour flight to Europe about two to three times each year and am seriously over the “jeans and joggers” look for this, and I will NOT wear trackies (I’m 45!). This is a nightmare for me every time. I’d rather dress for a job interview. I’m already dreading getting to the airport in two weeks’ time and seeing some uber stylish person looking effortlessly chic in a stretchy ensemble and to-die for shoes that you can both wear to the opera as well as negotiate cobblestone streets. If I try going comfortable, I look like I’ve mugged a jogger for their outfit. Help please! Your fashion wisdom would be greatly appreciated. Sophie

What to wear on a long flight

I’m not a celebrity, nor is Sophie, but I do think this is an achievable look – even if you’re frazzled on the inside, had little sleep and spent your time down the back of the plane.

If you break down that celebrity travel look (and I’ve popped up some inspiration on my travel style board on Pinterest for you) you’ll see there is a very simple formula. One that you can easily adapt for yourself.

1. Comfortable jeans or leggings. Everyone’s version of comfortable is different. For me it’s either my Blue Illusion or NYDJ skinny jeans or Mela Purdie pants that would go the distance. I wore my NYDJ jegging style jeans on a long-haul flight two years ago. They were comfortable for the entire trip and I’d wear this style jean again. Denim or black work well as colours here.

2. Relaxed top or tee. I’m not talking a man-sized top or tee – just a more relaxed version of a standard top. If you follow along with my #everydaystyle posts on Instagram you’ll see it’s a style of tee I favour any day – not just for travel. I can layer a stretch cami underneath but essentially the look is floaty and relaxed. Stick with a white, grey or black colour.

3. Big scarf that doubles as a wrap/blanket. This is the key to bringing the whole outfit together – and keeping you warm in overly air-conditioned airports and on the flight. This is when celebrities introduce a little colour or pattern – most commonly animal print or stripes. Or they’ll stick with a tonal variation of their top and jacket/cardi.

4. Wrap cardi or jacket. A cardi that “wraps” around you offers extra warmth like a blanket but worn loose with skinny jeans or leggings it looks effortlessly chic. If opting for a jacket, my suggestion would be to wear a jersey or ponte jacket that has stretch along with its structure. This will make it comfortable enough for you to wear all flight – and it won’t crush.

5. Flat slip-on shoes. I didn’t do this on that flight two years ago but wish that I had. I took my wedges off when on the plane and put on compression socks but it was at the airports in the States that it became a pain taking my shoes on and off through security. Unlike here you have to take all shoes off regardless of whether they’re heels and might “beep”. Ballet flats and loafers are your friend for slip-on, slip-off ease. And it’s possible to get a pair that looks good and is comfortable for outings at your destination.

6. Big overnight bag. I find that long-haul travellers are either of the standard cabin bag variety or of the over-sized handbag/tote bag variety. I swing between the two but do like the look of an over-sized bag and find it’s a great use at your destination too.

7. Big sunnies. Apart from the instant celeb-factor, they hide what those hours in a pressurised cabin without sleep have done to your eyes.

Styling suggestion

This is a starting point – a visual – of what breaking down that formula looks like. You can use it as a starting point and swap in pieces you already have or help you to create a shopping list to fill the gaps. The beauty of this kind of outfit for a long-haul flight is that these neutral pieces will work in with the rest of your clothes you’ve packed for wearing at your destination.

What to wear on a long flight

1. Seed pants $89.95 | 2. Witchery tee $39.95 | 3. Blue Illusion blazer $199.95 | 4. Sportscraft scarf $59.95 | 5. Karen Walker sunglasses $295 | 6. Zensu ballet flats $119.95 @ The Iconic | 7. Sterling & Hyde tote $299.95

Do you regularly fly on long plane rides overseas? What’s your go-to inflight “uniform”?

Comments 78

  1. Great tips Nikki ,I also love looking at celebs in their chic outfits after they have just been on a long flight,they look so stylish and comfy!

  2. Love it! Perfect topic as I’m heading to Paris in 73 days (‘squeal of excitement’!). I’ve got this cardi http://www.witchery.com.au/shop/her/clothing/knitwear/60163202/Zipper-Shoulder-Cardi.html to wear with a loose white t-shirt, scarf and black Seed soft pant with zippered ankles. My black Eos Willa boots are perfection for travel – supremely comfortable, easy to slip off and perfect for traipsing around Paree: http://www.styletread.com.au/zilla-black-154902.html I tried a ponte pant but as comfy as they are I think they could get sweaty? All that synthetic, tight material can only mean one thing right?! Not sure how to ask for anti-fungal cream en Francais! Can I ask for suggestions for a stylish cross body bag to hold a small water bottle, lip balm, etc while going through airports and flying AND then sightseeing? I plan to have my carry on bag plus this elusive magic bag. I’ve been searching for ideas for ages with no luck so far… The closest thing I’ve seen is the one Nina was wearing a few eps ago. Soft grey or mocha preferable.

  3. Great points. I’d just add that I always, always carry a spare shirt or sometimes two and change them either on the flight or during flight changes. This makes me feel so much fresher when I get to wherever I am going. More recently I’ve been dressing up to fly, I love a couple of Kathmandu travel dresses I have and a black woollen poncho from Charlie Brown (bought on Ebay – score) made me feel fab recently.

  4. I reckon a neutral colour pallet of caramels and slates with an accent colour to pop in accessories is the go, then you can work those same pieces in with the stuff in your luggage and do lots more with less. I never leave home without super thick woolen socks (on board only) and a cashmere wrap in my carry-on. That thing has been worth every $ spent! Doubles as a blanket, pillow, whatever for me and the kids. It does the rounds! Ax

  5. On this topic, I’d like to ask others for tips on how to sleep on a plane…

    We travel from London to Colombia once a year to visit my partner’s family. Joyfully from this Christmas we will be able to fly direct for the first time, but both the outward & return flights of the new timetable are overnight (groan!). I find it so hard to sleep and I’m terrible after missing a night. Now I’m faced with it twice each time we go! How do you maximise your chances of sleeping in flight?

    1. Oh that’s the worst part isn’t it? For me, I don’t stress too much about it and just try and sleep if I can. If I can’t I just get on normal time as soon as possible the other end and catch up there.

    2. Hi Claire, my lovely GP prescribes me some temazepam for flying. After a meal and a movie I take two and usually manage some sleep and if it’s a really long flight I repeat the process. I avoid the temptation to nap upon arrival at my destination but take two more temazepam before going to bed on the first night and repeat the process on the homeward journey. I’ve had three trips to the USA in the last three years with negligible jet lag after any of the flights. However I NEVER take the temazepam on any other occasion as it is addictive. I have a friend who flies very regularly for work and she advised me that this was her formula for sleeping on the plane and avoiding jet lag. When I am awake and watching a movie or doing a puzzle I move my ankles almost non-stop to avoid DVT. 🙂

  6. My amazing, comfortable and stylish looooong haul flying outfit came together thanks to you. I wear black Spanx leggings, the Metalicus grey dress you featured last Sept/Oct, a Scottevest Lucy cardigan in black and flat black slip on shoes. If it’s really cold I’ll put a black long sleeved tshirt underneath.

  7. I’m definitely a soft pant person for long haul. They dry quicker than jeans if you have bumpy flight and spillages. I’m definitely a Cami with cups or Ahhhhh Bra (can’t remember if that’s the name) wearer too, so much more comfortable. In fact I’ve just bought a wrap-style cardigan in the sales which will be my travel buddy next time I do long haul. Great informative post!

  8. Great tips, Nikki. I travel long haul reasonably often. Flight socks are standard for me (for deep vein thrombosis prevention) and then loose pants. My current faves are a grey/black print by Metalicus. I wear flat shoes, often walking shoes like Skechers that I’ll use at my destination. I’m small-busted and one of the greatest tips someone gave me was to wear a camisole with inbuilt bra (without underwire) – can’t remember the proper name for these, but Jockey for Women make them. So much more comfy long haul than an underwire bra! I prefer to have natural fibres as a loose top, but jersey fabric is great too. I usually stick to black, with a colourful pashmina and or a long cardi. As for carry-on, my current favourite is a Marc by Marc Jacobs tote – big enough to put in a change of clothes, the tiny bag of toiletries, e-reader, noise cancelling headphones, glasses case & chargers but small enough to slide under the seat so that I’m not having to get up to access it. I also never travel longhaul without my Kikki K leather travel wallet – it has useful tabs for itinerary, boarding cards, passport and more.

  9. Love this conversation @theplumbette comment is making me blush
    I love my black and whites stripes geos patterns florals I wear ponte pants from Maggie T they are so comfy can dress up or down then layer black cami then a pattern tunic and a waterfall cardi with Pashmina
    I travel with 12 peices of clothing i.e four pair of pants six tops 2 cardies 3 scarves one pair of pearl earings and set of jackie o faux pearls and only 2 pair of shoes this will last me 3 weeks and it takes me anywhere from sightseein to dinner and a show.
    I always have some baby wipes in my bag for freshen ups and stain removal if they work on a baby’s bottom they will work on anything i will spill Always have warm wooly socks that i put over my black compression stockings

  10. What you said but swap the main outfit for a maxi dress – just like a long nightie only publicly appropriate.

  11. Nikki – thank you so much! What you’ve put together is EXACTLY what I was dreading seeing on someone else – so I’m about to go and get the LOT !!! I can’t thank you enough 🙂 cheers Sophie

  12. i am going to wear my seed maxi dress next month for a flight to new york, i usually wear thongs on the plane ( as i have a thing about plane toilet floors and like to wash said thongs after i get off) , i take a large scarf/wrap that i wrap around my head like a headscarf and cover my eyepatches with it, it just makes me feel cozy and i usually get a good sleep ( even sitting up at the crowded end of the plane)

  13. I’m a Metalicus girl all the way. Lots of layering to keep me warm, great comfy pants (I prefer baggy for travel), flat shoes like you suggest and hey presto, still looking good 24 hours later (although I feel haggard!) And then each piece gets reused throughout the travel days ahead. Win/win! Like the idea of the maxi skirt too – might try that this year.

  14. I’ve done 2 overseas trips this year – one for business and one for pleasure and have worn my tried and true travel outfit both times. Mela Purdie black slim leg pants and A-line top, leopard print big scarf (breaks up the black outfit when off the plane and works beautifully as a wrap when on the plane). I always take black anti-DVT knee high stockings as well which I wear during the flight as they stop me getting fat ankles and swollen feet – something that seemed to start once I hit 40! And of course, I carry a My Best Friend is a Bag bag – they’re designed for travel – lightweight, roomy and durable, have a special pocket for your passport and designed to stand up under the seat in front!

      1. Hi Lyndal, I use the Michelle for the heavy travelling work as it fits so much. Also at my destination if I’m carrying a lot of stuff (usually business). I also put an Amanda Cross Body iPad bag in my luggage and use that when being touristy or out at night. While its smaller, it still has the great pockets and can fit any kind of tablet/eReader etc. Feel free to make contact with me and I’ll talk you through all the bags. Cheers Janie

  15. Amen to you suggestions Nikki. I wore a similar outfit on recent long haul flight. Ponte paints, t shirt, oversized shirt, scarf and flats. Had a change of shirt and underwear in my carry on tote along with basic toiletries (within fluid allowance!) and indulged in mid journey shower. When flying long haul one thinks more pragmatically than glamorous these days : ).

  16. This is what I’d wear on a long haul flight too. My mum is the queen of travel wear and packing. She sticks to basic black and white and can fit so many outfits in hand luggage and she flies at the front if the plane!!! When I went to London 5 years ago I wore Peter Alexander day and night range. You wouldn’t have known I was wearing pjs! This post makes me want to go overseas again.

  17. When we flew to Paris for our honeymoon last year, I wore pretty much exactly the outfit you’ve put together! I invested a bit of money in a gorgeous (and big) Trent Nathan leopard print light knit scarf which was the perfect shawl/blanket on the plane and ended up being my favourite accessory while we were away. In fact, I still wear it and love it to this day!

  18. I’ve been fortunate to do a lot of long haul travel over the years and each trip is an exercise in getting my on board wardrobe just right. Without a doubt comfy leggings, relaxed tee & cardi plus pashmina wrap are essentials. I’m a huge fan of Seed brand clothing.
    Flat supportive shoes are a must and warm socks to pop on after take off.
    I always try to stick with neutrals, black white grey and dress up an outfit with patterned scarves. If I start adding too much colour in the basics department while packing I lose the plot.
    Last year I invested in two Longchamp bags which are super lightweight and a travelers dream, a crossbody planetes and a le pliage tote. If there’s one thing I detest while traveling it’s carting around a heavy handbag on my shoulder.
    I do like the idea of wearing a maxi dress/skirt as one commenter suggested and I’ll give that a whirl next trip as I can’t tolerate anything tight around my waist when sitting for hours on end.
    My husband Never has these issues while packing. Not fair!

  19. I used to host people on trips to europe so I had to be dressed for work to meet them, then could slink off for the flight. If it was ecomomy I’d do a statement necklace, jersey wrap dress with presentable singlet and leggings and once on the plane and suggled under blanket, quite oten lose the dress + necklace. Hey presto, instant Pj’s.

  20. In April (Euro Spring) I had a three week trip to the UK and we challenged ourselves to only taking a cabin size wheelie bag each. Believe it or not – I still managed to pack too much! Jeggings, tight layering vests with long and short sleeves with a top layer did the job most days but we also had to pack exercise gear and coats. I also packed one dress, opaque tights and leather ballet flats. It was easy and I can show you how!

  21. Nikki, I’m glad I’m not the only one studying those airport celebrity pics! I am slightly obsessed with capsule wardrobe packing, and am constantly daydreaming of travel (the Aquarian in me?) and pinning things like ‘3 weeks of outfits in 1 carry-on’ !! I’m off to look at your pins and re-pin lots of great tips from this post – thankyou! xx

  22. I recently flew from Brisbane to New York in an outfit that was such a success for me that I wore it on an internal flight and then home again.

    I wore inexpensive stretch skinny leg jeans in deep purple from Katies. A camisole covered by a Yarra Trail top that had been an impulse buy the day before..long, loose and light but with long sleeves in a brightish pink and white http://yarratrail.com.au/shop/shirts/tile-print-pintuck-shirt-14w4493.html . As someone else has noted, a pattern is good for hiding any spills. I also wore a Saba grey card/coat from last year that is a slightly longer version of this http://www.saba.com.au/little-karlie-cardi-9321143735583.html#womens%2Fknitwear-sweats%2F=undefined&start=22 which is a fantastic find that I love. Great for whipping on and off on flights and in airports and always looks good. I think mine is wool. I like to wear shoes that are flattish and comfortable, easy to take off as the feet swell and easy to put back on to use the toilets. http://www.baretraps.com.au/app/shop/shopfront/view_product_details?category_id=9249&product_id=7068772

    A scarf could easily be added to this.
    I am flying to Hobart on Saturday from Brisbane. They are expecting a top of 9, so I will have to rethink the top and the shoes but will otherwise be similar. I have just bought some long woollens in the Metalicus sale which I am counting on!

    1. Love this Adrienne and thanks for sharing. I do find to pack light (and I’m a shocker at it) you do need to limit your colour combinations to make it all work together. Love that you were able to do that and still be colourful!

      1. Hi Nikki. I couldn’t get the Seed in my size but got some Metalicus ones in grey! Also forgot to say that I carry a Cath Kidston bag as my carry on. Usually a tote in a grey and white spot.

  23. My travel to various ports in Asia for work means I get a bit of practice at getting my travel outfits together. And often they’ll ask me to go to another country for 24 hours while I’m there, so I need to be business casual straight off the plane (or with a quick change).
    I do your suggested outfit Nikki, although I like a printed t-shirt with a plain colour pashmina type scarf because it better hides any spill food or drink

    1. I wear a lot of Leona when travelling also. And I too have learnt the hard way that prints hide a spill. Nothing worse than having to go to meeting straight off a plane with a stain across the chest.

    2. That’s a very good point about the spills – I’m a shocker with them and would rely on the scarf to hide them!! Great work on the Mela jacket – I think you’ll get a lot of wear out of it.

  24. Hi Nikki
    I took Frankie loafers (stone coloured) on a recent overseas trip after you featured them in a post, they were really comfortable and went well with my stone Metalicus jacket, my pants and tops were navy, I also had a keratin hair treatment (also inspired by a post you did), my normally very frizzy hair looked great while travelling, I only had to blow dry my fringe, my hair was indeed well Behaved! Like Cheekkie, I had a small cross body Hedgren bag, just big enough for passports and money, glad i did!
    Maryanne x

  25. Love your suggestions! I wish it was acceptable to wear a ‘onesie’ on long haul flights.
    Almost all my long haul flights have been work related and finding the balance between comfort and corporate wear is a challenge.
    When I think I can get away with it, I wear a pair of super comfy dark black jeans that look like suit pants, a nice shirt, jacket, compression socks and mid height block heeled ankle boots. Otherwise, it’s proper suit pants.
    My feet and ankles always swell up so my shoes don’t come off – just in case I can’t get them back on!
    I have also found dresses made of jersey a great option when flying.

  26. I just got back from a work trip to Europe and I agonised over what to wear on the plane (travelling with the boss, needing to get off plane and look respectable) going from freezing melbourne to boiling Dubai and then sweltering Milan. My tips:
    Summer maxi (sleeveless – check out the Bonds ones) in a dark colour
    Ballet flats – I like the Diana Ferrari suede ones that arent completely flat flat. Dark colour, waterproofed of course
    light weight wrap cardi (the metalicus Powell cardi can be worn 5 ways – light but warm and covers up any bits that need covering)
    wrap – I didnt go the $$ pashmina option, but got a Seed one which is viscose, a very large dove grey rectangle, squishes up quite small but very warm and cleaner than those plane blankets)
    comfy bra – Simone Perele Celeste soft cup lace bra – oh my goodness this bra is the travellers best friend. I am a D cup and this bra is one I could sleep in and walk around a plane in without feeling braless.
    Light weight short ballet-style wrap cardi for an extra layer under the metalicus one, and as a single layer over the maxi dress when the metalicus one was a bit too warm, or to cover my arms in Dubai. I wore it tied up under the metalicus cardi, or open if just on its own. Check out the cotton/cashmere ones on the Woolovers website, cheap, good quality and in heaps of colours.

    First time Ive travelled in a maxi dress and I preferred it to the leggings/jeans option. I could add flight socks/tights for cold, take them off for hot. Nothing too flowy though, more like a loose-fitting long tank dress. In the plane toilets I tucked it up in the sides of my undies so that it didnt touch the floor which gets a bit gross.

  27. Metalicus is great for non crushing, stretchy layering tops. I also like to wear my Lorna Jane full length support tights.

  28. Love this look! Leggings and long tunic top/stretchy dress is definitely my favourite. I have some Seed leggings which don’t have a tight waistband and a stripey Witchery dress which is both loose-ish fitting and stretchy. I don’t like having to change on the plane so I wear my compression socks with my super comfy flat biker-style boots. I take socks in case my feet need some extra cosiness on board. A bright scarf to add some colour and a cardigan. Top-to-toe in stretchy layers, but would happily wear same outfit sightseeing.

  29. Being comfortable and not looking like a crumpled mess at the end of the trip, sadly thats how I have felt at times. Love the ideas, I wear ballet flats and take a pair of socks in my carry on as it can get cold on board. I usually wear Lorna Jane Flash Dance pants and a LJ jacket over a relaxed tee. This is a more casual look with out wearing track pants. I have a small cross over Fossil bag it is a must for passport, wallet, lipstick ect when going through security and customs. This can go into the carry on bag inflight. I will look into your suggestions for comfortable jegging stye jeans for my next flight

  30. great! … nailed it on the head … to me, this is perfect nikki!
    it’s my uniform too anytime and when I fly anywhere! … also yes a pashmina wrap and my hedgren bag, plus ‘port manto’ … must be team nikki!
    all thinking the same?!?! oh dear! … with variations on a theme … lol m:)X

  31. I used to wear jeans on long haul flights and practically shunned leggings as pants for a long time. After waking up to yet another uncomfortable feeling of button pressed against the belly and lack of stretch in the denim, I decided to try out ponte leggings for my last trip to Japan. I had a fitted tee and long wrap cardi to cover the bum and crotch areas of course.

    Oh my goodness, what a difference it made! I could move on the tiny AIR Asia seat! It was so comfortable yet looks chic that I’m never going back to button up jeans when travelling long haul ever again. Scarf is good for wrapping oneself and look quite effortlessly stylish when casually hung around the neck when disembarking too. 🙂

      1. Oh non-believers , NYDJ jeggings or jeans have seen me through many many long haul flights, I second Nikki’s comments, they are v v comfortable and look great after 24+ hrs

  32. This is my uniform for long car trips for work too. They need to be crush proof, change of weather proof and coffee spill proof(-ish).

  33. Love love love all the suggestions.
    This looks like my long haul flight uniform , no jacket/cardy for me but a cashmere wrap, indispensable. Those big overnight bags are wonderful, however I did leave my wallet behind on a flight to Italy whilst fossicking for things in said bag… only to have it returned by a charming Italian man in Marco Polo airport’s lost and found dept!
    So, now I carry a little stylish black Hedgren cross over bag for the important bits (it can be packed last minute in overnight bag for streamlined looking arrival) and big sunnies always.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.