What to wear on a long-haul flight

Nikki ParkinsonFashion, Travel 38 Comments

This post has been updated. Please head here to read the 2019 version.

I love flying.

Have done since I was a small child and wore my TAA “The Friendly Way” Junior Flyer badge with pride.

I’d have the hostesses (back when they were called hostesses) fill in my logbook with every flight – mostly on fokker friendship planes between Maryborough and Brisbane.

We dressed up for flying. In our good “stepping out” clothes.

The perceived glamour of flying was not lost on me and is still with me today.

These days, most of my flying is for work – and mostly between Brisbane and Sydney.

It’s been a few years between long-haul flights but recently I found myself on a longer flight for my trip to Thailand for a week of healthy living.

I flew Etihad Airways to Singapore, transferring on to Bangkok Airways for the 1.5-hour flight to Koh Samui.

It was my first time flying with Etihad and it won’t be the last, not least because I was lucky enough to be upgraded on the return flight from Singapore to Brisbane to Business Class.

Etihad economy class was very good. Good service, good food (my gluten-free meal was the best inflight GF meal I’ve ever been served up) and great inflight entertainment options.

But Business Class … OH MY … how’s a girl ever to return to economy?

Now, we’re not talking Etihad The Residence flying as featured by Australia’s own Nicole Kidman in those dreamy new advertisements.

Etihad Business Studio | Nicole Kidman

But we are talking a “studio” … and importantly a seat that converts to a fully flat bed and a blanket that’s more like a doona wrapped in a soft microfibre covering.

Etihad Business Studio


Etihad Business Studio

Just perfect for an overnight flight when sleep is something you’re supposed to be doing.

Part of me (the newbie Business Class bit) wanted to stay up all night ordering from the all-night menu and watching as many movies as possible on the 18-inch touchscreen TV, instead of getting the sleep I needed.

Etihad Business Studio

The other part (the sensible part that loves sleeping) said don’t be ridiculous.

So, I availed myself of that flat bed, pillow and blanket, tucked myself in and got about four to five hours’ sleep.

Etihad Business Studio

Etihad Business Studio

I was woken by the flight attendant two hours before landing with my pre-ordered gluten-free breakfast of egg-white omelette, mushrooms and spinach. It was tasty and just what I wanted coming off the back of a week at a health retreat.

Etihad Business Studio | gluten-free breakfast

Etihad Business Studio | gluten-free breakfast

I love that my “studio” included side tables and storage for all my bits and pieces. See, I’m not one for travelling light.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got better at this whole packing light for travel business, it’s just that when I’m on a long-haul flight, I want all my creature comforts within arm’s distance.

In my carry-on, you’ll find: laptop, iPad, phone, camera, a magazine, noise-cancelling headphones, allowable toiletries (moisturiser, deodorant, lip balm, BB Cream, toothpaste, Twenty8 Immune Boost essential oil blend), medications, a change of clothes packed in a small packing cell, compression socks and eye mask.

What to wear on a long-haul flight?

Lots of people have been searching recently for the answer to that question … and landing on Styling You … so I thought I’d share my tips.

For me, it comes back to those early flying memories of dressing up but with a big nod to comfort because of the distance to travel.

Everyday Cashmere shrug | Moda Immagine tee | Metalicus pants | Frankie4 Footwear sneakers | Sterling and Hyde bag | Seed Heritage scarf | Karen Walker sunglasses | Michael Kors watch

Everyday Cashmere shrug | Moda Immagine tee | Metalicus pants | Frankie4 Footwear ELLiE sneakers | Sterling and Hyde bag | Seed Heritage scarf | Karen Walker sunglasses | Michael Kors watch

Above is what I wore for the Singapore to Brisbane leg and return again. I felt appropriately dressed when flying Economy and Business Class.

I think the key is wearing pants or leggings that are comfortable and feel like something you’d wear to bed but look like something acceptable to wear out of the house to meet friends.

Wear garments that don’t crush and layer as required for your destination. I had a t-shirt dress to swap into at Singapore Airport on the way there and out of on the way home so I didn’t have swelter at my destination or while waiting to leave from the open-air airport for my flight home.

Finishing the flying look with comfortable, yet stylish, shoes and a cashmere wrap, cardi or shrug takes the outfit up a notch.

I only had a t-shirt underneath as I wasn’t travelling anywhere cold but I’d switch this out to a long-sleeve tee if I were.

My extra scarf? I always travel with one as I invariably spill something on me. If I’m wearing the scarf, it tends to catch the spills!

Here is a styling suggestion for you.

What to wear on a long-haul flight

1. Vigorella ponte pant $89.95 @ Birdsnest | 2. Bird Keepers tee $39.95 @ Birdsnest | 3. Betty Basics cardi $29.95 @ Birdsnest  | 4. Witchery scarf $49.95 | 5. Frankie4 Footwear NiNA sneaker $219.95 | 6. Louenhide Cayman tote bag (with clutch included)

Do you regularly travel on long-haul flights? What do you wear? Have you flown with Etihad? Travelled Business Class or beyond? 

I was upgraded as a guest of Etihad Business Class for my already booked flight from Singapore to Brisbane. For more information about Etihad Business Class, visit here.

^ This post contains come affiliate commission links (if you purchase via these links I may receive a small sales commission). Full disclosure policy here.

Comments 38

  1. In off to Italy on Tuesday, a relatively infrequent long haul flyer & so excited to see the Frankie4 shoes in your post which I have just bought & LOVE. Thanks for great advice

  2. Came across your article just as I was finalising packing for my first international trip – to the UAE, also flying Etihad 🙂 What I planned to wear in transit is almost exactly like what you described so I feel well prepared to arrive refreshed (though it will be midnight local time, so my body’s going to be a bit out of whack LOL).

    Have packed light so I can carry on and have preplanned outfits on Polyvore – will let you know how that worked out when I get back!

  3. Interesting article, and so true in many ways, I fly with Etihad on regular occasions, because of my husband’s job, there are rules as to what you must wear,and it’s the discretion of the cabin crew, so I make sure they can’t mistake my jeggings or leggings, not that I wear them but thats an example, so I dress very smart, maybe too smart to some but Im not risking getting shoved into economy. The point I’m making is that as soon as the flight takes off, I change into a sweatshirt and trackie bottoms, that’s comfort ,I have been known to wear my slippers hahahaha

  4. Just flew back from Bali in Goddess on the Go soft pants and tunic top. They are in Modal fabric so very comfortable but still look stylish. They will be my travel go tos from now on and there are layering options in the range.

  5. A Metalicus outfit always does duty for me – comfortable, doesn’t crease and plenty of stretch as I contort myself to sleep in economy (have not yet tasted the delights of business class!). And then backs up for touring.

    Always love a scarf or pashmina to combat the chilly cabin air temperatures. Plenty of lip balm (I like the Luk Beautifood ones as they’ve got no toxins and give some nice colour to the lips); I like a mist spray for my face to combat dehydration and noise cancelling headphones are a life saver. And that first taste of a Singapore Sling (I love flying Singapore Air) is the best!

  6. I have just done Business Class to London on Cathay Pacific ( big thank you to work!). It was excellent but not as good as Emirates. Nonetheless, I slept, relaxed, had so much room and most importantly no swollen ankles. For this flight I wore black leggings with a black baby wool long sleeve long tee and a baby wool waterfall cardi in the palest pink all from Witchery. I went shopping for the perfect plane outfit and succeeded beyond my expectations. I also took my trusty pashmina on the plane. My daughter’s comment was that was just lovely and that I looked like a ballerina in those colours. A very old and slightly overweight ballerina! Like you Nikki I travel with a laptop plus iPad, medication, toiletries etc etc. My next mission is the perfect carry on that does not weigh me down or give me arm strain and attaches to my checked bag at my destination.

  7. I went business for work on Singapore Airlines but the beds were on a weird and uncomfortable.
    Went budget Virgin business which was okay, except for the screaming kids at take off and landing.

  8. Hi Nikki, love love love all the tips in this post and the comments! What brand compression socks, may I ask? Thanks, Julie xx

  9. I have been spoiled forever with travel in Business Class for work. Short haul is manageable in Economy (although I do use my FF lounge access), but our trip to Europe in August will be Business Class with Thai. My preferred carrier is Qantas, but the variation in Business Class fares across the airlines is enormous, so we went for a more affordable option given we’re paying the fares ourselves!

    When travelling with colleagues, we tend to meet up in the lounge then go our separate ways on the flight so we can watch movies, sleep and sometimes do a bit of work on the flight, without anyone feeling they need to keep up a conversation. Then we walk off the plane together to catch up on what we ate or viewed on the way.

    I always change into the PJs on Qantas, but save the amenities packs to give out to family and friends who never get the business class experience.I have pants similar to your Metalicus ones (they’re from a store in Singapore) that I prefer for flying, then I layer up a t-shirt, cardigan and scarf with slip-on flats, and change into socks on boarding because I really feel the cold.

  10. Business class to Europe for a significant anniversary on Emirates, they do it right. I did stay up as long as I could , I was offered seafood and champagne as a snack and my chair was warm and massaged me, I fully reclined and slept wrapped in cashmere with Bulgari toiletries, fresh bottled water, every nicety, it made for an incredible start. Endless Lindt balls too.
    I love the clothes you suggest and just got a lovely cashmere cape for a flight to US in their autumn. jeggings check, tshirt and nice scarf for spill coverage. Slip on ballet flats for me no laces, security in US is strict. No jewellery jingle jangling, its a pain to keep track through security. Love my Longchamp nylon tote and noise cancelling headphones and kindle.
    I love these posts and all the contributions.

  11. Ooh you lucky ducky! I’ve always wanted to be upgraded on a flight. One day! Love the idea of packing an extra scarf in case of spillage. Also, a lovely natural facial mist is a nice way to refresh your skin at the end of a flight – and some lip balm, too. x

  12. You’ve got it covered Nikki. Layer up then off as the temperature changes. Fabric choice is really important. Light, comfy but not ‘creasey’. I’ve just become a fan of silk when traveling because it breathes, adapts to temps really well and is easy to launder. It also has that feel good factor as well. I just have 2 long sleeve tops and flog them! I feel the cold so would layer under with a fine long sleeve by Tani (another recent discovery!). Easy to roll up and stash in hand luggage too. Cashmere wrap is a must. If not in business class, thick comfy socks! Paw paw ointment for the dry lips and a stash of lozenges too. Planes trips are a great chance to catch up on reading so a couple of books too. A friend mentioned Vicks under the nose as a preventative for not ‘catching a cold’. Not sure about that one but did it any way and…no colds yet. Heard of that one? Thanks! Happy travels! Ax

  13. Sorry your experience wasn’t the same as mine Erin … I flew Economy on way over and didn’t notice that with the seat width and noted above that my economy GF meal was fantastic and best that I’ve ever had on a plane – usually with a GF meal they’ll just pile on a whole lot of inedible starchy carbs. This was fresh fruit, protein and veggies.

  14. Sorry your experience wasn’t the same as mine Erin … I flew Economy on way over and didn’t notice that with the seat width and noted above that my economy GF meal was fantastic and best that I’ve ever had on a plane – usually with a GF meal they’ll just pile on a whole lot of inedible starchy carbs. This was fresh fruit, protein and veggies.

  15. It’s all about layers for me. And comfort of course. I have a few pairs of the Mela Purdie leggings that I have worn on long haul flights but recently bought the Metallicus ones you have on in this post, and will be wearing those when I fly back to the Uk in August. Ill also wear my Everyday Cashmere wrap cardi, a Paula Ryan long sleeve top with a singlet underneath and take a scarf of course!

    We got upgraded to business on a Qantas flight to NYC last year and they kindly supplied us with a ‘sleep suit’ to change into. I loved it! The flight home, in Premium Economy, was a real comedown!

    1. You’ve got it nailed Sarah … and I just re-found my Mela Purdie ponte pants (sorting out my winter wardrobe) … they’ll be coming out again soon. And way to go on the NYC flight … I’ve flown premium economy once and did enjoy that but you don’t get to lie down!

  16. Great tips Nikki ,I love the outfit you have featured it’s gorgeous,Its great that you got upgraded.I don’t do much flying but when my daughter lived in Mildura I went to visit and on the way home the flight was delayed for 4 hours! I got upgraded to the business class Quantas air bus and omg what a way to travel pure luxury it was only Melbourne to Sydney but I lapped up all the goodies I was offered and all the leg room,it didn’t even seem like you were on a plane,it has spoilt me for normal economy flying.

    1. So, so lovely Lisa … I’ve also done the new thing where you can bid to upgrade on a prebooked domestic flight. It’s like eBay a bit … I “won” the upgrade on the Newcastle trip I did earlier this year.

    2. So, so lovely Lisa … I’ve also done the new thing where you can bid to upgrade on a prebooked domestic flight. It’s like eBay a bit … I “won” the upgrade on the Newcastle trip I did earlier this year.

    3. So, so lovely Lisa … I’ve also done the new thing where you can bid to upgrade on a prebooked domestic flight. It’s like eBay a bit … I “won” the upgrade on the Newcastle trip I did earlier this year.

  17. all looks great nikki!
    business class is the business!;)
    I love flying too and have been in fokker friendships! … mmm!
    Newcastle to sydney!
    loving your outfits for this ‘comfort first’ queen!
    I usually have a casual jacket and soft stretch pants, scarf/wrap … and a big tote! surprise!:0X
    enjoy your day lovely! m:)X

  18. I have some super comfy jeggings from Dorothy Perkins in the UK which are perfect for flying because they look like jeans but feel like leggings. I totally have to get onto the scarf thang, because I am the world’s muckiest pup! That Business Class just looks dreamy, how will you ever fly economy again?!

    1. I think I have dibs on the muckiest Sam! Just ask my husband 😉 And I don’t know how I’ll fly economy again … kidding … the next trip is already booked. The fun will be in the destination.

  19. Couple of years ago I had appendicitis & couldn’t wear anything tight (i.e. jeans) after operation & I discovered then bengajean from Blue Illusion. They have an elastic waist band which is super comfy & I’ve since discovered great for long haul travel as they look just like jeans but feel more like track pants! They come in blue & black and skinny or straight leg. Highly recommend them.

  20. Just love Buisness Class ! One of the things for long haul travel for me is a pair of slip on ankle boots for getting on and off easily through security ! I always wear them with 2 pairs of socks as my feet get cold, elastic waist loose trousers, a vest with long sleeve top over and a long cardi. Lastly a large handbag to take my everyday things plus iPad, magazine and family documents !!

  21. I’m with you on the business class thing -a bit like going to Gold Class Movies or Palace Cinemas. You never want to go back. I always wear Mela Purdie or Sacha Drake pants, loose top, and scarf and always pack a change of clothes to get changed into in case of drink spillage and if going to Europe, to change for the next leg of the flight. Nothing like fresh clothes after a long haul flight other than a shower. Dry shampoo is a must. Plus kindle. And noise cancelling headphones and a sleeping tablet.

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