What to wear on a plane or long-haul flight to travel comfortably

Last updated on Aug 20, 2017

Air travel is not always comfortable, and you may ask yourself the question: What to wear on a plane to make the trip as comfortable as possible. Wearing comfortable clothes is especially important on long-haul flights and when I fly overnight. In this article, I’ll tell you what clothes I recommend to wear on long-haul flights. The article features clothes from ExOfficio and KÜHL and is split between winter and summer travel.

The golden age of air travel vs. today

Back in the days, traveling on an airplane was a special occasion and passengers used to dress up for it. These days, I still see the occasional passenger board a long-haul flight wearing a suit and tie, but they usually sit in first or business class. On overnight trips, those folks then often change to pajamas once the plane is airborne.

The other extreme is those guys who show up in pajamas or sweatpants that look like pajamas. I travel over 100,000 miles per year and have tried various clothing options, depending on the class of service I was traveling in.

Dress appropriately

When I travel in business- or first class, I usually wear at least jeans or slacks and a nice shirt. On long-haul or overnight flights I change into pajamas or sweatpants, especially on planes with seats that convert into beds.

However, most of the time I travel in coach class, which means tight and very uncomfortable seats. When I first published this article, I was sitting on a train from Munich Airport to Salzburg, after having spent 8.5 hours in, what felt like the most uncomfortable Comfort+ seat on Delta. Fortunately, I could get some sleep even though my butt and legs fell asleep as soon as I sat down.

My new pants in action

My favorite travel outfit

The only thing that was not uncomfortable was my clothing consisting of a pair of KÜHL Konfidant Air pants (kuhl.com), a long-sleeve shirt from Under Armour (Amazon) and a super-light KÜHL Spyfire down jacket (kuhl.com).

KÜHL Konfidant Air pants

Last year, on another Delta flight to Munich, the couple who was sitting in the row next to us wore KÜHL pants. I took a note of the brand which I hadn’t known until that point and looked them up a couple of months later.

KÜHL Konfidant Air pants

To me, the pants are the most crucial piece of clothing during air travel as they can be restricting and thus become very uncomfortable. The KÜHL pants are neither! They seem to have a perfect fit, with sufficient room in critical areas (crotch). They also have hidden air vents, so you don’t sweat as easily. But the main reason why I decided to buy those pants was their fashionable look, considering they are outdoor pants. To me, Konfidant Air pants are one of the best and most comfortable pants I have worn on an airplane yet.

KÜHL Spyfire Down Jacket

I prefer to travel light, which is not easy in winter as I usually need to bring a warm coat. For an upcoming one-week trip to Austria and Switzerland, I wanted to get a soft shell jacket, but REI didn’t have the one I wanted. The sales associate recommended a down jacket instead, and I fell in love with the KÜHL Spyfire. It’s ultra-light, and when rolled up it’s the size of a large grapefruit. As a result, it takes little space, and I can even store it in my backpack if needed. At the same time, it’s super warm and enough for temperatures around freezing when layered with a shirt and sweater/pullover. I had planned to wear it with an Under Armour shirt and a fleece sweater. The latter I forgot at home, but the jacket kept me warm in the plane and when I was waiting at the train station despite the wind and temperatures hovering just above freezing.

KÜHL Spyfire down jacket

Under Armour shirt

I usually opt for moisture-wicking shirts during air travel and Under Armour is one of my favorite brands. Most airplane seat covers aren’t very breathable, so it’s important to move moisture away from your body.

My complete outfit

Traveling in summer time

I originally wrote and published this article during winter, as you can tell from the clothes I was wearing in the photos.  So I wanted to take the opportunity and update it with clothing tips for spring and summer.

Even in summer, I wear long pants when I travel internationally, especially on overnight flights. REI recently had a sale going on, and I used that opportunity to get a second pair of the KÜHL Konfidant Air pants.

ExOfficio Dylan Jeans

I also got to try the amazing Dylan Jeans by ExOfficio (Amazon). They look like regular jeans, but they stretch and thus are incredibly comfortable. They also have a hidden passport pocket and a side pocket that you can’t see. As a result, they are about as practical as cargo pants without the looks. Depending on the job you have, they are also perfect for the office. I work from home and sit all day in front of the computer. Before the Dylan Jeans, I usually wore gym shorts. Needless to say, my wife got sick of my “office look” and asked me to wear something more fashionable from time to time. The Dylan Jeans perfectly fit that bill, and they are just as comfortable as my gym shorts.

ExOfficio Toreno shirt

ExOfficio Toreno Long Sleeve Shirt

Often, when I leave the house to catch an early-morning flight, it’s still cold outside. But I know it will be warm once I arrive at my destination. For those cases, I appreciate the ExOfficio Toreno shirt (Amazon) because I can roll back and secure the sleeves if it gets too warm. While it doesn’t replace a dress shirt, it’s still a notch up from a Polo or ordinary T-shirt. I wore the Toreno on a recent trip to Savannah while we had 90+ degrees outside and it performed amazingly. Plus, when you are under the sun all day, you can quickly cover your arms to protect your skin.

KÜHL RENEGADE SHORT and STYK shirt

For when it’s hot outside, I have come to appreciate the KÜHL RENEGADE shorts (kuhl.com) and matching STYK shirt (kuhl.com). Both are incredibly comfortable, and they dry quickly.

On a recent business trip to Orlando, the wife of my boss talked me into joining her for a session of Crossfit at the local gym. I hadn’t brought any gym clothes but figured the RENEGADE shorts would do. So I worked out twice with those shorts and washed them by hand after each session. Thanks to their moisture-wicking and breathable fabric, they dried within hours, and I could use them the next morning again.

Michael after a Crossfit session wearing KÜHL shorts.

What to wear on a plane or long-haul flight

Comfortable and functional clothing can make long-haul air travel much more comfortable, especially if you fly in coach class. But as much as I don’t wear sweatpants and Flipflops for grocery shopping on a Sunday morning, I make an effort not to look like I just fell out of bed when boarding a plane. The good news is that brands like ExOfficio and KÜHL offer clothing that looks good and that is comfortable and functional at the same time. In fact, most of my new travel clothes are more comfortable than my sweatpants.

Michael Kummer

Atlanta | Austrian | Blogger | Father of a preemie | Paleo fan | Traveler | Amateur photographer | CrossFit
6 Responses to "What to wear on a plane or long-haul flight to travel comfortably"
  1. Here’s an interesting bit of history. When Reagan was beginning his campaign for President, his campaign team wanted to take pictures of him outdoors at his ranch and often riding on horseback. Reagan assumed, as a matter of course, that mean wearing the most comfortable attire for riding horses, pants that are extremely baggy at the upper leg. His staff convinced them that, while that may be true, most Americans, who knew nothing about horses, would see that as very upscale. So Reagan was photographed in what most Americans thought he should be wearing—traditional blue jeans.

    I wonder if there’s a similar gap between what travelers feel they should wear to appear respectable and what would actually be most confortable for hours spent sitting in closely confined seats. Your Konfidant Air pants are an illustration that comfort on flights doesn’t mean dressing in clothing that looks like PJs.

    Perhaps there’s something about flexibility in outdoor activities that makes them also adapt well to sitting for hours in an airplane seat.

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