Fodors has 14 tips to make flying economy more luxurious and at least two thirds of these are actually bad ideas.
They suggest wear something you don’t mind being photographed in as though Instagram trumps comfort on a 14 hour flight; check your bags especially when “you have a layover (or two or three)” so you don’t have to take your carry on with you when you buy snacks (better to arrive in a new country with no luggage); get to the airport really really early because nothing relieves stress like spending time in an airport; have a meal at the airport because airport food is always great; do a little retail therapy; stock up on print media but what do you do with it, all your bags are checked? The advice gets worse from there.
So how about a little real talk about staying comfortable on a long flight, when your class of service isn’t going to do it for you?
- Stay hydrated. Bring your own water, so either have refillable bottles you fill up at the airport or buy bottled water, more than you think you’ll drink. Don’t rely on flight attendants from US airlines to keep you quenched.
- Don’t drink alcohol. Yes it’s free in coach flying long haul but that doesn’t mean it’s good for you, for your sleep, or adjusting to your new time zone.
- Ambien. Consult your doctor about whether a sleep aid is appropriate.
- Pillow. If you’re flying an airline that gives you one it’s postage stamp sized and not very thick. You may fear looking like a teenage girl trouncing through the airport with your pillow (try not to sit on the ground with it) but it can pay off in comfort. I’ve been known to bring my own pillows on board some US airline flights in business class where I knew I’d get one of those same small pillows.
- Pick the right seat. Consult SeatGuru for the best available seats, and if none are available set up a free Expertflyer seat alert to get an email if one opens up.
- Fly off peak on poorly performing routes the routes employees love to nonrev on are also great as a paying coach passenger — flights that aren’t full give you a shot at an empty seat next to you (or a row to lie down in). The number one thing that drives passenger perception of a flight is an empty seat beside them. The food tastes better, flight attendants seem nicer, and the entertainment is better.
- Don’t spend too much time at the airport. The journey is already long enough in coach, why extend it? The meal at the airport won’t be as good as what you can get off airport property. The gate area isn’t comfortable and may not have power. You want to make sure you have enough time to check in and check bags if you must and to clear security and that’s it.
- Board ‘not last’. You don’t want to board first (that seat isn’t super enthralling) but also not last, you want to make sure you’re on just early enough to ensure there’s still overhead bin space near your seat.
- Bring your own entertainment. There’s a serendipity to what happens to be on board but make sure you have your own content as a backup in case nothing interests you.
- Bring extra power. Don’t rely on the airline to have working power at your seat. Even if the aircraft is supposed to have power it might not be working. Your own power brick will save the day compared to facing 15 hours of flying with just a couple hours of juice.
- Pick the right airline. If you’re flying to Asia, fly an Asian airline not a US one. Singapore Airlines economy is downright nice with the same meals as premium economy, foot bars, and cup holders plus more legroom than US carriers give you. At a minimum pay attention to the personal space each airline offers you, for instance why even consider flying coach on a United or American 777 when Delta’s 777 squeeze fewer passengers into each row (10 vs 9)?
- Dress comfortably even flying business class on an airline that won’t give me pajamas I bring my own and change on board. I want to be as comfortable as possible for a long flight. That also means not too hot or too cold (layers are good, fabrics that retain your sweat less so).
- Consider upgrading using miles, an auction, a buy up offer at check-in, really anything that’s available. And now that so many airlines offer premium economy it can even be priced more modestly than you think.
I’m fortunate that my work travel is domestic, and my international flying is for leisure. As a result my long haul travel can be paid on points and I can organize things so that the trip will be comfortable.
It hasn’t always been that way. Growing up I did my share on long haul coach flying, including to Australia on an American Airlines DC-10 — a sleepless flight where the only thing playing was King Ralph on the overhead screen.
How do you stay comfortable flying long haul when you’re sitting in back?