How to Fly Coach Comfortably: Tips to Make it Feel Like First Class
Even though it’s March, temperatures are still freezing. We’re told that spring is just around the corner but I’m starting to think it’s never coming back. Who isn’t hankering for a winter escape about now? But if you’re like the majority of people who fly coach, the experience can leave something to be desired. These days, First Class ticket prices have become exorbitant and are quickly becoming a luxury for only the ultra-wealthy. Even for seasoned luxury travelers, sometimes the price difference between First Class and Coach is just too outrageous to justify for a short flight. So back into Coach, us savvier (ahem, poorer) travelers are banished. But don’t let the travel hassle blues of flying Economy Class keep you from taking a much-needed winter getaway.
Yes, in Coach you are destined to deal with all sorts of characters: from those who have never flown before to business people whose expense accounts have been downsized but there are tricks to make Coach feel more like First Class.
Personally, I often fly Coach before arriving in a luxury destination and heading off to my Five Star Hotel but the trip getting there via Coach can be quite a process. I prefer to travel quite often and if it is between getting to go on another trip or sitting in First Class for a few hours, I will always choose to travel more. Sometimes though, when flying Coach, getting to my destination can feel like I’m going through battle. Coach can mean being wedged in between a woman with an infant on her lap and an overweight gentlemen who is spilling into your personal space, your personal television doesn’t work and even peanuts will cost you–if they serve anything at all. Coach can be difficult to say the least–not exactly the ideal way to kick off a luxury vacation. However, for those of us who don’t have the cash to drop for a First Class ticket, I have some tips to make flying Coach feel more like First Class–or at least make it more bearable.
Before Your Flight
Check in Early!
The early bird catches the worm! Get the seat you prefer by getting first choice. Simple as that. Many airlines allow you to choose seats ahead of check-in time so be sure to do so. Getting a good seat is a crucial step in making your flight experience an enjoyable one. It also prevents you from getting bumped on an oversold flight since many airlines simply bump the last people to check-in.
Also, a great idea a friend of mine had when there are only middle seats left is to ask the airline if any of rows have people with the same last name seated in an aisle and a window. This way, they’re more likely to switch with you since they probably booked the aisle and window in an effort to gain the whole row. But they didn’t count on your brilliance and they certainly won’t want you in between them. You’ll have to spoil their fun but all’s fair in love and travel! That said, booking seats this way if you’re a couple is the way to do it. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but we did have an entire row to ourself on our honeymoon! Just saying.
Your Airline Matters
If you’re flying Coach, the airline you choose definitely makes a difference. My top picks for Coach are JetBlue, Southwest and Virgin Atlantic. They have the most legroom, the best online entertainment, in-flight snacks and creature comforts (available for a price of course).
It’s the Little Things
Pay a small fee for some extra comfort. It may not be first class but paying for extra legroom or the Exit-Row can make all the difference in the world for someone with long legs.
During Your Flight
Do you know the last time your seat area has been wiped down with bleach? Yeah, neither do I. The first thing I do when I reach my seat is to take out the Clorox wipes and wipe down my tray table, my seat belt, and if my seat is leather, the seat itself. It’s not that I’m a germaphobe (though some undoubtedly will say that I am), it’s that I want to feel comfortable moving freely in my own space. I don’t want to have to picture who sat there before me sneezing or drooling during a nap (because I know it’s not a pretty picture). I also bring hand sanitizing wipes to ensure that I feel clean again after visisitng the cesspool that Coach calls a lavatory.
Suffer in Silence
I’m not a monster, I don’t hate babies–unless they’re seated next to me on a plane. Then they quickly turn into enemy number one. But there is an easy solution–Noise-canceling headphones! These are possibly the most essential device to make a miserable flight tolerable. If you close your eyes you can imagine that you are anywhere else in the world. Turn on some zen music and you are instantly transported away. My top pick goes to the Bose QuietComfort 15 Acoustic Noise Cancelling headphones ($299). If you don’t want to make the splurge, bring good old-fashioned earplugs. You’d be surprised what a difference they make.
Having the empty space under the seat in front of you is crucial for your comfort. Having your legs cramped up for the duration of any flight is not preferable. So if you can, place everything in the overhead compartment that you won’t be using during the flight. Take out your magazine, computer, iPad, etc. before you board so you can just stick your bag above and not be bothered with it. Trust me, being able to move your feet makes a huge difference. If you have two carry-on items then I recommend keeping your bag under your knees and freeing the space under the row in front of you for your feet. Trust me.
Dress for Comfort
Gone are the days where people primped and prettied up for plane rides. Sad but true. But, that said, you also don’t want to feel like a slob. Sporty-Chic is the way to go. I always wear a LuluLemon outfit when I fly. I feel put together yet comfortable. I’m already in Coach, I don’t want to feel like a homeless person in pajamas and heaven forbid I ever become a person who carries a full-size pillow through the airport but comfort is key to a happy traveler.
Operation Fall Asleep
It ain’t easy getting shut eye in Coach (or even in First Class for that matter). But on long flights it’s imperative that you sleep if you there is to be any chance of you enjoying your first day abroad. Now, I’m not a doctor but I highly recommend you see yours for some prescription grade sleep-aids. If I’m on an overnight flight, I never travel without sleep medicine, earplugs, a neck pillow and a sleep mask. And, you’ve got your noise-canceling headphones, you’re good to go! Yes, sleeping sitting up is not ideal but blocking out disturbances and forcing your slumber with a pill makes things a hell of a lot easier.
Smell the Roses
Sometimes, especially if you’re seated near a bathroom, things can get ugly. Aromatherapy can go a long way! I often bring a tiny scented spray–preferably lavender, which has calming properties. But don’t forget to make sure it’s not too large to bring through security.
Bring your own food. Eating lunch provided by the airlines these days is a death sentence for my mood, stomach and overall well-being. When I am hungry I am a monster and I would bet that I’m not alone. I always come armed with my own healthy meals and snacks. I also bring lemon wedges and my own tea bags to make my trip more comfortable. Plus, the lemon helps me stay healthy back in the land of shared air that they call Coach.
Do you have any secrets to making your Coach experience more pleasant? Let me know in the comments! I’m dying to hear!
About The Author
Katie is a luxury lifestyle expert. She runs luxury lifestyle sites, KatieLara.com and Smartypanties.com. But she's not only a luxury lifestyle blogger, she's also a freelance writer for The Huffington Post, Fodor's, Forbes, Pursuitist, Just Luxe and She Knows. She's also a professional photographer and her photos often appear alongside her writing.
I am totally with you on the Clorox wipes! For me, it’s not so much about phobias as it is peace of mind, and it’s hard to relax if you don’t have that. I never thought about bringing my own tea, but that’s a good idea! On a recent trip, I picked up a lightweight, compact throw (because the airport was fareeezing!) and that has become a great addition for in-flight comfy-coziness…without the yuck factor of airline blankets. It’s also good for fabric seats, since you can’t Clorox wipe them. It’s nice to have something between you and the seat.- August 4, 2013
Some excellent points for making economy class a little more bearable! I now carry earplugs and hand sanitizer when traveling anywhere! Thanks for sharing!- August 10, 2013
I think that’s a good call! I hate being that person with the hand sanitizer but it sure beats getting sick on vacation!- August 13, 2013
Thanks for your wonderful tips! I am so there with you on bringing extra food. Even when you get a meal on long flights, it’s still not enough for 7+ hours!- August 13, 2013
ahh I wish those methods worked for making me fall asleep–I find it impossible! I definitely always BYO though :]- August 20, 2013
I took your advice on my last flight and took out my little sanitizing wipes and wiped down the tray and armrest and felt much better about sitting there!- March 8, 2014
I bet you are healthier and happier for it!- March 13, 2014
Sholdit scarves. Most scarves have two pockets, which are big enough for lip balm, small bottle of hand lotion, some individual wipes, ear plugs, eyeshade, anything small that you may need or want during the flight without having to have your bag under the seat. It is an infinity scarf, so it can be doubled around the neck if there is a draft.- September 28, 2014
Oooh that sounds like such a great idea! I love this!- October 10, 2014
Dustmask if I had the bottle to wear it. Commonplace with Asians and Oriental travellers. Put a drop of Dettol on it and maybe you’d come off the plane without the snuffles and itchy throat that turns into a full cold two days later.- October 16, 2014
Yes! Good idea! I’ve heard that helps!- October 21, 2014