I love flying. In fact, I love everything about it – yes, even airline food! And no, I don’t say that because I tend to fly something fancy like business class. Those chances, even for a frequent flier like me, are far and few between (you can read about one occasion here). Miranda from Sex and The City said: “Once you have done first class, you can never go back to coach.” Alas, I am not her and personally, I get a bit irritated when I read posts a la ‘Ways to make economy feel like first class’. It screams click bait to me and it just ain’t true. I mean have you seen first class?
With that said, I have realized that in my over twenty years of flying long distance (am I that old??) I have learned a thing or two on how to get comfy even in coach. Nifty little things to help you to have an all-round pleasant experience, ease the jetlag a little, and arrive somewhat refreshed at your destination.
My current trip is no exception, especially as I am in Thailand to do my dive master training, an exciting but taxing program. Selecting an airline to get me to Thailand was based on connectivity, as I wanted to fly directly to Phuket, and luggage allowance as I needed to take my own dive equipment in addition to my regular backpack. Not only for practical but also for nostalgic reasons I was happy that Emirates offered me a ticket – it was two years ago when I flew with them to Thailand and started my first underwater adventures in the same spot.
Within a week I first flew from India to Hamburg and then from Hamburg to Thailand – ample opportunity to put my own tips to the test once again. And after arriving relaxed if a bit tired, I thought it was high time to share my best tips on how to have a peachy time in economy and make the journey already part of the destination.
Pick a team
Even before I started working with Emirates I was flying with them as much as I could and quickly signed up for their Skywards membership. If you find an airline that works well for your traveling needs (are they flying out of your hometown and are they flying to destinations you frequent?) try to be loyal. Frequent fliers get benefits that can make your flight experience a lot smoother.
For me that includes extra luggage allowance, priority check-in and boarding, miles to upgrade, and a perk I really like – access to the Dubai lounge during a layover.
Luggage & Check-in
While putting my luggage on the scale during check-in I held my breath. Even in economy, I was allowed to take 30kg but I knew I was cutting it close. I call it the trials and tribulations of traveling with your own dive equipment (or an extensive shoe collection). I made to exactly 30.00 kg!
Mind you, usually, I prefer to keep my weight way under the allowed limit and remember my dad’s wise words: don’t pack more than you can carry yourself. The same goes for my hand luggage and my shoulder is thanking me for it.
And as some people still have not gotten the memo – check in online! The line for online check-in is usually so much shorter and will save you a lot of precious waiting time you could better spend at the duty-free shops.
Where to sit
Already during online check-in, there are ways to improve the comfort for your economy flight greatly and it starts with your seat selection. Even in their lowest ticket class Emirates allows free seat selection with your online check-in up to 48 hours in advance. The discussion of aisle or window is an old one and while some swear on a window seat to sleep better, I personally prefer an aisle seat for easy toilet access and leg stretching. Another great side to get some more infos about your choice to be is SeatGuru.
In addition, I always try to get a seat as far up front in the plane as possible. While I may get a taunting glimpse into business class from here, it means that I am usually first out of the economy section and in line for immigration.
And if you have any say in your plane type, chose an Emirates A380 – that plane is a class of its own, even in mere economy.
On my last few trips, I started to make conscious decisions about my Dubai layovers, a great option to break up a long flight. Dubai airport and the Emirates terminal are quite big and you will need to go through security before getting to your connecting gate. Scheduling enough time between your flights is the key for a relaxed layover.
If you have a few hours to spare, especially during meal times, consider buying a lounge pass. Free food, free drinks, a comfy place to chill with wifi and – what I like best – a shower! Pack an extra pair of undies and a fresh t-shirt and start your next day/night feeling like a new person.
On some trips I add a stopover in Dubai, meaning I actually leave the airport. I love Dubai and think it is the perfect city for a weekend full of shopping and excitement. Just book your stopover when you select your flight and connection – no extra costs and the perfect opportunity to avoid or at least minimize jetlag and explore the city.
What to wear
My cousin commented the other day how stylish I looked before my flight. I was surprised because I was just wearing my usual ‘uniform’. However, I realized that while incredibly comfortable I do like to look somewhat put together as I usually wear jeggings, an oversized silk shirt, a cardigan, and Converse. Clothes I can sleep and be comfortable in, but still, look put together in. I also tend to wear a sports bra or a strapless bra I can sneakily take off in the bathroom before going to sleep. So much more comfortable!
What to pack
I try to keep my hand luggage small which is a hard task as it always includes laptop, chargers, and camera as a bare minimum. However, I still need a few creature comforts. Luckily Emirates provides socks, eye mask, ear plugs, and a dental care kit. To that I add:
1&2 – Muji neck pillow (though I am super keen to try this Hoodie Pillow too!).
3 – Oversized shawl that can double up as scarf or blanket when I get cold.
4 – In-flight facial mist from Kiehl’s and the moistest moisturizer I can find
5 – Body Shop British Rose hand cream (the only hand cream that leaves my hand non-greasy).
6 – Clear plastic toiletry bag instead of an ugly ziplock bag which also works for the security check.
And of course things I can’t live without should the worst case scenario happen and my luggage gets delayed: glasses, contact lens solution, medication.
While I admire women who look fresh and put together after getting off a red-eye, I have come to terms with it that I am not one of them. With that said, I take all my make-up off before I go to sleep on the plane and so should you. The plan to wear mascara throughout the night to look put together when you wake up does not work when you wear an eye mask. In fact, you may or may not end up looking like a raccoon with broken lashes.
In flight etiquette
A little flight etiquette goes a long way to making the flight not only doable but also more enjoyable for everybody. Just remember – what goes around comes around.
- Be friendly to the flight attendants. It should go without saying but just because you paid for your flight doesn’t mean you can be rude. And being extra friendly may just ensure more pillows, being shown to that free emergency exit seat, and another round of wine before anybody else.
- Recline your seat carefully and never during meal times.
- The poor person stuck in the middle seat gets first dibs on both armrests, end of discussion.
- Handle other people’s luggage in the overhead bins like you want your own to be handled. It is not a competition of who can squeeze in the most!
- While smelly people are not my preferred seat neighbors, overly perfumed ones are almost worse. Keep it light and try not to smell like a teenage boy when he gets his first cologne.
Let me entertain you!
Here is a shocking confession; no, actually two. I never work on planes and I only ever watch movies when flying. With that said, I am grateful for never-ending movie choices and documentary channels. Have I mentioned that I find shark documentaries soothing? Therefore I love the fact that Emirates doesn’t differentiate their classes when it comes to entertainment – all 2.500 channels are available for everybody.
In business class, they are even served with awesome noise canceling headphones, a comfort you can just bring on board when flying economy. While I love the idea of the ultimate noise canceling headphones from Bose, I also like the little and less expensive Urbanears my friend gave me. Either way, get something to block any snorers or screaming babies.
For those who prefer to read – Kindle also has an app for your phone. So you can not only save on paper but also on yet another electronic device you may or may not break in the jungles of Borneo.
Can I still bring my laptop in case I do want to work?
The new travel regulations regarding electronics like laptops and tablets have created a lot of confusion and concerns. For Emirates flights, this rule mainly applies to flights from Dubai to the USA and UK. On these routes, anything bigger than a smartphone cannot travel in your hand luggage. You have the choice to either put it in your check-in luggage or use it until you board in Dubai. Here you hand your device over and it will be put in special boxes which travel safely in the hold. For no extra charge of course! (Find all the details and regulations here).
To eat or not to eat
I might be a freak of nature, but I like airline food. A tray with little boxes that already puts me in the mood for my destination, miniature Haagen-Dazs, and free wine in small bottles get me excited. Whether I would pay for airline food is a different question, but when it comes included I take full advantage of the offer.
Especially on a long flight, I do however try to eat sensibly which is easy when you have choices like gluten-free, low-sodium or vegetarian meals. And while you can have wine and even pre-order champagne for a special occasion on Emirates, I do make sure to stay extra hydrated during my flight. To make that easy, I usually board with my own oversized bottle of water. Needless to say, I buy that one after the security check!
I don’t sleep easily on planes and even sleeping pills fail me so I stopped trying. Instead, I try to doze off with soothing music or a yoga nidra session. Even unintentionally, that usually puts me asleep for at least a few hours.
Do you have any tips that make long-haul flights in economy more comfortable? Share the love and let us know in the comments. And if you are an anxious flier, check our unconventional ways to deal with fear of flying here.
A big thank you to Emirates for flying me to Phuket and for providing all episodes of the new Planet Earth series (and for the wine of course)!