If Dante had a tenth circle of hell, it would be a non-reclining middle seat in coach, wedged between a sweaty sumo wrestler and an incessantly chatty arm rest hog, with a snorer in front and a crying toddler behind.
Oh, and they charge for the peanuts.
It’s far from divine and comedic only in the darkest sense, but don’t let the blues of flying economy keep you from getting a much-needed holiday. Expert travellers know the secrets to making coach feel like first class – or at least making it more bearable than a simultaneous root canal and colonoscopy, which is a start.
Choose The Right Airline
Do a little leg work ahead of time and your legs will thank you. Airlines everywhere are decreasing the width of their seats and the distance between rows in a desperate (some would say ‘despicable’) bid to boost revenue. If you don’t want to spend hours on a long-haul twisted into a position only a yogi should attempt, it pays to know which airlines and plane models offer the most space in coach. SeatGuru’s long-haul economy comparison chart is an invaluable resource to consult.
Select Your Seats Wisely
All seats are not created equal. Book as early as possible, and come prepared with a map of your aircraft (again courtesy of SeatGuru) to get an overview of the best seating. Choose the aisle or window, depending on your preference. Choose an exit row if you want more legroom, but remember that you won’t be allowed to keep a carry-on under the seat in front of you. The same goes for bulkhead seats. Seats in front of an exit row will not recline. Avoid seats near the galley and toilets at all cost, and if you trust a survey from Skyscanner, book 6A.
Pay The Comfort Tax
If your budget has a little leeway, but not enough to upgrade to a higher class, spring for your airline’s premium economy option. A moderate extra fee can mean more legroom, better amenities, priority check-in and boarding, a more appetising menu, and better service. While access to a business or first class lounge won’t be included, you may be able to purchase a pass to enjoy the lounge life without a pricey plane ticket. Some banks even offer cut-price or complimentary lounge passes with certain credit cards or premium accounts.
As good as those stifling skinny jeans make your junk look, you’ll be cursing the day stretch denim was invented five hours into your long-haul flight. It’s essential to dress comfortably any time you travel, but as we know from impeccably groomed gents like John Legend, Harry Styles and Elijah Wood, comfy doesn’t mean schlubby. Wear layers in case the cabin gets cool, and shoes that won’t get cramped if your feet swell. Invest in compression socks so they don’t. Choose natural fabrics for maximum breathability. If you’re feeling particularly nihilistic, there’s always Dress Pant Sweatpants.
Hydrate And Dine
Try to avoid heavy foods in-flight, pack healthy snacks, and hydrate like you’ve just traversed the Sahara on foot. Those who are acutely alarmed by airline food may want to go the extra mile and pack their own meals. Those who are willing to brave it might consider ordering a special meal ahead of time, such as vegetarian or vegan, as they are often slightly better quality. Just say no to excessive alcohol or caffeine, as both undo all that good H2O hydration work you’re doing. Plane cabins can be extremely dry with humidity levels that reach only half the comfortable percentage for humans, leaving you and your skin parched, and making you more prone to bacteria and viruses.
In the immortal words of James Brown, “Get on up.” Try to get out of your seat to stretch your legs at least once an hour. Do those dumb exercises you’ve scoffed at in articles. Moving keeps your blood flowing and will help you feel more alive when you finally land.
The ideal way to survive an economy flight is to remember as little of it as possible. And the ideal way to do that is not, as one might think, to drink into a blacked-out state of oblivion, but instead to pay a peaceful visit to the Sandman. Recline your seat, give your neck and back the support they need, pop in earplugs or put on headphones, and slip on an eye mask if you’re irritated by the surrounding lights. If that’s not enough to drift away to dreamland, try a cup of chamomile tea or a melatonin supplement.
Thanks to the benevolence of the travel gods, many if not most airlines now have seat-back entertainment systems. But that doesn’t mean you’ll like what they’re offering. The safest bet is always to come armed with entertainments of your own, whether it’s podcasts or books or a laptop loaded with movies. Make sure all your devices are charged and everything you plan to access in-flight is downloaded. Don’t count on getting any work done when there’s no such thing as elbow room. And be sure to invest in a quality pair of…
Fly with the right pair of headphones and you’ll never go back to airline-branded earbuds again. It’s nearly impossible to properly hear music and movies over the dull roar of the engines and the inevitable wailing child. Most people increase the volume of their headphones to compensate, which in turn can contribute to hearing loss and higher stress levels. Instead, invest in a well-made set of noise-cancelling headphones. You’ll find some of our favourites here: Wireless Headphones That Sound As Good As They Look.
Splurge On A Quality Carry-On
Whether it’s a cool leather weekender or a futuristic smart suitcase, rocking the right cabin luggage will take your travel game to the next level. What makes a quality carry-on? It has to score high on style, of course, but it should also have space for all your essentials and allow them to be packed in a convenient, accessible way (pockets and compartments are your friends). That being said, as important as it is keep your must-haves handy, it’s also important to avoid any extra and unnecessary cramping. Travel as light as you can so your personal item doesn’t hog all your valuable foot space.
Stock It Well
Once you’ve selected the right piece of carry-on luggage, it’s time to stock it. Along with your headphones, electronic devices, and entertainment options, here are other items you may want to consider for the comfiest possible flight in coach: a water bottle, a neck pillow, an eye mask, hand sanitizer and/or santizing towels, a toothbrush and toothpaste, moisturizer, lip balm, a small cushion for extra padding, ear plugs, fresh socks, snacks, a portable foot rest like the Fly LegsUp hammock, and for the truly no f—ks given man, the utterly spectacular Ostrich Napping Pillow.