Flying 75,000 miles a year has its advantages. Elite Status, priority boarding, lounge access, domestic upgrades, preferred seating, shiny luggage tags, and more! But even if you are only the occasional flyer, there are several simple things you can do to make your economy class experience feel more like first class… okay not really, but seriously, here are 10 tips that might make economy class at least a little bit more tolerable.
1) Go all carry-on – How much of your life are you willing to waste waiting in line checking a bag, or waiting for your bag to show up at your final destination at the baggage claim? How much money do you enjoy spending on checked baggage fees? Any trip shorter than a week and there is no good reason to go anything but all carry-on. Using some simple packing strategies can significantly reduce the volume of stuff you feel you can’t live without on your trip. We’ve already published a few great “travel light” blogs – linked here for your travel planning convenience (Day 89, Day 99). If worse comes to worse, and you are unlucky enough to be assigned boarding number 5, and all the space is taken in the overhead compartments, the airline is obligated to gate-check your bag for you free-of-charge.
2) Skip the check-in counter – Now that you’ve released yourself from the burden of excess baggage, you can also skip the check-in counter. Most major airlines now offer the convenience of printable boarding passes. If you have a home printer, and an internet connection, you can check-in online. With online check-in there is no need to check-in at the airport, so you can go directly through security and to the gate. No printer at home? If you have a smart-phone, most major airlines now offer mobile boarding passes. You can complete the entire check-in process on your phone, and use the screen as a boarding pass. No smart-phone? Just use an automated check-in machine at the airport and skip the line of people checking half their clothing for a weekend trip.
3) Choose your seats in advance – Nothing makes an economy class travel experience worse than being allocated a crap seat automatically by the airline. I’m always shocked how many people have no idea they can pick their seats in advance! It doesn’t matter if you book the tickets yourself, or have your travel office do it for you, the choice is yours to make. As soon as you have a record locator number or confirmation code from the airline, you are in most cases eligible for seat selection via the “manage my booking” links on the web page of the airline you’re flying. Certain seats are reserved for elite frequent flyers, but unless you’re booking last minute, in most cases your preferred seat type will be available for advance selection. If not, keep checking back online, and it might open up. When you check in for your flight (36-24 hours in advance in some cases) the airlines will open up blocked seats not previously available for selection. If you get lucky, you can even snag an exit row!
4) Know your aircraft – Unless the airline throws an equipment change your way, you’ll know your aircraft type at the time of booking. This can be helpful for several reasons, number one of which is expectation management. Using a web-site such as seatguru.com helps you learn what seats are the best, and are in most cases going to be much more honest than the seat map available on the airline’s web page. Use these maps to scope out the best seats for your seat selection, and to avoid surprises like bulkhead seats with restricted legroom, and seats in front of the exit rows, which don’t recline. Are you a window seat person? Find out what seats have a restricted view because of the wing, or worse… a missing window and you’re stuck crammed up against the curvature of the fuselage for your entire flight.
5) Avoid additional screening – Nothing, not even TSA Pre-check, can eliminate the possibility of additional screening, but you can do a few things to help yourself out. Since you are now all carry-on, make sure you abide by the 3oz/100ml rule for liquids. Remove all your computers and iDevices from your bags before they go through the x-ray. Take off your belt, your jacket, your shoes, basically follow the instructions of the screeners and you’ll be on your way much faster than the obvious travel virgins who are still busy trying to figure out how to unlock their roll-aboard to take out liquids for a second trip through the x-ray machine. Next step will be the rubber glove and a private screening room, and no one enjoys that kind of first class treatment.
6) Order a special meal – Do you want to get your meal served first? Do you want your food to be fresher and healthier? In the mood for some Indian food? It’s not a requirement that you have dietary restrictions to request a special meal, and you’d be surprised at the available selections all free of charge. You must either select online when booking, under “manage my reservation”, or call the airline. Not only are the special meals distributed first when it’s meal time on your international flight, but they are also a lot better for you. Common options include halal and kosher meals, vegan, vegetarian, non-dairy, and Asian. If you travel as much as I do, sometimes it’s nice to have something other than the chicken or the pasta.
7) Create your own partition – Flying long haul is an uncomfortable experience, and on a full flight, when your neighbor stinks, overflows into your space, or both, it would be great to erect some kind of barrier. Unfortunately reclining and leaning away only gets you so much relief, and very often a bad back from keeping your spine out of alignment for eight or nine hours. What you can do though to lessen the impact, is use your pillow as an “arm-rest helper”. If you keep getting elbowed, just put your pillow between your thigh and your arm-rest. Not only do you now have a soft place to rest your arm, but you effectively block the elbow of whoever’s sitting next to you as well. Now you can watch a movie on your 4 inch screen in relative comfort.
8) Bring your own headset – Headsets distributed by the airline are okay if you want to take advantage of the in-flight entertainment options, but after a few hours, it feels like your head is in a vice. Bring along your own set of comfy ear-buds, or a noise-canceling headset to enjoy the movie without your ears being squeezed, and a narrower head at the end of the flight. Adaptors are available for the unnecessarily unusual airline headphone jacks at most travel stores.
9) Join the frequent flyer program – You may never fly enough to get elite status, but it’s just “plane” stupid to throw away free stuff, money, points. Here’s what you need to know, the basics, because this could be a whole series of blog posts. There are three major airline alliances, and each has a US based member. Star Alliance – United. SkyTeam – Delta. OneWorld – American/US Airways. If you fly however frequently any one of these airlines, JOIN each one’s program. LEARN the global members. If you are a Delta Skymiles member do not join Air France/KLM’s Flying Blue. Same alliance. You can earn Delta miles on KLM. Same goes for United and Lufthansa… just choose one airline within each alliance and start earning rewards. You can use miles and actually upgrade to long haul business class for as little as 30,000 miles.
10) Respect the cabin crew – Unless you enjoy being an ass, realize that the cabin crew’s job sucks way more than yours. When your flight is delayed at the gate, they aren’t getting paid. Don’t be “that guy” who complains to the flight attendant about your being inconvenienced, especially when they can do nothing about it. The flight crew on a plane full of angry passengers is way less likely to volunteer to work beyond their daily maximum hours. Smile when you are being greeted while boarding. Say please and thank-you. Chat with them if given the chance. These people have super interesting stories to tell. Rest assured that your kindness won’t go unrecognized when it’s time for the in-flight service. Above all, be civilized, remember that we live in a society, and it’s not 1965 so don’t continuously press the call button and yell for the stewardess.