For the majority of passengers, flying long-haul in economy class is the uncomfortable reality. One of us recently had a nightmare economy flight experience – due to travel constraints we were unable to check-in online for a flight which was also completely full in all classes. At the airport we were left with a middle seat in the middle row – our first time there in many hundreds of flights taken.
The story then gets worse… to our left was a passenger of “size” who spilled over into our seat and promptly fell asleep for the whole flight, blocking our aisle access. Ahead of us was a young couple sitting on the bulkhead row who spent 90% of the flight with seats fully reclined. And behind us 2 noisy young kids who were kicking our seats literally all the way!
By some quirk of bad luck our row was also the very last to be served on both meal runs – and our first choice had run out on both occasions. However, at least the flight was on time and landed safely…
So here are some tips on surviving a long-haul flight in economy:
1. Choose your airline – If you find the standard economy class a bit cramped then consider using an airline with the higher economy seat pitch of 34″ – Malaysian Airlines, Thai Airways, Asiana, Air China – who all serve Asia, Europe, west coast US and Australia – and Royal Jordanian which serves the Middle East, east coast US, Europe and Asia.
2. Go premium economy – If you can’t afford a business class ticket but want a little more legroom (typically 38″) then consider a premium economy seat – offered by the likes of Air New Zealand, Qantas, British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, United, EVA Airlines, V Australia. EVA has some very reasonable premium economy fares from Amsterdam and Vienna to Bangkok and Taipei.
In the future we should see more advanced economy products – Air New Zealand already plan to install economy 3 seater rows that convert into beds.
3. Pick your seat BEFORE you get to the airport – Try to choose your seat assignment in advance. Some airlines such as British Airways, Qantas, KLM-Air France will now allow you to purchase the sought-after emergency exit row seats beforehand. Alternatively you should always check-in online as soon as it opens, typically 24 hours ahead of flying to get the widest possible selection of seats – and thus avoid a middle seat “nightmare”.
4. Think about your body clock – If you are staying at your destination longer than a week then you should start adjusting your body clock a little in the days leading up to travel. For example, about a week before flying from say London to Hong Kong try to get up a bit earlier each successive day – this will bring your body clock slightly towards Hong Kong time. As soon as you get on board the aircraft set your watch to the destination time.
If you have a choice of flight times try to land at your destination in the late afternoon / early evening which means you can get to your accommodation, go for a light walk, have a meal and then go to bed.
5. Eat before flying – Consider eating a good meal a couple of hours before you get on board rather than eating in the air. Airline food is usually poor quality, loaded with preservatives and your digestion processes are slowed down which affects your capacity to rest well.
If you wish to stay awake however, you can delay the onset of sleep by not eating at all – this could be useful when travelling westwards.
6. Try to get comfy – OK, an economy class seat is generally quite cramped and uncomfortable and for many it is almost impossible to get any sleep.
Comfort also depends on personal preference. What do we do if in economy? Preferably have an empty seat next to us. Wear loose fitting clothing, take our shoes off and put on the socks provided, put the pillow on the ground for our feet, bring our own neck pillow, use the blanket and eye shades. Turn off the entertainment screen. Change into a fresh pair of socks on landing.
7. Use noise cancelling headphones – We are currently using the JVC HANC250 headphones which reduces the ambient engine noise. Other recommended brands include Audio-Technica, Sennheiser and the Bose Quiet Comfort, although the Bose’s are relatively expensive. Test them out before purchasing as some phones can get uncomfortable if worn for longer periods.
8. Stay healthy on board – If you are awake make sure you stretch and get some exercise – get out of your seat and go for a walk every so often. Stay well hydrated, avoid sugar, caffeine and alcohol. To help you relax bring a small bottle of lavender oil and put a couple of drops of on your temples or the back of your neck. Do the same again when you get to your destination just before you go to bed.
9. Earn some miles – At least try to get some frequent flyer miles or points from your long-haul economy flight. Many airlines also offer double miles when booking on an affiliated card. (Check out our airline credit cards section for more info). Save your miles up for a business class redemption on a quality carrier with flat bed seats!