10 Ways to Make Flying Economy Suck Less

10 Ways to Make Flying Economy Suck Less
Photo: Matej Kastelic, Shutterstock

Do you look longingly at those wide, cushioned first-class seats when you board a plane? Us, too. Unfortunately, most of us most commonly fly in coach/economy class, which isn’t exactly the lap of luxury. So we recently asked Lifehacker readers for their best tips for flying both comfortably and cheaply in tight quarters.

Here are 10 ways to level-up your economy class experience so that when you take your next flight, you can march right past all those first-class flyers with the confidence of a person with a plan.

Choose an aisle or a window seat

Photo: WorldWide, ShutterstockPhoto: WorldWide, Shutterstock

Travellers seem to be split on whether aisle seats or window seats are better (though everyone agrees that middle seats are the worst). Some people like the ability to pass out and sleep undisturbed, while others appreciate being able to get up and move around often without having to climb over anyone. Depending on your preferences, select a seat in advance that works for you.

You may also consider proximity to the lavatories and exits (again, personal preference), as well as features like fixed armrests and lack of under-seat storage. Use aircraft maps on SeatGuru to see the details about your seat.

If you must sit in a middle seat…

Photo: Scott’s Shotz Photography, ShutterstockPhoto: Scott’s Shotz Photography, Shutterstock

Reader Dake suggests strapping your legs together, especially if your legs are very long. The reasoning:

“On the (thankfully rare) occasions I get a middle seat, I’ll unclip the shoulder strap from my bag and then clip it in a loop around my legs just above the knee. You can also use your belt. Ideally you do at least want it to be a fairly wide strap so that it’s not cutting into your skin.

I’ll adjust the loop big enough so that I can completely relax my legs outward against the strap and they will be held within the confines of my seating. That way there’s no man-spreading or knee-touching with my neighbours. You may not be comfortable, but you will be a little less uncomfortable.”

Sit behind limited-recline rows

Photo: Yuttapol Phetkong, ShutterstockPhoto: Yuttapol Phetkong, Shutterstock

No one likes it when the passenger in front of them reclines their seat, though it’s one part of flying we’ve mostly learned to tolerate. To avoid it entirely, reader Night Walker suggests snagging a seat behind rows with limited recline.

Note that these are also exit rows on many aircraft, meaning you could pay a premium for the extra comfort. SeatGuru shows you where limited-recline seats are located.

Spring for a seat upgrade

Photo: supawat bursuk, ShutterstockPhoto: supawat bursuk, Shutterstock

Yes, the idea is to avoid spending any more than you must, but if a seat in Comfort+, Main Cabin Extra, or your airline’s premium economy section doesn’t cost that much more, some readers say the splurge for a few extra inches of width and recline is well worth it — especially on longer flights.

The up-charge or gate request for an exit-row seat is another alternative.

Make your seat more comfortable

Photo: Scott’s Shotz Photography, ShutterstockPhoto: Scott’s Shotz Photography, Shutterstock

If you can’t get a better seat, there are a few small tweaks to make the best of your situation. If you can’t find overhead bin space for your smaller carry-on, readers jpmjpm1 and gt0163c suggest moving your bag from underneath your seat to the space behind your legs as soon as you’re allowed so you can stretch your legs out in front of you.

Also, reader Hyde244 writes, “Bring a light jacket that you can use as lumbar support while sitting in your seat. (that is, while seated, tightly ball your jacket against the lower portion of your back) It’s amazing what an upgrade that makes, especially if flying budget airlines that don’t have reclining seats.”

Get a neck pillow

Photo: Maor_Winetrob, ShutterstockPhoto: Maor_Winetrob, Shutterstock

Neck pillows may look silly, and they may take up precious space in your bag, but the sacrifice may be well worth it if you want to sleep on your flight. Reader Clovis Sangrail writes, “I leveled up my travel pillow to a trtl and it is amazing, esp. for long flights. Even with a window seat, I always used to have neck pain. Now, I wake up without neck pain and fairly well-rested.”

Dress cosy, stay clean

Photo: Matej Kastelic, ShutterstockPhoto: Matej Kastelic, Shutterstock

One frequent piece of reader advice is to dress in comfortable clothes and shoes and to carry on basic hygiene products, like a toothbrush, face wipes, and deodorant.

Reader Chubby Blimp writes, “Long flight or redeye? Take a washcloth and a small ziploc bag along. Use a bottle of water to dampen the washcloth and then put it over your face. The humidity is nice for your sinuses and it helps block out some of the light and keeps me cool on warmer flights.”

Don’t forget your headphones

Photo: Alexey Fedorenko, ShutterstockPhoto: Alexey Fedorenko, Shutterstock

Headphones are another must-have for many Lifehacker readers. A noise-cancelling pair is great if you have one, but also make sure that you bring headphones that will connect to the in-flight entertainment system (which won’t work with Bluetooth devices like AirPods).

Watch movies from gate to gate

Photo: Sorbis, ShutterstockPhoto: Sorbis, Shutterstock

Many in-flight entertainment systems now work from gate to gate, so if you have a seat-back screen, you can plug in and start watching as soon as you sit down. Several readers also suggest loading up your computer or tablet with movies and TV episodes you’ve been wanting to binge. (Definitely do this if your aircraft doesn’t have individual seat-back entertainment.)

Reader VodkaRocks&aPieceofToast writes, “I load up my Kindle Fire with movies or shows I have wanted to watch for a while. And I do a whole variety of stuff because it’s hard to predict what is going to appeal to me day of flight. Something new I haven’t seen? Something I find comforting and wouldn’t mind if I dozed off? The other benefit of this is it gives me something to look forward to: ‘Oh I can finally binge The Gilded Age uninterrupted on my four-hour flight.’”

Gate-check your bag

Photo: chanonnat srisura, ShutterstockPhoto: chanonnat srisura, Shutterstock

If you’re flying nonstop and aren’t in a particular hurry, gate-checking your bag can alleviate the stress of finding overhead bin space, especially if you’re in a later boarding group on a full flight. This also allows you to board as late as possible in the process, cutting at least a few minutes off the time you have to be seated. Checking luggage at the gate is free on most airlines.

“It’s worth it and makes the whole experience more enjoyable,” writes AngryBob-VA. “I do this, then sit back in the terminal while everyone battles for overhead bin space. Then I leisurely stroll on last.”

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