13 Ways to Make Flying Economy More Enjoyable

You can make flying economy more enjoyable. It doesn’t have to be the miserable experience most of us have come to expect if you know these 13 tricks. So let’s look forward to when everyone is traveling again and talk about staying comfortable on a long flight, when your class of service isn’t going to do it for you?

you can make flying economy more enjoyable even in united coach

If you know these 13 things ahead of time you can make flying economy more enjoyable.

  • Stay hydrated. Bring your own water, so either have refillable bottles you fill up at the airport or buy bottled water, more than you think you’ll drink. Don’t rely on flight attendants from US airlines to keep you quenched.

  • Don’t drink alcohol. Yes it’s free in coach flying long haul but that doesn’t mean it’s good for you, for your sleep, or adjusting to your new time zone.

  • Ambien. Consult your doctor about whether a sleep aid is appropriate.

  • Pillow. If you’re flying an airline that gives you one it’s postage stamp sized and not very thick. You may fear looking like a teenage girl trouncing through the airport with your pillow (try not to sit on the ground with it) but it can pay off in comfort. I’ve been known to bring my own pillows on board some US airline flights in business class where I knew I’d get one of those same small pillows.

  • Pick the right seat. Consult SeatGuru for the best available seats, and if none are available set up a free Expertflyer seat alert to get an email if one opens up.

  • Fly off peak on poorly performing routes the routes employees love to nonrev on are also great as a paying coach passenger — flights that aren’t full give you a shot at an empty seat next to you (or a row to lie down in). The number one thing that drives passenger perception of a flight is an empty seat beside them. The food tastes better, flight attendants seem nicer, and the entertainment is better.

  • Don’t spend too much time at the airport. The journey is already long enough in coach, why extend it? The meal at the airport won’t be as good as what you can get off airport property. The gate area isn’t comfortable and may not have power. You want to make sure you have enough time to check in and check bags if you must and to clear security and that’s it.

  • Board ‘not last’. You don’t want to board first (that seat isn’t super enthralling) but also not last, you want to make sure you’re on just early enough to ensure there’s still overhead bin space near your seat.

  • Bring your own entertainment. There’s a serendipity to what happens to be on board but make sure you have your own content as a backup in case nothing interests you.

  • Bring extra power. Don’t rely on the airline to have working power at your seat. Even if the aircraft is supposed to have power it might not be working. Your own power brick will save the day compared to facing 15 hours of flying with just a couple hours of juice.

  • Pick the right airline. If you’re flying to Asia, fly an Asian airline not a US one. Singapore Airlines economy is downright nice with the same meals as premium economy, foot bars, and cup holders plus more legroom than US carriers give you. At a minimum pay attention to the personal space each airline offers you, for instance why even consider flying coach on a United or American 777 when Delta’s 777 squeeze fewer passengers into each row (10 vs 9)?

  • Dress comfortably even flying business class on an airline that won’t give me pajamas I bring my own and change on board. I want to be as comfortable as possible for a long flight. That also means not too hot or too cold (layers are good, fabrics that retain your sweat less so).

  • Consider upgrading using miles, an auction, a buy up offer at check-in, really anything that’s available. And now that so many airlines offer premium economy it can even be priced more modestly than you think.

here i am making flying economy more enjoyable

I’m fortunate that during normal times my work travel is domestic, and my international flying is for leisure. As a result my long haul travel can be paid on points and I can organize things so that the trip will be comfortable.

It hasn’t always been that way. Growing up I did my share on long haul coach flying, including to Australia on an American Airlines DC-10 — a sleepless flight where the only thing playing was King Ralph on the overhead screen.

There you have it, 13 ways to make flying economy more enjoyable. How do you stay comfortable flying long haul when you’re sitting in back?

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. A Cabeau neck pillow. They cost about $30 on amazon but worth every penny and they make an amazing difference on a long flight.

  2. Stay hydrated— need to hit that luxurious airplane lavatory more often. And also jump over 2 people to get there.

  3. Face it-nothing you can do will make flying Coach/Tourist/Economy or whatever any better. But alcohol does help to relieve the misery and pains.

    You could try informing the young FAs what flight was like when the 707 was introduced–coach seating and service was better than today’s domestic first; really!

  4. When I am in business or first, I cannot resist the wine. I probably pay the price.

    If you drink try to hydrate to much in coach, you are going to have to go to the restroom too much. I usually moderate my hydrating when in coach.

    Actually, if you have a Priority Pass or Amex Platinum, food at the airport could be good.

    Fly an Asian Airline. Bingo. Delta, American, and United all s.ck big time.

  5. Being able to lean left or right into the window cubby is a huge advantage over middle and aisle seats. Yes you have to jump over people, but they have to pee too so just wait and time it with them- or just ask.

    If you get the right seat, the shoulder width amounts to an extra 4-6 inches sometimes. Be careful of rows with no windows or misaligned windows, your arm will go numb on a long flight. Seatguru is your friend.

  6. Apologies in advance for my ignorance, but how do you figure out which routes are the poorly performing routes?

  7. FYI, a lot of the writers of these lame articles are, sorry to say, millenials like my daughter (also a professional copywriter and editor) who put pen to paper and dream up ideas that no sane person would really consider. Sometimes my daughter will meet with her friends (also media mavens/copywriters/editors/social media experts) and over a few glasses of wine they will fabricate all sorts of useless pap to continue pumping out the copy. The writer of the Fodor’s article has traveled, granted, but she’s on the Instagram-Twitter-Facebook circuit, where everything seems to be superficial and of little substance.

    Now if it were a 40+ something executive who travels on business twice a week and is forced to sit in coach most of the time who wrote the article, THOSE words of wisdom would make me take notice..

  8. Reduced seat leg-room increases passenger stress, muscle pain, and many other unwanted situations

  9. Reduced aircraft seat-pitch is a big concern to all passengers, but especially to, elderly people, pregnant women, and passengers with reduced mobility

  10. The two indispensable luxuries for surviving economy flights are a neck pillow and an empty bottle to fill with water airside. When I didn’t used to travel much, I always picked the window seat because I thought it was cool to have my own little cubby with a view. Now I always pick the aisle seat because I want the freedom to get up whenever I’d like (see: bottle filled with water) without disturbing anyone.

  11. @KimmieA, I am a 40+ something consultant who travels on business twice a week and is forced to sit in coach more than I’d like, and Gary’s list is a good one.

  12. @KimmieA “Now if it were a 40+ something executive who travels on business twice a week and is forced to sit in coach most of the time who wrote the article, THOSE words of wisdom would make me take notice..”

    Well I am a 40+ something executive traveling on business and forced to sit in coach more than I would like because I fly peak business routes on peak business travel days, hence my suggestions. 🙂

  13. Only thing I would change on your list is your recommendation to spend as little time at airport as possible. I’ve traveled extensively for 35 years and have around 8 million FF miles but still want to get to my home airport around 1 1/2-2 hours before my flight and allow 2 hours at places like LAX or JFK/LGA since I never know what to expect. For international I make it at least 3 hours. Personally I’d rather not worry about missing the flight due to security holdups (even though I’m precheck, rarely check a bag and check in advance of arriving at the airport). Almost all airports have wifi now so you can be productive (or entertained) and I can get in airport lounge at most airports I visit so I frankly don’t mind being there a little early. I also make sure and allow more time than recommended for connections (when I have to take them) for the same reason. Obviously a personal choice but that’s how I do it.

  14. I’m getting tired of these lists (the Fodor’s one, not you Gary) that are just thinly veiled attempts to drop as many affiliate links into the copy as possible. It is incredibly obvious that the entire piece started out built around those links, and not to actually convey useful information to travelers.

    “Wear something that makes you feel Instagram ready! How about these $120 linen pants that nobody needs?!”

  15. Aircraft noise bothers me. For years I have been using beeswax earplugs and they make a huge difference to my comfort on long hauls. Also take a sleep mask. These take up little room in my carry on and are on my essentials packing list.

  16. A good list but I have suggestions. Anyone looking to make traveling in economy as enjoyable as possible needs to buy noise-cancelling headphones!!! They help sleep, enhance the pleasure of video and audio and tune out noisy neighbors. NCH should be at the top of the list. I did a quick scan of comments and did not see this suggestion surprisingly. NCHs are the one thing I control that helps most.

    I disagree with the no alcohol suggestion. Drinking in moderation while staying hydrated should not create problems for most. Ambien – no thanks. It is an overused crutch in the air and on the ground. People I know who use it often take more than the prescribed dose. Passengers should be alert.

    An empty seat is a blessing. If getting off the plane fast is not an issue, pick seats at the rear of the plane where empty seats are more likely to be found. If there are empty seats but not next to you, tell a flight attendant you plan to move and do so right after boarding finishes.

  17. @gary leff and @Colin Z – huh? I though @KimmieA had one of the most insightful comments on this post, In which she pointed out some of the “methodology” & “sourcing” behind the article mentioned in the blog post. My take was she was NOT referencing gary’s list.

  18. If long flight and you are to be in coach, or in the old “armchair” recliner seats (e.g., Icelandair Saga Class), spend $30 for a “first class sleeper”. It’s essentially a very mildly inflated garment bag that wraps around your back, head and neck when you sit against it. No pillows needed. Just enough air fills in all the places that the seat back fails to. When deflated it rolls to the size of folding umbrella (or mini-baguette, or quart of milk). … I prefer business class, but this is a bit cheaper.

  19. I know it’s sacrilegious to many, but I hate lugging bags through the airport so I will check my bag if I have multiple layovers or am taking long flights. The extra 20 minutes at baggage claim isn’t that much if it’s a 12-15 hour trip anyway. On the small chance the bag gets lost/delayed, I have some coverage through the credit card.

    Their point on eating at the airport seems to be mostly to do that instead of eating the in-flight meals, which I generally agree with.

    And I do think arriving at the airport early can make sense sometimes. Part of it is just avoiding unnecessary stress for people who tend to get stressed by flying or don’t want stress ruining the start of their vacation. It also makes sense if the consequences of missing that flight are large (i.e. next available replacement flight not until 12 hours later, or a tight schedule on landing).

  20. A few ideas that work for me…

    –Check bags, board at final call, quit stressing about overhead space and stay off the plane as long as possible. Chill and chat with the gate agents. Hold a credit card for a free checked bag. Checking a bag is worth it to me for anything longer than ~3hour flight.

    –Aisle seat, get up whenever you want

    –Bring a water bottle to fill at the airport, or at least buy a large bottle in the terminal

    –Upgrade to extra legroom seat

    –Arrive at the airport 1.5 hours before the flight. Use PreCheck lane for quick security. If you have lounge access pop in and grab something

    –If I need to board early, fly AA. They never check boarding order, just act like you belong there.

  21. I’m looking for suggestions to make ANY long flight bearable. I have an upcoming 9-1/2 hour flight (for me that’s long way!) and I’m disappointed that I couldn’t snag a window seat. Yes, I always choose the window seat because 1. I can lean against the fuselage and sleep. 2. I actually do like to look out the window, and 3. I have a pretty strong bladder, I don’t have to “go” very often, and if I’m in the window seat I don’t have to worry about the weak-bladdered people crawling all over me to get out. I am stuck in an aisle seat for my upcoming long flight, which means I’ll probably doze off only to be jostled awake by people heading for the loo. On the plus side, however, I’m in the aisle of they middle section (a 2-4-2 configuration) so there is always the chance they’ll scoot out the other way if I’m sleeping!

  22. I second the question about how to find the poorly performing routes with light loads — beyond the obvious choices of avoiding Monday mornings and Thursday night/Friday consultant filled flights.

  23. Totally agree with take your pillow. On an overnight flight to Europe bringing your real full bed pillow is the best tip. Let’s even say it’s worth $30 and you leave it behind on the plane (at the same time ordering a new one on Amazon). Get the window seat, stuff the pillow against the window and you could have a better sleep than if you paid hundred extra for premium economy.

  24. I agree and laughed a little about “bring your own entertainment”. The old Boomers here praises DL for seat back entertainment, but I’d rather have a good wifi and bring my own devise and have a power port to either stream in flight options or view my own, even internationally. Allows for more under seat space (check out an AA A321neo) and more personal space between your face and the seat in front of you. Measure a DL 737-900 someday to find it’s really only 29 inches in coach. Yes I know we are taking international but east to west coast is 6 to 7 hours.

  25. Ear plugs are a must. I have a hard time falling asleep with noise cancelling headsets. Also eye mask in case your neighbor decides to turn on the lights.
    For long flights give yourself an extra day at arrival. Don’t plan much for the first day.
    Also consider either paying for secure early check in or for a full night before if your flight arrives very early

  26. Remove the worthless magazines from the seat pocket to the overhead locker and add an inch to your legroom

  27. Yes, earplugs. And I prefer decent isolating headphones to NCH. Fun fact: last week on AF my J seat got stuck semireclined, and to get up, I had to pull myself using the wall of the person in front of me’s shell. He was using the crappy noise-cancelling cans AF issues, and the bump caused them to feedback. Not ideal for sleeping.

    Also, ambien: look up “Ambien zombies”. You don’t want to be that

  28. The best thing to improve flying in coach is having a great set of noise-cancelling headphones. I’m shocked that didn’t make the top 13. They greatly improve the enjoyment of video and audio as well as block most cabin noise. Put on your favorite movie or tunes and you are in your own world.

    As far as alcohol, stick to your normal consumption. I think its okay to have one or two if that is what you normally do with dinner or over a 12-hour period. Don’t over indulge just because it is free.

  29. First, yes, Asian airlines, a plug here for ANA. Wish Garuda went to US. Turkish ranks with the Asian airlines. Window seat. Having status helps greatly with boarding & access to clubs (I have status flying long haul in cheap seats because I am going to Jakarta). I have also been blessed because I can’t stay awake on airplanes. Dress comfortably without being self-conscious in economy–I’m still often the only guy with a sports coat, but you can get away with a track suit and still be among the best dressed in clubs these days. Something with a hood is good.

  30. Can you imagine an entire Economy cabin on Ambien? Half would be snoring, and the other half would be sleepwalking.

  31. I used to do just fine in 9 across Y on a 777 with the old seats that had padding. The new 10 across slimline seats SUCK. Sorry my 6′ 3″ broad shoulder frame just doesn’t fit. I like an aisle seat, but usually take a shot or two in the shoulder from a service cart as it goes by.

    There’s nothing worse than touching up against the person next too you for 8 – 12 hours or more. In some countries that much physical contact with a person of the same sex or, opposite sex you are not married to, gets you thrown in jail.

  32. ” am stuck in an aisle seat for my upcoming long flight, which means I’ll probably doze off only to be jostled awake by people heading for the loo.”

    I was on a 15 hour flight once to DXB, aisle seat. The guy in the window seat NEVER got up to piss or stretch his legs. Not very healthy but I really had to admire that dude’s bladder prowess!

  33. I’m not a very frequent flyer but it took only one incident to persuade me to NEVER check a bag if at all possible. I was flying to LGA (New York) from RDU (Raleigh-Durham). I checked my bag and waited for my flight, only to begin hearing there was terrible weather in NY and the flight would be delayed. And delayed. And delayed some more. Eventually we were told we’d be taking a different flight–but nobody seemed to know where to board that new flight. This took hours and hours. Where was my checked bag?? Nobody knew. Moral of the story: NEVER check a bag if you can possibly avoid it. (P.S. After much frantic searching my checked bag turned up at LGA… eventually.)

  34. This is hilarious. Improve your steerage flight seating by upgrading to get the heck out of the back of the airbus! Let’s face it, steerage seating on US-based carriers can optimally be improved by drugs or alcohol. Now if at some point in time the US public were introduced to how those in coach seating are treated on foreign air carriers, it could be game over for the sky pirates.

  35. Gary refuses to add the best thing you can do to always improve a long economy flight. Buy your own noise-cancelling headsets!!! That will greatly improve your enjoyment of entertainment and making sleep and relaxation better!

  36. It is a good thing for your circulation to get up and walk around every couple of hours on a long flight. In economy, take the aisle seat in a middle row towards the back. There’s a better chance of a middle seat beside you remaining empty back there. Overhead air jets may be positioned to blow cold air on your head and if that bothers you, wear a hoody. In case you hate the airline meal, bring some kind of protein snack like cashews and choose the tomato juice. Keep your seat area as uncluttered as possible, the more room for you the less stuff you keep at your seat.

  37. I always fly economy- spend less, go more often. But, I can never sleep. Instead of paying twice as many points or thousands in money for a 7-10 hour flight where you might get 5 hours sleep, I build an extra day on the front side and pay for the hotel room the night before. A massage (full or chair) and a place to nap upon arrival works for me-$300 vs thousands.

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