Flying in economy is often synonymous with a lack of legroom, questionable in-flight meals and close proximity to fellow travelers. Because of that, it’s easy to forget about the destination that awaits you on the other side of the jet bridge. But, you don’t have to upgrade to business class to improve your overall in-flight experience.
In fact, there are plenty of little-known tips and tricks for making your economy seat a much more comfortable and enjoyable experience — especially if you’re willing to get creative and plan ahead.
We spoke to a handful of frequent flyers to get their insights on exactly how they’ve managed to streamline their economy experience to be efficient and comfortable. From bringing your own snacks and coffee onboard to taking the time to get to know aircraft layouts for the best seat in the cabin, here’s how to make your economy seat more comfortable.
The best practices to make flying economy more comfortable
Pick the right airline
If you’re looking to get from point A to point B without much worry about anything else, you may not care about which airline you fly. But if you want a comfortable experience, take note of which airline you book with; not all are created the same. In general, ultra-low-cost carriers will offer a less-comfortable experience — think no seat recline, no in-flight entertainment screens and less legroom — than more legacy, full-service airlines.
Do research using tools like SeatGuru to see if the airline and aircraft you’re looking to book offer particular in-flight amenities. For example, if you’re planning to work in-flight, be sure to check if your airline and aircraft are equipped with Wi-Fi. Ultimately, picking the right airline for your needs will lead to a much more comfortable flying experience.
Choose your aircraft wisely
Doing your research can help to make for a more comfortable experience. Ahead of your flight, look into the specific aircraft on the airline you’re flying. If you have the time and budget to be flexible about the days or times you’re looking to fly, it’s a great opportunity to be picky and ultimately, make your experience more comfortable.
For example, as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, several airlines have put their larger, longer-range aircraft on domestic routes. In other words, a better flying experience right off the bat. If you’re planning to fly from NYC to Miami, for example, and have the choice to fly an American Airlines Boeing 737 or a Boeing 777, pick the latter. The Boeing 777 is a bigger aircraft with larger seats and more amenities. Get to know some of the popular aviation websites like SeatGuru, Expert Flyer or SeatExpert, which will be your best bet for examining your potential choice of aircraft before booking.
Select an emergency exit row
While it’s not always possible, sitting in an emergency exit row seat can make for a much more enjoyable experience. While you’ll generally have to meet a select set of requirements (at least 15 years of age and sufficient mobility, strength or dexterity in both arms, hands and both legs), if you are eligible, it’s a no-brainer. Keep in mind that some airlines charge extra to book a seat in the emergency exit row, which is when having airline elite status can be particularly helpful.
“It goes without saying, but always try to get an exit row seat,” says Paul Miller, founder of Family Skier. “The fact is that many exit row seats have more legroom than a [domestic] first-class seat. This usually involves snagging the seat online at the time of booking, or well before the flight.”
Wear comfortable clothing
Clothing can affect the way you feel, which is an easy way to vastly improve your flying experience. We recommend wearing loose-fitting clothing, compression socks and layering in case the plane is too hot or cold.
Kevin Mercier, travel blogger at Kevmrc, suggests dressing for comfort, especially on long-haul, red-eye flights. “I tend to avoid belts, ties or big buttons or anything that can pinch, poke or constrict,” says Mercier. “You don’t have to look sloppy, either — I wear a comfortable pair of cotton or wool pants, layer two or three shirts, a winter coat and I am good to go.”
Consider upgrading to an extra legroom seat
You don’t have to upgrade to first class, business class or even premium economy to increase your level of comfort. By now, many airlines offer marginally more expensive intermediate options that offer additional legroom, a better position in the plane and sometimes added perks, such as priority boarding.
Generally speaking, the cost to upgrade to an extra legroom seat will vary depending on the route and how busy the flight is. It’s also worth noting that each of the major US airlines calls their extra legroom seat something different — American Airlines calls it Main Cabin Extra, while Delta Air Lines’ is Comfort+ and United Airlines’ is Economy Plus. If you’ve got elite status with these airlines, oftentimes, you’ll receive complimentary upgrades to these extra legroom seats, adding to the value of staying loyal to one airline in particular.
The best comfort-focused products to add to your packing list
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This option from Kimiandy is on a 45-degree angle, meaning it’s at the perfect position to allow your head and neck to naturally lean forward. It’s an inflatable pillow, meaning you can pack it away in your carry-on bag and then blow it up once you’ve boarded and assumed your seat. Perhaps best of all, this set comes with a free eye mask and earplugs to help make the flying experience even more comfortable — and easier to fall asleep.
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This set from Sony won the title of best overall noise-canceling headphones in our testing. Thanks to their phenomenal noise-canceling ability, this set of headphones is a great option for any traveler. Better yet, when they’re on sale, you can get a pair for more than $70 off the standard price.
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“The main comfort I find lacking in economy airline seats isn’t space (which is sorely lacking), but proper lumbar support,” says Will Pattiz, co-founder of More Than Just Parks. “Simply wearing a jacket that you can take off during flight and tucking behind your lower back during flight makes a huge difference. Alternatively, you can purchase a lumbar travel pillow like this one — but small size is key here.”
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Just be sure to keep in mind the TSA’s rules for bringing liquids and gels — including when it comes to food — through the security checkpoint.
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