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9 Ways to Survive in Economy Class

Tricks for making your time in a cramped coach seat as pain-free as possible.

U.S. News & World Report

9 Ways to Survive in Economy Class

Passengers boarding a plane
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(Getty Images)

Use these pro tips to make a grueling jaunt more manageable.

Flying in coach has long been fraught with frustrating experiences and inconveniences. Between shrinking economy-class cabins, poor in-flight etiquette and a barrage of shocking episodes, including a United Airlines passenger getting dragged from his seat on an overbooked flight in April, it's easy to see why many fliers dread sitting in the back of the plane. However, there are time-tested strategies to make the journey in coach more bearable, beyond using hard-earned frequent-flier miles on an upgraded seat. U.S. News solicited guidance from industry experts who share the following strategies for staying calm and comfortable in coach.

Passengers inside the cabin of a commercial airliner during flight. Shallow depth of field with focus on the seats in the foreground.
Credit

(Getty Images)

Consider the drawbacks of no-frills "bare fares."

While the low-priced basic airfares dangled by major carriers are tempting, consider the caveats before booking one. "I would think twice about buying a basic economy fare that doesn't allow overhead bin use on American and United and also doesn't allow seat selection on Delta, [American] and [United]," says George Hobica, founder of Airfarewatchdog.com. "The regular econ fares are usually just $30 to $40 more round-trip, and it doesn't seem worth it," he adds. Patrick Surry, chief data scientist for Hopper, a flight-prediction app, also suggests familiarizing yourself with ancillary fees, including baggage fees and in-flight snack costs. "Do your research because if you have baggage, it may be worth paying more for a regular economy fare," he says.

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Use these pro tips to make a grueling jaunt more manageable.

Flying in coach has long been fraught with frustrating experiences and inconveniences. Between shrinking economy-class cabins, poor in-flight etiquette and a barrage of shocking episodes, including a United Airlines passenger getting dragged from his seat on an overbooked flight in April, it's easy to see why many fliers dread sitting in the back of the plane. However, there are time-tested strategies to make the journey in coach more bearable, beyond using hard-earned frequent-flier miles on an upgraded seat. U.S. News solicited guidance from industry experts who share the following strategies for staying calm and comfortable in coach.

Consider the drawbacks of no-frills "bare fares."

While the low-priced basic airfares dangled by major carriers are tempting, consider the caveats before booking one. "I would think twice about buying a basic economy fare that doesn't allow overhead bin use on American and United and also doesn't allow seat selection on Delta, [American] and [United]," says George Hobica, founder of Airfarewatchdog.com. "The regular econ fares are usually just $30 to $40 more round-trip, and it doesn't seem worth it," he adds. Patrick Surry, chief data scientist for Hopper, a flight-prediction app, also suggests familiarizing yourself with ancillary fees, including baggage fees and in-flight snack costs. "Do your research because if you have baggage, it may be worth paying more for a regular economy fare," he says.

Drown out ambient noise and harsh lighting.

"These days, it's harder and harder to survive econ class," Hobica says. Stay prepared by arming yourself with noise-canceling headphones, a blanket and a pillow. If you don't want to splurge on noise-canceling headphones, opt for earplugs. "Wear earplugs on all flights to reduce the stress caused by airplane noise," Hobica says. And if you're flying overnight, invest in eyeshades, Hobica says. An eye mask and a neck pillow can go a long way for ensuring optimal conditions to get some shut-eye at 30,000 feet. Another tip: Bring an extra pair of slippers or socks and don breathable clothing with a loose fit and fabric to maximize comfort and reduce your risk of blood clots, especially if you're going to be crammed on a long-haul international flight.

Leverage status for a cushier seat and other perks.

A major draw of staying loyal to a particular airline is gaining elite-status perks, such as extra legroom, Hobica says. If you don't have status, it still may be worthwhile to invest in extra legroom seats for added comfort, he adds. The price for extra legroom seats varies according to carrier and route, but you can expect to pay anywhere from $15 to hundreds of dollars for the added convenience. With United, MileagePlus Premier members can take advantage of complimentary access to Economy Plus seats. Meanwhile, American Airlines AAdvantage Executive Platinum, Platinum Pro and Platinum members can enjoy Main Cabin Extra seats; all fliers (with the exception of Basic Economy passengers) can splurge for the added legroom in the main cabin. Elite status with major carriers also affords perks such as waived checked-baggage fees and priority boarding access with select partner carriers.

Consider splurging for an elevated in-flight meal.

If you can't land an upgrade, you can still enjoy high-quality in-flight cuisine with international airlines. For example, KLM, British Airways and Air France offer enticing gourmet dining options that can be booked 24 hours ahead of international flights. With Air France, you can order a-la-carte menu items created by chef Jean Imbert for 21 euros – even if you're seated in coach. Meanwhile, on British Airways, you can spring for the "Gourmet" dining option, available for 18 euros. You can book your meal 24 hours ahead of your departure, and enjoy cuisine such as poached king prawns with mushrooms, braised beef with potatoes, roasted root vegetables and a chocolate ganache bar.

Stay relaxed ahead of your flight.

To get yourself in the mindset for flying, always arrive at the airport well-rested, well-fed and relaxed. Enjoy an early workout, listen to calming music or meditate, and arrive in comfortable, loose-fitting clothes. Squeezing in a workout before heading to the airport is especially wise if you're looking to conk out easily and stay asleep on a long-haul flight. Onboard, try to unplug by relying on a meditation app such as Calm and Simple Habit, and skip indulging in alcohol if you have a long journey ahead to prevent dehydration and sleep disruptions.

Pick your seat and airline strategically.

Before you book, make sure to research prices and seats to not only score the best deal, but to also put yourself in the most advantageous spot available on the plane. "Use SeatGuru.com to locate the best seats on any aircraft type," Hobica says. "Different airlines and planes offer varying amounts of knee room," he explains, highlighting that JetBlue Airways, for example, offers more legroom in its economy class than other major carriers. Another handy tool is Routehappy, which categorizes "Happiness Factors," for fliers by scoring criteria such as seat layout and physical space, Wi-Fi availability, entertainment options and power ports.

Carry snacks and other essential items to stay comfortable.

Boost your health ahead of your trip by arming yourself with nutritious snacks, water and other easily packable items. For example, dark chocolate, granola bars, trail mix, fruit and almonds are healthy and easy to stow in your carry-on. It's also a good idea to bring along a moisturizer and replenish with vitamin C to stay energized and dodge immunity-busters at cruising altitude. Hobica also recommends carrying on your own travel pillow, preferably one with a lightweight and soft fabric that offers support for your head and neck to maximize comfort. "You'll sleep better on longer flights," he says.

Stretch frequently and stay hydrated.

When you're stuck in a narrow, cramped seat for several hours, there are some key steps to take to maintain your health and wellness and reduce your chances of fatigue, achiness and other in-flight ailments. First, swipe your tray table with an antibacterial wipe to avoid germs; second, make sure to constantly drink water on the plane to stay hydrated. During your trip, also make an effort to stretch and walk around to mitigate your risks of deep-vein thrombosis caused by sitting for long periods.

Bring pre-downloaded in-flight entertainment.

Nothing strikes panic faster on a long-haul flight than no access to onboard entertainment. Stay prepared with plenty of diversions. "You can download movies and shows on the Netflix app now so it doesn't require a Wi-Fi connection," Surry says. Also keep in mind that with carriers increasingly unbundling perks, you may have to pay a high premium in coach for extras, Surry adds. Save money by packing your own device to stream entertainment, he says. Fortunately, major airlines such as Delta, American, Southwest and United offer free in-flight entertainment, available on an in-flight monitor or personal devices, regardless of your selected fare class.

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