Are you one of those people who regularly say “I hate flying?” If you are, chances are you travel coach. Hey, I can’t blame you. Some days I hate flying too. But I have traveled a lot in the past few years and I’ve learned that IF you know how to work the system, travel in coach can actually be pretty great. Yes, I didn’t say “tolerable” or “ok,” I actually said “great.” How? Well, bringing the right supplies is one way. But today, I am here to share my favorite 10 tips on how you can turn “flying death” into “flying coach can be awesome.” Let’s get started… Ready, set, jet!
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1. Pick the right airline
Perhaps the most important thing you can do to travel coach more comfortably is to pick a good airline. Not all coach flights are created equal. On some airlines, coach is actually a nice experience, with lots of legroom, good meals, and great entertainment. On others, you feel like you are flying in the back of a bus in a developing country, and all that is missing is the chickens. Of course, it is not always possible to pick an airline – sometimes you need to go for convenience or cheapest airline tickets. But when you have the option, try to go for an airline known for a good coach cabin. Some of my favorites include Jetblue, Delta, Qatar, Emirates, Japan Airlines, Singapore Airlines, Southwest and Alaska.
2. Check-in Online
How many times have you shown up to the airport only to wait in line 30 minutes for check-in? If you are anything like me, you’ll look over to the empty business check-in line and wish you were in that one instead. Well, this is a silly rookie mistake and you shouldn’t be waiting in any line at all! Instead, check-in online ahead of time and print your boarding passes at home. Most airlines will allow you to check-in online, 24 hours in advance. As a bonus, you’ll often get to pick your seat (always pick as close to the front of the airplane as possible). Even if your seat is randomly assigned, chances are it’ll still be decent because so few people check in early. And getting a good seat in coach is probably the first reason never to say “I hate flying” again.
Coach Travel Tip:
Always join the airlines’ frequent flyer program, even if you never plan on flying them again. Sometimes you can transfer points to another airline or redeem points for small items such as a magazine subscription or even drinks on the plane. It also makes the online check-in process much easier.
3. Get the credit card
If you have a great hometown airline with a good coach cabin, think about getting their branded credit card. A branded credit card comes with a lot of perks. The most common perks include discounts for any purchases made through the airline (when you buy tickets and onboard your coach flight), getting to board early, and earning status quicker. If you earn status you will have a chance for free upgrades. And everyone knows, the best way to travel coach is always in business class! Some premium credit cards also give you free lounge access. Yes, there is an annual fee for many of these cards, however, the math might make sense if you are traveling often.
4. Score a Priority Pass and travel coach in style
Another way to make your coach travel more glamorous is to get a Priority Pass. This little card gives you access to hundreds of lounges worldwide, even if you are flying coach. No matter where your flight takes you, chances are you’ll find a lounge or two in your terminal.
Many Priority Pass lounges are really high-end with free food, drinks, and comfy seats. And if you fly often, chances are a Priority Pass might even save you money. Instead of buying expensive meals or snacks at an airport you can get everything you need for free at a lounge. If one of the reasons why you hate flying is that everything costs so darned much in an airport, then a Priority Pass is a great option for you. With some premium credit cards, you can even score a free Priority Pass, however, those cards do come with a hefty annual fee.
5. Bring only a carry-on
One of the things that will really slow you down (and might cost you) is checked luggage. No matter how you look at it, luggage is always a pain. First of all, even if you checked-in online, chances are you’ll still need to wait at the airport to check-in the bag. Second, you’ll need to wait to collect the bag after arrival. And third, many coach tickets don’t include a checked bag which means you might need to pay. Paying extra for a flight in coach is not my idea of a good time.
I know it not always feasible to just bring a carry-on. However, keep in mind that usually “one carry on per person” actually means a carry-on and a personal item. My personal item is a big leather shoulder bag that actually fits a lot. Between a well-organized carry-on and a good shoulder bag, you too might not need a suitcase when you travel coach.
Traveling Coach Tip:
To help you find the best carry-on for flying coach, take a look at this article: The Best Carry-On bags Under 5 lbs.
6. Make nice with the crew to travel coach in stye
Did you know that you can bring a small gift on board for the crew? A bag of nice, individually wrapped candy can go a long way on an airplane. You can give this gift to just one crew member (usually the one that’s serving you) and they will distribute it amongst everyone. Since many people will be dipping in, individually wrapped is always best.
There is some debate as to the best time to present this gift. Some people say when you are boarding is best, but I think that time is inconvenient for the flight attendants as they have other things to do. I personally prefer to bring the gift in the back after takeoff. If they seem very busy, do it after they have done the first meal service and things have slowed down a bit. To the gift, attach a post-it note, something along the lines of: “Thank you for all you do, from seat A12, Viktoria.”
And how will bringing a gift on board improve your coach travel experience? Well, some people claim that this little trick earns them an upgrade, although in my experience this is rare. More likely – the crew will be extra nice to you, might hook you up with booze or snacks and even comfort kits from first class. Plus, it just a nice thing to do. And that counts for a lot, especially in coach.
7. Bring a travel comfort kit
I designed and perfected this comfort travel kit over many years. It includes pretty much everything you might need to make coach travel more comfortable. I place most of the items in a one-gallon zip lock bag for easy access and screening through security. Pop it under your seat when you board and you’ll have everything you need in one place.
- Corded earbuds or noise-canceling headphones
- A portable charger (fully charged)
- Travel size over the counter painkillers
- A small bottle of Vitamin C (I take it to help prevent getting sick)
- A water bottle (ask to refill onboard)
- A small jar of vaseline (dab a little in your nose to keep it moist, this helps prevent colds)
- All in one moisturizer
- Mini toothbrush and toothpaste
- Snacks and bars
- Melatonin (more on this later)
- Nail File
- Sleep mask
- Travel pillow (more on this later)
- Hair ties
- USB cord for your phone
- A pen
Travel Coach Tip:
I like using this small crossbody travel bag to keep my valuables on me while flying. I’ll usually put this bag into my shoulder bag until I board, and then wear it around the plane. It also doubles up as a great on-the-go bag once you get to your destination.
8. Find a first-class travel pillow
When you hear the words “first-class travel pillow” what comes to mind? If you are like most people, you probably picture the classic style donut-shaped neck support pillow. However, things have changed a lot since the donut pillow was first invented. And just like we all sleep differently, we all need different kinds of travel pillows.
As a side sleeper, I am partial to the J-pillow which allows you to rest your head to the side. Others might prefer Sunany Inflatable Pillow which lets you rest on the table in front of you. And still, others might be more comfortable with a ComfoArray, sort of an upgraded donut pillow. Try out a few different kinds and find the one that is the most comfortable for you. You’ll be glad you did – many people can’t sleep when they travel coach. Find the right first-class travel pillow and you’ll be the exception to that rule.
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9. Eliminate jetlag
If you are traveling far, no matter how comfortable you are in your coach seat, you might still become jetlagged upon arrival. Although everyone is different, one trick that works for me is taking a pill of Melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone your brain produces when you fall asleep. And, studies have shown, when a traveler takes melatonin it helps reduce jet lag. This is why Melatonin is a staple in my travel comfort kit. I take one pill followed by a hot shower right before bedtime in my new location, which helps me fall asleep and virtually eliminates all jet lag. Of course, although this trick works well for me, everyone is different. Before you leave for your vacation, consult with your doctor to brainstorm the solution that can help you eliminate jetlag safely.
Best Travel Supplies:
10. Lower your expectations
Yes, travel in coach can indeed be kinda awesome. From spacious seats and decent meals (because you picked a good airline) to a comfy travel pillow and environment (because you have a good travel coach kit), you can often land refreshed and ready to go.
However, the most important thing to bring on board when you travel coach is low expectations. Sometimes things go wrong. Sometimes your neighbor snores or the bathroom line is a mile long. Maybe your flight attendant is still cranky even though you gave her a gift or maybe the airplane runs out of the meal you wanted. When you travel coach, no matter how well prepared you are, just remember: you paid much less for your flight than people in business, and you are going to get to the same place at the same time. Even if traveling coach happens to be more of an adventure than you’d like, the important thing is that you get there, safely. Yes, sometimes we all hate flying, and yet it is a privilege to visit incredible places after soaring high above the clouds in an economy class of a magic metal tube with wings.