Five tips that help economy air travel feel like first class

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Travel upgrades are one of my favorite things. Our one experience in transatlantic business class was such a delight! But I’m also a travel cheapskate. Even when it comes to points, I choose frequency over luxury. Although first class travel is more comfortable–from lounge access to flight attendant courtesy onboard–aviation is hard on my body. For this reason, air travel remains a means of getting where we want to go.

To maximize the number of travel experiences we have, we typically choose the cheapest flights. That means low-cost carriers and economy class. Cheap airfare doesn’t have to mean a miserable flight, though. Particularly useful for long flights, I’ve learned some secrets to bring parts of the first class experience along with me (unfortunately lay flat seats won’t fit in the overhead compartment). I’m covering non-tech items today and will talk about my favorite tech in a later post.

Tip #1: Bring your own refillable water bottle. I like these bottles. You can fill up the water bottle post security or better still, on the plane. Because air travel is so dehydrating, I require several refills during long flights and ask flight attendants to refill the bottle with cold water. The extra service and feeling better in the air is so nice!

Tip #2: Pack snacks. What I pack depends on the flight details. Is it a budget carrier flight that won’t serve any food at all? Am I flying on a major holiday like Christmas where food availability will be questionable on the ground? How long is the flight? On a Christmas Day flight with a low cost carrier across several time zones, I brought sandwiches with cured meat and cheese, and separately packed some sliced veggies to have a complete meal. I opt for items that are a little fancier that my usual choices to make it a special treat, like these. Exotic trail mixes, this one is a particular favorite, are always in my bag. My recipe is foods that won’t trigger the TSA liquids and gels rule, are not smelly, stay fresh for a day without refrigeration, and require minimal setup or in-flight preparation. I try to pack vegetarian items with lots of nutrients and carry some dried ginger to help prevent airplane stomach upset. Fresh fruit, like oranges and apples, pack nicely, too. Packing food originally began as a way to be more frugal, but I’ve found that my snacks are more delicious and healthier than the foods airlines serve.

Tip #3: Know what’s included. On certain long-haul flights, economy class includes extras. We’ve enjoyed slippers, small toothbrush and toothpaste, Turkish delight, self-service candy stations, alcoholic beverages, meals, and eye masks included in the cheapest class of service on various flights. Foreign airlines tend to be especially generous. Some of these things are handed to everyone, but sometimes you need to ask. If you don’t know what to ask for, you might be forgoing a service you want. It can also serve as a deciding factor between two airlines when the price is relatively equal. Special meals, typically based on dietary or religious restrictions, are sometimes available at no extra charge but must be requested in advance. This is one of my favorite travel hacks. If you request a special meal, you are fed first. As you saw in Tip #2, I often suffer from digestive troubles on long haul flights. Eating a plant-based meal helps with this. I don’t like to be stuck with whatever meal might be left by the time the meal service reaches my seat.  

Tip #4: Skincare. I always carry on, so this category can do double duty with items I’ll use at my destination. But if you are checking a bag, keep these necessities in your carry on. As with snacks, I usually select items that are more luxurious and expensive than I choose for everyday use. A travel sized tube of lotion for body and face, lip balm, and artificial tears. For redeye flights, I will add face cleansing wipes. Cleaning off my makeup, “washing” my face and reapplying a little makeup goes a long way towards feeling fresh after an overnight flight. Although not technically skincare, I bring along these mini toothbrushes to use in airports or on the plane, too.

Tip #5: Socks. For flights over five hours, I keep a pair of compression socks handy and change into these once onboard. I also wear a pair of slippers over these during the flight instead of shoes. Compression socks help reduce swelling in my legs and ankles, but if this isn’t important to you, any sort of slipper socks or fuzzy socks will do. Without shoes on, I find it easier to relax and try to catch a bit of sleep.

Do you have any travel hacks that make economy class more luxurious? I especially want to hear about any snacks you pack along! Please share your own tips in the comments.

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