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6 Ways to make your next economy flight feel like first class

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You don't need to break the bank to make your plane travel a pleasurable part of your trip.

The airlines are offering terrific summer fares right now, and as luck would have it, magazines are loaded with lists of luxurious must-haves to make your vacation perfect and your flight more tolerable. While there’s something to be said for those brand new little bottles of magic potions all neatly stowed in perfect new TSA-friendly cosmetics pouch, super high-tech headphones, and cashmere tracksuits, there’s a lot you can do with things you already have at home (plus a few plastic baggies). Here’s my list of ingredients for making that economy travel experience feel a little more first class…

Personalize your space

You board the plane only to pass through the shiny business class cabin with those down comforters, flowing champagne, and chic amenity kits. Sigh. While it’s impossible to recreate the luxury of personal space available in the front, you can make what little personal space you have as nice as possible. Immediately wet-wipe everything you might touch, especially your tray table. Maximize your leg room by stowing your bag above, if you can manage to grab some space or, if you’re on the short side, use your carry-on bag (preferably one with a zip closure) as a foot rest. A little aromatherapy can go a long way to make the space seem more your own. Whether it’s essential oils like lavender, eucalyptus or peppermint or your favorite perfume, a tissue, hankie, or some cotton balls spritzed with your sent of choice and stowed in a plastic baggie will make the tiny space around you more pleasant without inflicting your olfactory preferences on your traveling companions.

Catch up on your favorite entertainment

Making the most of your time on board might mean working uninterrupted by phone and email, but it’s also a good time to shut down and relax. Catch up on new releases or revisit an old favorite. Most planes will have inflight entertainment but sometimes the system is down. Be prepared. If you have a tablet, download a season of your favorite show and binge watch. Bring a pen and a small notebook. Without the distraction of email and social media you can brainstorm ways to solve a nagging problem, or even make a list of restaurants you want to try. Write a letter. Read an entire book in one go! While you may feel a little cramped and uncomfortable you can still revel in several hours of being unreachable and indulge in your favorite escape.  

Nourish yourself

Airplane food. We’ve heard all the jokes. If you’re lucky enough to get some, it’s questionable at best, and not usually very healthy. Why not pack your own? Yes, packing a TSA-approved meal is one more thing to do before you leave town. But when asked “Pasta or Chicken?” and you can say “Neither, thank you” it will all seem worth it. A simple sandwich is my preferred travel meal — ham and butter on a baguette. Nothing too smelly or messy. A grain salad is another good idea. Whole cashews, chocolate, sturdy fruit. You can even bring your own teabags and the flight attendants will provide you with hot water. And with that, you’ve just eaten better than anyone else on the plane.

Pamper yourself

I’m not a big fan of public grooming, but once the cabin lights are dimmed, especially on an overnight flight, I have no issues with slipping on some moisturizing gloves or even a sheet mask. These can look a bit scary so you might want to keep your head toward the window to avoid giving an unsuspecting flight attendant a start. And it’s probably best for times you’re flying with someone you know well. For a shorter or daytime flight a little lip balm, hand cream, and a brief temple massage is the way to go.This is the time to use the sample packets at the bottom of your make-up bag. With the dry cabin air you’ll be glad for the added moisture and hydration.  

Give yourself time

Time flies. And it’s so true in the case of modern travel. Planes, trains, and automobiles? In the moment, I always want more time at home before a flight to make sure I haven’t forgotten anything. In reality, I’m just panic-packing and filling every available suitcase cranny with things I really don’t need. My husband likes to get to the airport early. He likes to board the plane early. I never understood this, it felt like I was hurrying just to wait. Over the years I have reluctantly adapted his ways as my own and now I totally get it. Not rushing to your gate, having time to get comfortable and place your book and earbuds within easy reach, visiting the ladies room one last time before that awful airplane lavatory is your only wretched option—this, my friends, is luxury, especially when you consider the alternatives.

Plan ahead for security

I don’t mean the potential TSA pat down waiting for you. I mean the security that comes with knowing that if Plan A fails, you’ve got a perfectly acceptable Plan B. Research flight schedules and train tables before your trip so you know your options if you miss a connection or a flight is cancelled.  Maybe go a step further to know which hotels are nearby if you get stranded at the airport overnight. Have all of your hotel reservation and flight confirmation numbers written down as well as saved in your phone. Leave copies of your passport at home with friends or family. Know where the US Embassy is. Have a second choice hotel in mind just in case you arrive and find yourself bumped because of overbooking. When I know I have a back-up plan I can relax and not worry about many of the what-ifs travel can bring.

There’s no need to break the bank filling your carry-on with treats when you can easily luxe up your bargain seat with a few items you probably already have at home, a little careful planning, and some thinking ahead. So what are you waiting for? I hope you’ll use these tips to enjoy, and not just tolerate, the journey to and from your summer vacation destinations.

Bon Voyage!

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