How to Upgrade Your In-Flight Experience -- Without Leaving Coach
While I’m sure we all wish we could fly first class every time we traveled, most of us don’t have the money or miles to do so. Even while sitting in coach, however, there are a few ways you can upgrade your in-flight experience -- without paying two times the price.
Treat Yourself to a Smaller Upgrade
Gone are the days when flights had just two sections: coach and first class. Now, even the main cabin has been divided into multiple tiers, allowing for travelers to choose from a super discounted fare (like United’s Basic Economy), regular, or plus.
Typically, an upgrade to economy “Plus” (or preferred, or comfort+ -- the name varies by airline) gets you a little extra space and priority boarding. However, some airlines have a few extra perks baked into their plans:
Alaska Airlines offers complimentary wine, beer, and a snack box.
Virgin America gives passengers one free checked bag and complimentary drinks and snacks.
Delta gives complimentary wine, beer, and a dedicated bin space for your luggage.
JetBlue offers you one free checked bag, but no complimentary wine or beer.
On some flights, the upgrade can cost as much as an additional $200 per leg, but on others it’s as cheap as $15-50 each way. Depending on the price and perks, this little upgrade can be worth it. Keep an eye out for affordable upgrades and treat yourself to a little extra comfort.
Try the Middle Seat Trick
When I travel with my partner, we’ll sometimes book the aisle and window seats in a row towards the back. Since middle seats in the back are the last to get assigned, we’ll sometimes end up with the whole row to ourselves, especially on less popular routes.
And what if someone ends up in that seat? We’ll simply offer them one of ours so we can still sit together. Pretty much no one says no to getting their choice of window or aisle when they thought they were going to get squished in the middle.
Uplevel Your TV and Movie Game
With more and more airlines swapping back of seat entertainment screens with “personal device entertainment”, there are two things you can do to make watching a movie on your phone more enjoyable:
Get a pop-socket ($5-10): You may have seen them around, these round, plastic things stuck to the back of people’s phones. They’re collapsible and, when pulled out, allow you to set your phone down so it’s propped up. At $5 - 10 a pop, it’s a small and cheap way to make streaming movies from your phone suck a little less.
Download the Netflix app (free): Did you know with your Netflix subscription you can download Netflix movies and TV shows to your phone and access them offline? Yup, that’s right. As long as you have a subscription (obviously), you can temporarily save anything you want and watch it without data or wifi.
Grab a pop-socket and before every trip, download a couple of movies and podcasts just in case that airplane entertainment ends up being a no-go. I learned my lesson the hard way after a 10-hour, London - San Francisco flight with no audio on a shared TV-screen straight out of the ‘90s (even though it was 2017). I know you don’t want to get stuck trying to lipread Zootopia on your next long haul flight.
Swap Your Travel Socks for Slippers
Confession: I used to walk into airplane bathrooms in my socks… until my partner called me gross for it. After that, I changed my ways. I’d clumsily put my shoes half on and shuffle back to the bathroom.
But then, I wound up with a pair of disposable, hotel slippers on a transcontinental flight. Even in coach, it felt almost luxurious slipping them on and flopping back to the tiny bathrooms. So I bought a pair of my own.
Muji, a Japanese home and lifestyle brand, makes a comfy pair of jersey travel slippers ($18) which fold down nicely and come in their own mesh bag. They’re definitely worth the extra space in your carry on.
BYOF: Bring Your Own Food
Let’s face it, airport and airline food is sad and overpriced — though some airports, recognizing this reputation, have tried to up their food game. But, as long as you can plan a little bit in advance, there’s no reason why you have to settle for airport food. Instead, grab a sandwich from your favorite local deli or make something at home. Just make sure to avoid overly messy or smelly foods.
As an avid home cook, I love to prepare an in-flight meal I can get excited about. A few recent creations include:
fried rice with chicken
an "adult snack pack" with crackers, salami, cheese, and fruit
a faro and broccoli salad.
A recent fail: that time I tried to smuggle a too large container of yogurt through TSA. Whoops.
For containers, Smart Planet makes some nice collapsible tupperware ($10-20) but you could also reuse a recyclable takeout container for in-flight munchies.
Find a Way to Actually Sleep
Since everyone’s different when it comes to sleeping on planes, it’s hard to recommend a universal solution for getting some in-flight zzz’s. For some, they wouldn’t think about trying to sleep without a travel pillow. For others, sitting in a window seat helps tremendously.
For me, the magic combo is an eye mask, blanket, Tylenol PM, and a post-rock playlist on my iPhone. In terms of brands, Muji (again) comes to the rescue with their adjustable, jersey eye masks ($12). For travel blankets, I’ll either opt for a wearable blanket scarf or the Cocoon travel sheet ($40).
If you struggle to sleep on planes, play around with it and find what works for you. Also, The Greatist has some helpful advice from sleep experts if you need some additional pointers.
Freshen Up Before You Land
First class passengers get a complimentary amenities pack, but you can build your own that’s ten times better. For this, I turned to a friend and former United flight attendant, Charity Yoro, for recommendations:
“I love having EO’s lavender hand sanitizer spray on hand for flights,” says Charity. “Oh, and Alba Botanica’s 3-in-1 face wipes. After a long flight, it’s so refreshing to use one.” Why wait until you land to clean up your greasy post-flight face?
If they're not already in your carry-on, some other items to keep in reach include:
a small bottle of hand lotion to rehydrate dry skin
your toothbrush and toothpaste
makeup for touch-ups.
Who Said Coach Had to Suck?
Even if you’re not in first class, these tricks will make you feel like you are. Is there anything I missed? Comment below with tricks you use to upgrade your inflight experience.