With the right products, you can sleep comfortably in coach — Photo courtesy of kasto80 / Getty Images
More than 100 million passengers boarded a U.S. airline to take an international flight in 2022, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. Not surprisingly, most of these passengers were flying economy.
Coach gets a bad rap, but with a few simple tips and tricks, flying economy can almost be comfortable — even on a long-haul flight.
Here’s the ultimate guide to creating a more pleasant travel situation in coach, from a journalist who flies internationally regularly to cover the wine and travel industries.
Understand the difference between economy and basic economy
Depending on the airline you choose, the option to purchase a basic economy ticket might pop up. These tickets are generally cheaper than regular economy ones but come with a few drawbacks. So before you purchase a basic ticket, check to see what it includes — or doesn’t include. United Basic Economy, for example, only allows you to bring one personal item. While most overseas travelers will also get to bring a carry-on for free, all checked bags come with a fee. Seats will be assigned at check-in, and there’s no guarantee that you’ll sit with other adults in your party. These flights also can’t be changed, and you’ll board in group five. Make sure to check, however, as not all airlines are the same and these factors are subject to change.
Choose the right seat on your international flight
Assuming you’ve booked a flight that allows you to select a seat, consider where you want to be. A window seat offers support by leaning against the wall, which can be helpful for sleeping. An aisle seat, however, offers the flexibility to get up without disturbing others in your row. Also, consider where on the plane you’d like to sit. If you want a spot with reduced foot traffic, avoid seats near the toilets. If mobility is a concern, it might make sense to be nearer to them. Most airline apps allow you to change your seat selection before your flight, so it’s possible to check periodically to ensure that you’re still happy with the seat you’ve chosen.
Rollink luggage is collapsible to make storage easier at your destination — Photo courtesy of Courtesy of Rollink
Pick the right luggage for your trip
We’ve all seen those people who clamber onto a plane with objects spilling out of their totes. To make your international economy experience more comfortable, establish a place for absolutely everything, and remember where you put each item. Make sure that your luggage’s zippers work, that compartments are useful, and that you’ll be able to store them when not in use. Rollink, for example, makes collapsible luggage in various sizes. If you’re bringing a rollaboard plus a carry-on, choose a backpack or a tote that can slip over the handle of your suitcase. Generally, look for features that make your life easier, such as the wireless charger in the Bee & Kin line, or Minkeeblue totes that have convertible compartments. If you prefer a bag to a suitcase, try CALPAK’s Stevyn Duffel, which fans love for its roomy functionality.
Consider packing only a carry-on bag
Many international travelers prefer to only have carry-on luggage so that they can keep tabs on their bags. If this is you, learn the rolling technique for packing your clothes, which creates uniform garment shapes and uses less space. Also, take advantage of every inch: put socks inside your shoes and fill your hat with underwear. If you’ll be flying on a small plane at any point in your journey, there’s a chance the crew will insist that you gate-check your rollaboard, even if the size is typically approved for a carry-on. Consider saving space by wearing your bulkier items, like your jacket and boots. Also, make sure to keep everything you’ll need while flying in an accessible place such as your suitcase’s outer pocket.
Pro tip: Pack a collapsible tote, such as the classic LE PLIAGE by Longchamp, for items you accumulate while traveling so you have a spot for everything on the flight home.
The economy cabin on an Austrian Airlines flight — Photo courtesy of Jill Barth
Wear comfortable clothing on an overnight flight
Keep in mind that the outfit you choose will be part of your experience before, during, and after the flight. If looks matter to you, select clothes that feel like pajamas but don’t look like sleepwear. Black pants and a black sweater are always fashionable, and they’ll go with most jackets and shoes so you can be flexible in your packing scheme. Layers are also important because there’s very little temperature control afforded by air travel. For a more professional look, try the comfy but professional-looking clothes by Cindy Karen, which are designed specifically for frequent fliers and don’t wrinkle. Another layering option is the affordable selection of cashmere wraps by Quince, which are ethically sourced and made to transition from flight to dinner wherever you land.
Make your airport experience stress-free to set yourself up for success
Getting on the plane flustered is going to make the whole experience uncomfortable so prep for ease from the start. A zippered cross-body bag, such as those made by Kedzie, is highly recommended. This is one of the most secure ways to keep your phone, passport, and important papers accessible when moving through checkpoints.
If you’ve got a lot of time or a long layover, you might want to splurge on a one-time lounge pass (assuming you don’t have access through your credit card or airline status). Check that the airport and airline you’ve selected are taking passes at that time (sometimes they restrict access as lounges become crowded). Lastly, bring a refillable water bottle that fits securely in your bag. Keeping hydrated is super important, but there’s no reason to overpay for water at the airport.
MinkeeBlue bags have convertible compartments and a suitcase sleeve — Photo courtesy of Courtesy of MinkeeBlue
Pack the right products for a more comfortable experience
Most airlines provide a small blanket for long-haul flights, but a soft and roomy layer, such as a sweater from Mersea, can work double-time to keep you warm. These also can be folded to become a cushion if you need more back support.
Always bring a charging cable and noise-canceling headphones. If you’re worried about dropping a wireless earbud, consider a more sturdy product like AirPods Max. Don’t forget to download sleep stories, meditations, movies, podcasts, and audiobooks that help you relax.
Bring a few game-changing items to get a good night’s sleep in an economy seat
If sleeping on your long-haul flight is a priority (and for transatlantic flights it should be, because it will be daytime when you arrive at your destination), then you’ll need to make some adjustments so that the relatively uncomfortable economy seat can become a little less uncomfortable.
Be prepared with cozy socks so that you can slip your shoes off while you snooze. If you wear contacts, change into your glasses before boarding. A light-blocking eye mask, such as the one from Bon Charge, will help convince your body that it’s time to rest. A good travel pillow can also be a lifesaver on an overnight flight. (The Honeydew Scrumptious Travel Pillow is the best.)
A travel pillow may look silly, but it does wonders for sleeping on planes — Photo courtesy of JosuOzkaritz / Getty Images
Plan ahead to recover from an overnight international flight in no time
Place fresh socks, underwear, wet wipes, a brush, and dental care items in your carry-on, as well as travel-sized creams and cosmetics, like those from Biossance. This way, you can quickly and easily freshen up in the first restroom you encounter, which will reinvigorate you.
Stick with the local time when you land
It might be tempting to catch up on sleep, but adapting to the destination’s schedule will benefit you in the long run. If you need to soothe a sore body back at the hotel, DNA Vibe makes a portable light therapy device that can be tucked in your suitcase and will instantly make you feel restored.