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Tips To Make Flying Long Haul Economy Feel (Somewhat) Like First Class

Tips To Make Flying Long Haul Economy Feel (Somewhat) Like First Class

Slim Aarons, Verbier Vacation, Verbier Vacation: Holiday-makers take the sun on a mountain top in Verbier 1964

We’re heading into peak travel season and here comes travel stress. From packing, to airport shenanigans like delays, cancelled flights, way too long TSA lines and all the crazy things you can think of, airplane traveling while convenient is one of the most annoying, stressful, downright frustrating experiences and that’s all before you get on the plane. You might be heading to a warm or cold destination for a little R&R and the pockets are leaning more towards economy prices, so pre travel stress shouldn’t be in your portion, if you master one or all of these tips for a luxury experience.

In my travel experience, when you’ve had the chance to fly first or business class a few times, especially on long haul flights, the awful truth is having to fly in economy often times feels so dreadful, painful, yes #firstworldproblems and not a woe is me type but its the truth. Don’t get me wrong there’s nothing wrong with flying economy class, I mean I fly it plenty as well but we also know that all economy classes are not the same. When your points or budget won’t allow you to live your best lavish life high in the sky, there are a few ways to make that economy long haul flight feel a bit more luxurious even as these airlines (American ones especially) try as they may to squeeze every last remaining bit if joy out of it.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind as your prepare for your next long haul (more than 6 hours). I personally don’t feel its worth it spending points or paying more for flights under 5 hours but anything 6 hours and over, with or without layover, is worth splurging on a business/first class if you can but if you can’t afford it or finesse an upgrade, get into these tips.

Fly an International Carrier

photo credit:

I don’t usually recommend flying a US carrier when flying international. I flew American Airlines long haul once and boy was that an experience I never want to feel again. Delta, hubbed out of Atlanta, has really stepped up their customer service and offering as of late for economy and premium economy guests. My first business class experience with Delta was ATL-LOS and that was so nice. A recent long haul economy experience with Delta (ATL-JNB) wasn’t so bad, flight attendants were pleasant and attentive, but when you compare them to some foreign carriers, you see the difference in guest service and overall satisfaction and I know I’m not alone in that sentiment. Unlike in years past, many carriers, perhaps prompted by the rise of Instagram and #travelgoals have been trying to better please customers. Some of you might already have a favorite airline or network of airlines such as One World, Star Alliance, or SkyTeam but if you haven’t and need help, we suggest you check out this year’s winners of Conde Nast Travel’s International Airlines: 2019 Readers’ Choice Awards.


Splurge on a Premium Economy/Economy Plus seat or Upgrade if price reasonable

photo credit: The Points Guy

I’m not the most seasoned traveler compared to some of my travel writer friends but I’ve had to take quite a few long haul flights in the past 5 years so I’ve learned a trick or two. Don’t be too pennywise to choose a more comfortable seat option if it exists and you can reasonably afford it. A few airlines are now offering premium economy and economy plus seats that includes 5″-7″ extra legroom outside of just EXIT row. During a recent booking with KLM, I opted for Economy comfort, cuz ya girl was not buoyant for business class and what a great decision. The extra legroom with leg pullout was a welcome relief for an over 8 hour flight. Often, certain airlines will offer a discount on business class or first class seats a few days prior to your checkin if available, some will give a set price some will ask you to bid, again if its within your budget I recommend you go for it; if you have multiple legs on a long haul flight assess which might be money well spent.


Buy Lounge Access

photo credit: British Airways

If you don’t have a credit card that gives you airline lounge access nor is your flight ticket a qualifier, in many long haul flight cases, its always advisable to get into a lounge pre flight when you can. Not only do you get some peaceful moments before your long flight, you will be fed, free wifi and drink as you please, most of the time.


Window vs Aisle:

This is a personal preference argument. Personally, I prefer a window seat unless I’m flying with my partner who insists on a window seat and I take the middle and lean on him. If you don’t like to be disturbed in flight, window seat might be for you but if you like to get up more frequently, choose aisle. No one usually chooses middle seat by choice (if you do, why tho?.) Some planes, like Air France (ugh), have it setup where the distance between your seat (face) and the window is a bit awkward and leaning with those tiny economy pillows are uncomfortable. There are times when your flight may not be full; keep an eye out and ask a flight attendant if ok for you to move seats, I’ve had several instances of a 3/4 seat to myself blessing aka my own economy first class.


Buy water or Bring refillable bottle

Due to tightened security regulations, you cannot bring in water when flying or it will be confiscated at security checkpoint (shoutout to TSA). The thing is the prices of said water is marked up almost 3x at airport shops and you can’t argue. I am not a fan of fountain water personally but many I know travel with refillable water bottles that fits right in your carry on.  When flying out of O’Hare I usually buy two to three bottles of the 1L Smartwater, they sell each bottle for about $5 compared to under $2 at Target (Can you imagine?!) but its well worth it when your long haul flight is underway. It lasts me through my flights and if I happen to have a layover I get one more. The air in the airplane cabins are so dry and the way my skin is setup, it needs to be hydrated AND moisturized at all times.


BYOM/BYOB (Bring your own meal)

photo via Pinterest

I have never been a fan of plane food but you’re probably asking what other choice do you have? Did you know you can bring your own food? If you HATE the way airline food in Economy is served/tastes, have dietary restrictions or just can’t seem to get full from airplane food, bring your own. I’ve packed sandwiches that has come in handy when the food served in economy unbearable to eat. This obviously takes a bit of pre-planning to prepare something nutritious and healthy, if that’s your lane.  One time I brought bonchon chicken, that was a great flight! Make sure what you bring isn’t potent in the smell department that will put off other passengers or it isn’t too messy. No time to make something, the airport has a plethora of dining options depending on your taste and budget but remember those are also usually high in sodium/fat, may not travel well (shake shack for example gets soggy quick) and will certainly cost more. You technically can’t drink the booze you buy from duty free but if you happen to have a layover at certain airports, you can buy individual sized wine bottles (post security check) that you can pack with your food on the plane.


Change of Clothes

Business/First class passengers can lay back, relax comfortably during a long haul flight but us economy riders, enjoy the tight squeeze. Depending on the airport you’re traveling from, it might be easier to change into comfortable clothing before boarding especially if its an overnight flight. I learned this trick from Victoria Beckham. Wear your cute traveling outfit to the airport and change for your flight long haul overnight flight. O’Hare airport’s international terminal is a joke in terms of cleanliness and size compared to other international airports. I try to change at airport bathroom if I am not sprinting to catch my flight but always pack loose long pants and long sleeve shirt (it gets really cold in there). Also pack a change of underwear and an extra ziplock bag.



Bring. Your. Own. Blanket. Bring Your Own Pillow. I’ve never been one of those people that walk around the airport with those weird neck pillow things, though I hear it helps but a blanket and cushiony square pillow, another story. If you tend to get cold quickly like I do, a plush blanket comes in handy and wayyyy better than the wafer thin as a sheet not long enough blankets provided to economy passengers on flights. I travel with a cable knit faux sheepskin throw similar ones to shop below.

Nordstrom at Home Sheared Stripe Faux Fur Throw | Buy Here

Cable Knit Sherpa Oversized Faux Sheepskin Lined Cozy Throw | Buy Here

Anthropologie Dalia Faux Fur Throw Blanket | Buy Here


Slip Beauty Sleep to Go Set | Buy Here

MyPillow Roll & GoAnywhere Pillow | Buy Here


Noise cancelling headphones

Bose revolutionized the noise cancelling headphones and their product is still top of the line but there are other options on the market now that shouldn’t put a dent in your pocket. Its a worthy investment,  just don’t miss important announcements from the flight.


DIY Amenities Kit & Accessories bag

photo credit: Emirates

First/business class guests are provided these complimentary amenities kits, sometimes in a bag from a fashion house and its filled with necessary items like toothbrush, toothpaste, mouthwash, socks, ear plugs, lip balm, hand lotion. You can’t get that kind of love in economy from most carriers though some do give at least eye mask and warm socks, but it’s probably best to pack yours. Target, Walmart, Bed Bath & Beyond are great for buying these basics. A nice clear zip bag to store them all in and you’re set. I usually make a Target or Walgreens run before my flights to stock up and even keep some in the house for other times.

TSA Pre-Check or Global Entry

Traveling out of and into the international terminal at Chicago’s O’Hare requires the patience of a saint so how can you help yourself keep some of your sanity? Benefits of TSA Pre✓®? No need to remove your shoes, laptops, liquids, belts and light jackets PLUS you get to speed through security check most times. To get qualified you need to go to an inperson interview and pass background check then pay $85 for 5 years.  Get the Global Entry because during peak travel season into the US, you will be glad you did. Pre-approval for this is still required and only applicable for US citizens, Permanent resident sand select foreign nationals.

Sidenote: I think airlines could use to adopt the Birchbox/Ipsy/goodie box method. It was through one of the free products given in my business class kits that I became addicted to Malin+Goetz lip moisturizer and its now in my rotation.

These are some of the hacks and tips that’s helped me survive long haul flights. I’d love to hear if you have any to add to the list.


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