When budget-friendly airline JetBlue announced in March they would begin offering premium seats on transcontinental flights — for an additional fee — frequent travelers rejoiced. Instead of spending four hours (or longer) cramped in small seats, without Wi-Fi or other conveniences, travelers can now fly from New York to Los Angeles and back again in relative comfort.
The only problem? Those premium seats come with a price tagslightly higher than the average ticket on the low-priced airline. For some travelers, even a few hundred dollars more is cost-prohibitive, especially when traveling with the family. In fact, with the cost of a business or first-class plane ticket generally upward of $1,000, the more luxurious cabinsareoften out of reach, leaving the majority of travelers in coach.
What’s a first-class wannabe to do? While no one will ever call flying coach luxurious, if you are stuck in the largest part of the plane, you can make your flight more enjoyable — and even manage some of the perks of first class without the price tag.
Tip #1: Carry On, My Wayward One
Next time you board an airplane and gaze enviously at the first-class cabin, note what the passengers are doing. Are they trying to stuff a carry-on bag the size of a Volkswagen into the overhead bin? No — they are sitting calmly, enjoying a drink and a newspaper. True, they aren’t jockeying with 150 other passengers for overhead space, but inmost cases, they haven’t brought everything they own on board either. Take a cue from first-class passengers and bring a stylish carry-on only big enough for the absolute essentials and fits under the seat. Instead of fighting with a salesman from Peoria for storage square footage, you’ll settle in and chill before takeoff.
Tip #2: Pack Your Own Amenity Kit
You’ve heard tales of goodie bags that first-class passengers get during the flight. While coach passengers might be lucky to get a small bag of pretzels, pack your own amenity kit to create the first-class experience. Pack your carry-on with a soft blanket (cashmere is ultra-luxurious and will keep youwarm on a chilly flight), some cushioned socks and a small tin of aromatherapy balm that moisturizes dry lips and skin, and can give you an energy boost or relax you.
Tip #3: Tune Out the Outside World
Ask any frequent traveler, and they will tell you that noise-canceling headphones are the best investment any traveler can make. Whether you want to tune out the noise of your snoring neighbor or watch last season’s “The Walking Dead” on your tablet in peace, a pair of these headphones can help you forget you’re squeezed in a seat with 18 inches of legroom.
And speaking of your tablet, if your ticket doesn’t include free Wi-Fi, spring for the inflight internet connection. On most airlines, a daily pass ranges from $5 – $15, with some airlines offering discounts for shorter flights or handheld devices or monthly packages. Instead of listening to your seatmate yammering about Florida’s weather, you can research hotels in Frankfurt for your next European getaway or peruse Pinterest to pass the time.
Tip #4: Ask for Perks
Sometimes, the easiest path to a more comfortable flight is to ask for one. While you probably won’t get bumped from the last row to first class by smiling and asking politely, you might get a better seat closer to the front of the plane, or perhaps a bulkhead or exit-row seat with more legroom. If you belong to the airline’s frequent flyer program, check your statements or promotional emails. You might find coupons or vouchers for free drinks or Wi-Fi access as well as the opportunity to cash in your miles for upgrades.
Tip #5: Act the Part
When you see first-class passengers, you might notice they often share another characteristic: how they look. While it might be tempting to board the plane in your comfiest sweats or even pajamas, your Tweety Bird fleece pants are probably not going to earn you first-class treatment. That doesn’t mean you have to dress in an evening gown to get an upgrade, but wear something stylish and comfortable and take care with your appearance. That way when you (politely) ask for an upgrade or a plum seat assignment, airline staff may be more inclined to give you what you want.
Sometimes, there’s not much you can do about an uncomfortable flight — it’s jam-packed, the air conditioner breaks and the toilet overflows, making it the longest three hours of your life. But the average flight doesn’t have to be miserable, and you can enjoy a comfortable, enjoyable trip even without a four-figure ticket cost.
About the Author: In her former career in sales, Maria Askew logged more than half a million air miles each year. Today she spends more time at home, but still blogs about travel, offering suggestions for budget travelers who want a five-star experience.