a seat in an airplane
Photograph ©2008 by Brian Cohen.

Economy Class Travel: How I Try to Be More Comfortable

T he first time traveling in a seat in the business class cabin on an international flight from Munich to New York supposedly “ruined” commercial air travel forever for Glynnis MacNicol — to the point where the experience seemed to reach the threshold of ethereal, with phrases such as “If everyone could fly business class, there would be no more war” and “There is no fear in business class.”

Ahh, Glynnis — where have you been for the past 15 years in the era of the frequent flier?

While the article she wrote was certainly an interesting read — viewing what it is like to travel in the premium class cabin on an international flight for the first time through the eyes of a neophyte to luxury travel — it seemed rather excessive in terms of the lauding of the experience.

Although this photograph of me in a lie-flat seat on a flight from Paris to New York operated by OpenSkies back in June of 2008 was taken with my camera, I forgot who took the actual picture. I believe it might have been Ben Schlappig...
Although this photograph of me in a lie-flat premium class seat on a flight from Paris to New York operated by OpenSkies back in June of 2008 was taken with my camera, I forgot who took the actual picture. I believe it might have been Ben Schlappig…

Traveling in the premium class cabin aboard an airplane for as many flights as possible seems to be a lofty goal for many travelers — including myself, admittedly. As Ms. MacNicol points out, what is not to like? You get pampered. You are showered with amenities. The seat is more comfortable. There are many options available to you to keep you busy and help pass the time faster — although MacNicol countered that “At one point, the impossible occurred: I looked at the clock and wished my flight was longer.”

She even posted a photograph of the contents of her amenity kit and asked rhetorically, “What more could a girl ask for?”

If you attempted to book a round-trip non-stop flight between New York and Munich — let us say departing on September 10 and returning on September 17 — you might pay $1,339.88 on Lufthansa for a seat in the economy class cabin; whereas if you chose to pay for a seat in the business class cabin, you might pay $6,835.88 for the same flight segments.

MacNicol wrote that “Business class is essentially the solution to every problem incurred in economy class, except for the financial aspect.” Although she admitted that all expenses were paid on her flight and that she had the good fortune to be upgraded on the return flight, that difference of $5,496.00 could purchase a lot of those tolls you have to pay on the New Jersey Turnpike; those $16.00 shuttle rides to Grand Central Terminal; and literally hundreds of trips on the 4 train in Manhattan, which offers no upgraded option…

…so is the extra money worth it?

Not to me. I have better things to do with $5,496.00. In fact, I posted an argument on March 5, 2012 that perhaps even the use of frequent flier loyalty program miles instead of cash for travel in the premium class cabin may not be worth it — but then again, that depends on what the words “worth it” mean to you…

…and to me, I typically do not find seats in the economy class cabin to be all that bad. While it is difficult for me to sleep well in them unless I am absolutely exhausted, I do not dread sitting in them to the point in which MacNicol expresses in her article — but then again, she admits to having a fear of flying, which I have never had.

I posted a short article here at The Gate on January 12, 2007 on how to be more comfortable in the economy class cabin, which contains a link to a discussion where FlyerTalk members shared their thoughts on how to better endure the “torture chamber” known as a seat in the economy class cabin. Suggestions included but were not limited to the following:

  • Headphones
  • Earplugs
  • Eyeshades
  • Inflatable neck pillows
  • Sit in a seat by the window
  • Use your bag as a makeshift footrest
  • Use medication or drugs which can be purchased “over the counter”


I personally would not recommend that last bulleted item, for the record. I do not believe in medication unless absolutely necessary — even an aspirin — but that is simply my point of view.

These are some of the items which significantly improve my flying as a passenger in the economy class cabin on any flight — and they might work for you too:

  • Music I have mentioned numerous times on how important music is to me whenever I travel; and it greatly helps to pass the time for me
  • Entertainment This could be in the form of games on my personal electronic device; a crossword puzzle; or an interesting article in the magazine provided by the airline
  • Window seat I can be mesmerized by the view outside of the window during a flight as I described here — and even the moon and stars at night are interesting to me; and the perceived additional privacy with a wall to support my head should I nod off is an added bonus to me
  • Snacks I always bring a variety of assorted non-perishable snacks which do not take up too much room in my bag for those times where I am hungry and need something to tide me over
  • Work If I have my laptop computer with me, then I appreciate the efficiency of accomplishing work while passing the time during a flight; and if I do not have my laptop computer with me, a simple pen and paper to jot down ideas still works wonders — even in this age of technology
  • Travel companion Although I usually prefer to keep to myself whenever traveling, sitting next to one or more companions — family members or friends — can help while away the hours on most flights short or long
  • Proper frame of mind If you dread flying as a passenger seated in the economy class cabin, you will most likely be miserable for much of the flight; so what I do is think positive thoughts about what I will do once I arrive at my destination and make the most out of traveling as a passenger on flights seated in the economy class cabin


Attentive flight attendants also help a great deal — although this is admittedly out of my control. On one particular transatlantic overnight flight — after the items were collected once the meal service had concluded — I wandered from my seat in the economy class cabin to the galley at the rear of the aircraft, looking for a leftover roll or some item to have as a simple snack. I was greeted by two flight attendants in the galley; and after a short but cheery conversation, one flight attendant remarked out of the blue: “You look hungry. Would you like another meal?” I was caught off-guard by that comment — did I look that bad?!? — but I recovered nicely after only a second or two: “Sure!”

The flight in the seat in the economy class cabin was that much more comfortable and enjoyable simply as a result of that one lone gesture — and I could tell you more stories similar to that one; but this article is already too long.

Towards the end of next month, I will be embarking on one of my now-famous convoluted itineraries on which I may have actually outdone myself this time — if you know of my past itineraries, you know that that is a bold statement even for me: start at 0:47 of this video recorded by Randy Petersen in Seattle and shown on CNN Money for a sample of one of my crazy itineraries as rattled off by me — and I intend to report on aspects of my upcoming trip here at The Gate

…and — unless I magically get upgraded on any of the flight segments, which I do not expect to happen as part of managing my expectations — I will be seated in a seat in the economy class cabin on all flight segments for the duration of the entire trip. I have enjoyed my time flying as a passenger seated in the premium class cabin on both transatlantic and transpacific flights; but they have not “ruined” commercial air travel for me because it is the travel itself which is part of the excitement — not how I travel.

Glynnis, I am sincerely happy for you that you finally got to experience the joys of the business class experience — but if you ever get upgraded to a seat in the first class cabin on an international flight, be forewarned that it will further “ruin” commercial air travel for you. I suggest that if you want to fly as a passenger in the business class cabin more often, you may want to read weblog sites such as BoardingArea regularly; as well as peruse Internet bulletin boards such as Milepoint and FlyerTalk

…oh, and by the way, Glynnis — you wrote as an aside: “Why hasn’t anyone banned reclining seats in economy? They are, in my opinion, a hangover from the days when travelers’ comfort was an actual business consideration, but they have since become a force used only for evil.”

If you really want to get involved in that debate, I recommend clicking here for an article I wrote pertaining to seat recline

Photograph of premium class seat ©2008 by Brian Cohen.

  1. It is good to read a post from someone who finds more pleasure in the journey than first-class pjs. In addition to the items you mentioned I think seat selection and making good use of IFE are key to enjoying long-haul international economy travel. Some widebody aircraft have bulkhead seats with extra legroom plus no one can recline into your space. The bulkhead also makes it easy to get up if you are in the window seat even if others in your row are sleeping. The jackpot is when there is an open seat or two in your row. I rarely go to the cinema; so there are always a few movies to catch up on. Another way to pass the time is by using the Berlitz World Traveler on the IFE to learn or brush up on the language of the country you are visiting. Knowing a few phrases in that language can build a lot of goodwill with the people you meet after you get off the plane.

    1. I make it a point to learn at least several words of the language of the country to which I am visiting, john. Most — if not all — of the time, people appreciate when you take an effort to learn a few words of their language; and you have a better chance of improving your trip overall, according to my personal experience.

      As for bulkhead seats, I avoid them at all costs unless it is either an upgraded seat or that there is extra legroom. I usually prefer the seat just behind the bulkhead seat.

      Even though I have a minor acting career on the side, I rarely watch movies — and the only times I really watch movies are either on an airplane or in a hotel room.

      You are especially correct about hitting the jackpot if there is an open seat or two in the row in which you are seated. Poor man’s “lie-flat” seats, anyone? Sometimes they can be more comfortable than the real thing in the premium class cabin.

      There is nothing that you wrote with which I disagree, john. Thank you for posting your thoughts!

  2. I would love to be as upbeat as you with economy seating but when it’s 14 hour flight from here (Australa) to the States, 14 hrs to Dubai & then 7-9 hrs + another 12 to Europe it just doesn’t cut the mustard for me. Know I’m whinging & should get used to it but with ever shrinking economy it does my head & body in. I love your positive outlook but I’m with Premium Class girl, I want my space, better food & to hear “would you like a glass of champagne on boarding”! Done it once & want to again. Cheers!!

    1. I do not believe anyone “wants” to purposely sit in the economy class section of the aircraft for that long, Carmilla5.

      While I was fortunate enough to have traveled from Los Angeles to Sydney and returned via Auckland on Qantas Airways in the business class cabin in the upper deck of a Boeing 747-400 aircraft thanks to the redemption of miles, I have also spend 13 hours in a seat in the economy class cabin from Atlanta to Tokyo; and one of my flights — as part of my wacky itinerary starting next month — is scheduled to be just shy of 15 consecutive hours from Shanghai to New York in a seat in the economy class cabin…

      …but I certainly do not need to travel long distances as much as you, Carmilla5. I only hope that alternative travel options such as this one come soon for you…

  3. I am 6 foot three inches tall. All economy class seats not only have little to no leg room but are so low to the ground that tall people are sitting on the point of the spine as there is no support under the legs.

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