Flying in Economy? Here Are 4 Easy Ways to Make Your Flight More Comfortable

The idea of a long-haul flight in economy can feel a lot less turbulent if you follow these tips from frequent flyers.

A woman sleeping in a reclined window seat on plane, with eye mask and blanket

Rise above the economy-class fray with these simple tips.

Courtesy of Ina Carolino/Unsplash

Welcome to your economy-class seat: 28 inches of legroom and a whopping 16-inch span between your armrests. There’s nothing like the thrill of finding a great airfare deal on an international flight, but after eight-plus hours in your designated 28 x 16-inch space, you might start scheming up ways to make your next long-haul flight more comfortable.

Economy class doesn’t have to mean a down-market experience, though. Some of the extraordinary perks that come along with a first- or business-class ticket—comfortable sleeping conditions, thoughtfully planned meals, and healthful amenities—can be re-created back in economy. Whether you’ve got an exit row seat, the dreaded middle seat, an aisle seat, or the scenic window seat, these tips can help you hack your way to a comfy flight, even all the way back in Seat 39B.

Fasten your seat belt, this bumpy ride is about to get a makeover, thanks to these essential long-haul flying tips you should keep in mind.

1. Travel accessories can help you sleep better in economy

A woman wearing a gray Trtl neck pillow

The Trtl pillow is unconventional, but for many people, it’s more comfortable than traditional travel neck pillows.

Courtesy of Trtl Pillow

Airplane foot hammock

Don’t have the budget for a lie-flat seat in business class? Here’s one of our favorite travel tips: Put your feet up anyway by packing an airplane foot hammock, a padded footrest that elevates your feet a few inches off the ground. Those few inches can truly help alleviate back pain, leg swelling, and stiffness. The straps loop around the metal arms of your seat tray, and you can adjust them up or down to find the most comfortable height for you. After all, getting any shut-eye on your flight can help cut down on jet lag as you pass through time zones. Another perk of using an airplane foot hammock: It helps cut down on the risk of deep vein thrombosis, or DVT—blood clots that can be caused by long periods of sitting. All the more reason to pack this handy air travel gadget into your personal item.

The Trtl travel pillow

Try the travel pillow that 18,000+ Amazon reviewers have been raving over. The Trtl Pillow wraps around your neck like a scarf, but when secured with a Velcro closure, an internal support mechanism keeps your head cradled in an ergonomic position. No more accidentally slumping on your neighbor’s shoulder or jerking awake with a stiff neck, thanks to this neck pillow. We love this clever design that keeps your head upright.

An eye mask and essential oil

If you have trouble snoozing anywhere but in complete darkness, bring along a silky soft eye mask, like this comfy one from Slip. Then take comfort to the next level and dab a few drops of Vitruvi Organic French Lavender under your nose or on the outside of the mask; the essential oil will relax you and may help fight germs, too, thanks to lavender’s purported antimicrobial properties. All you have to do is add earplugs or a pair of noise-canceling headphones or earbuds and you’re off to snooze town. Plus, wearing an eye mask means you won’t fall into the bleary-eyed trap of endless in-flight entertainment—avoiding the screen and its blue light is especially helpful when it comes to overnight flights.

2. Eat better meals in economy

A series of five Larq water bottles: black, blue, pale green, pale pink, and gray

A stylish water bottle that self-cleans means added peace of mind.

Courtesy of Larq

Travelers in first class may be feasting on a chef-curated meal, but that doesn’t mean you have to settle for a plastic-wrapped cheese tray, a lukewarm slice of terminal pizza, or a tiny bag of pretzels from the flight attendants’ cart.

Bring your own (delicious) meal

With minimal planning, a quick meal made from healthy ingredients assembled at home can actually make you feel better than eating junk food at altitude. In reusable containers or recyclable foil, pack a few light snacks like nuts, cut vegetables, or fruit for a short flight, or something more substantial like a steamed sweet potato with toppings or a hummus and veggie wrap for a longer flight. But make sure anything that’s liquid or spreadable doesn’t exceed the TSA three-ounce limit.

No time to pack your own food? Stop by the newsstand near your gate and seek out more wholesome snacks like mixed nuts, protein bars, and dark chocolate (70 percent and higher). Also keep an eye out for packaged miso soup or oatmeal, which often come in self-contained bowls, so all you have to do is request hot water from the cabin crew and enjoy.

Bring extra water

And above all, drink plenty of water—lots of it. A self-cleaning Larq bottle that purifies water in 60 seconds with a built-in LED light is a high-end practical water bottle option among many that we found; some AFAR editors have also praised water pouches, too.

3. Arrive looking fresh after a flight

A golden Yina sheet mask in square package

Yina sheet masks are gentle even on the most sensitive skin.

Courtesy of Yina

Recirculated air, low oxygen levels, and high altitude can lead to dehydrated skin—address the dryness as it’s happening so you won’t have to rehab your skin postflight.

Bring a bit of facial refreshment

Standard makeup wipes aren’t usually the most eco-conscious option. Grab Josie Maran Bear Naked Wipes instead. They’re a gentle and biodegradable way to get rid of excess makeup, oil, and gunk from dry airplane air.

Followed by some hydrating pampering

Follow up by applying a loud-and-proud sheet mask. Yes, you’re going to get looks for this (and perhaps all these steps, honestly), but some of those glances will be from travelers envious of your ingenuity. The moisturizing sheet masks from Yina, an organic skincare brand founded by doctors of Chinese medicine, are packed with skin-soothing ingredients like ginseng, licorice, and evening primrose. The more budget-friendly Lapcos Milk Sheet Masks calm and plump skin. For low-key in-flight self-care, try a smaller, targeted mask, like eye gel masks from Patchology.

A large and a small container of Supergoop sunscreen

Avoid in-flight sun damage to your skin by applying sunblock.

Courtesy of Supergoop

    Lock in the hydration

    While you’re still dewy from the mask, lock in the hydration benefits with a serum like Glossier Futuredew and then apply a good lip balm. We like the hyaluronic acid–boosted Kosas LipFuel.

    Don’t forget the sunscreen (yes, really!)

    For the final step of your high-altitude skincare, apply sunscreen—yes, even at 30,000 feet in the air. You’re closer to the sun and its damaging rays, and airplane windows only filter out some dangerous ultraviolet rays. (They can filter out UVB light, the kind that causes sunburns, but can’t completely block UVA rays, which can still cause skin damage. Close the window shade after asking your seatmates if that’s OK, too.) If you want to be on the safe side, apply a TSA-approved sunscreen, like the spill-proof Supergoop Glow Stick SPF 50 for when those shades go back up.

    Prepare for landing

    To wrap up your in-flight refresh, brush your teeth. Pack a toothbrush and toothpaste in your carry-on for easy access, and make sure it’s easily accessible before you take off to avoid any postsleep stumbling through the overhead compartment. It’s also helpful to have some deodorant among your midflight toiletries. And to make sure you’re mentally prepared to tackle any Uber ordering, Google Maps navigating, or travel partner texting, keep your phone fully charged—portable chargers make a great addition to your carry-on toolkit.

    4. Add even more comfort to the economy cabin

    A pair of navy men's Bombas compression socks

    Compression socks, like those by Bombas, can possibly help prevent DVT.

    Courtesy of Bombas

    In most business-class amenity kits, you’ll find branded socks to keep your toes toasty. You can do better by opting for socks that are not only warm but also helpful, like Bombas Compression Socks. They keep blood flowing and sore muscles at bay—solving two problems suffered by those stuck in tight spaces at the back of a plane. Plus, they’re a favorite of opinionated AFAR editors and readers. And they look great.

    This article was originally published in 2020 and most recently updated on January 4, 2024, by Erika Owen, to include the latest information.

    Kristin Limoges is a freelance editor, covering all things beauty, wellness, and travel. She was previously the wellness editor at Domino Magazine. Kristin can usually be found face, hair, and body masking simultaneously, while thinking up clever DIYs for her small-space Chinatown apartment.
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