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Hacks to Upgrade Your Economy Flight Experience

By Kristin Limoges

02.14.20

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

Photo by Ina Carolino/ Unsplash

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

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

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Welcome to your economy-class seat: 28 inches of legroom and a whopping 16-inch span between your armrests. No one can deny the thrill of finding a great airfare deal, but after eight-plus hours in your designated 28 x 16-inch space, you’ll likely begin to lament not just your aching back but your decision, too. 

Economy class doesn’t have to mean a down-market experience. Some of the extraordinary perks that come along with a first- and business-class ticket—comfortable sleeping conditions, thoughtfully planned meals, and healthful amenities—can be recreated back in economy. These tips can help you hack your way to a comfy flight, even all the way back in Seat 112B. Fasten your seatbelt, this bumpy ride is about to get a makeover.  

Chin up (or at least supported) with this innovatively designed neck pillow.

How to sleep well in economy

Don’t have the budget for a lie-flat seat in business class? 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.

Buy Now: Airplane Foot Hammock, $17, amazon.com 

Try the travel pillow 18,000+ Amazon reviewers have been raving over. The Trtl Pillow wraps around your neck like a scarf, but when secured just so 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. 

Buy Now: Trtl Pillow, $30, amazon.com 

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 alleged antimicrobial properties. 

Buy Now: Slip Sleep Mask, $50, amazon.com

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Buy Now: Vitruvi Organic Lavender Essential Oil, $18, amazon.com

The Traveling Germaphobe’s Guide to Flying

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

How to eat better in flight

The 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 or a lukewarm slice of terminal pizza.

With minimal planning, a quick meal assembled at home can actually make you feel good, instead of the bloated and sluggish effect that eating junk food at altitude can have. In reusable containers or recyclable foil, pack a few light snacks like nuts, cut vegetables, and 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. Just 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 the more wholesome snacks like mixed nuts, protein bars, and dark chocolate (70 percent and higher). Look for  packaged miso soup or oatmeal, which come in self-contained bowls, so you can simply request hot water from the cabin crew and enjoy. (But maybe ask them to use the water you bring along with you.)

And above all, drink 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, but some AFAR editors have gone on record praising water pouches, too.

Buy Now: LARQ Bottle, $95, amazon.com 

Trade your sleep mask for a sheet mask.

How to arrive looking fresh

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. 

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. 

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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 looks will be from travelers envious of your ingenuity. If your skin is acne prone, go for a mask that addresses pores and hydration, like Peach & Lily’s Shrink Pores mask. For a moisturizing mask, choose a Lapcos Milk Sheet Mask, which calms and plumps skin. Or for low-key in-flight self-care, try a smaller, targeted mask, like eye gel masks from Patchology. Whichever type of mask you use, remove it after 15 to 20 minutes; any longer and your skin will begin to dry out.

Buy Now: Josie Maran Bear Naked Wipes, $12, amazon.com 

Buy Now: Peach & Lily Shrink Pore Mask, $2.50, peachandlily.com 

Buy Now: Lapcos Milk Sheet Mask, $14 for 5 sheets, amazon.com

Buy Now: Patchology Moodpatch Perk Up Eye Gels, $15, amazon.com 

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

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

For the final step of your high-altitude skincare, apply sunscreen–yes, even at 30,000 feet in the air. You’re that much closer to the sun and its damaging rays, and the airplane windows only filter out some dangerous ultraviolet rays, some less than 50 percent of the light. Close the window shade (maybe ask your seatmates if that’s OK, too) and then apply a TSA-approved sunscreen, like the spill-proof Supergoop Glow Stick SPF 50.

Buy Now: Glossier Futuredew, $24, glossier.com

Buy Now: Kosasport LipFuel Baseline, $30, amazon.com

Buy Now: Supergoop Glow Stick SPF 50, $24, amazon.com 

How to add more comfort to the economy cabin

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 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 they look great. 

Buy now: Bombas Compression Socks, $18, bombas.com 

Products we write about are independently vetted and recommended by our editors. We may earn a commission if you buy through our links.

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