Flying in economy is often synonymous with a lack of legroom, questionable in-flight meals and close proximity to fellow travelers. Because of that, it’s easy to forget about the destination that awaits you on the other side of the jet bridge. But, you don’t have to upgrade to business class to improve your overall in-flight experience.

In fact, there are plenty of little-known tips and tricks for making your economy seat a much more comfortable and enjoyable experience — especially if you’re willing to get creative and plan ahead.

We spoke to a handful of frequent flyers to get their insights on exactly how they’ve managed to streamline their economy experience to be efficient and comfortable. From bringing your own snacks and coffee onboard to taking the time to get to know aircraft layouts for the best seat in the cabin, here’s how to make your economy seat more comfortable.

If you’re looking to get from point A to point B without much worry about anything else, you may not care about which airline you fly. But if you want a comfortable experience, take note of which airline you book with — not all are created the same. In general, ultra-low-cost carriers will offer a less-comfortable experience — think no seat recline, no in-flight entertainment screens and less legroom — than more legacy, full-service airlines.

Do research using tools like SeatGuru to see if the airline and aircraft you’re looking to book offer particular in-flight amenities. For example, if you’re planning to work in-flight, be sure to check if your airline and aircraft are equipped with Wi-Fi. Ultimately, picking the right airline for your needs will lead to a much more comfortable flying experience.

Doing your research can help to make for a more comfortable experience. Ahead of your flight, look into the specific aircraft on the airline you’re flying. If you have the time and budget to be flexible about the days or times you’re looking to fly, it’s a great opportunity to be picky — and ultimately, make your experience more comfortable.

For example, as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, several airlines have put their larger, longer-range aircraft on domestic routes. In other words, a better flying experience right off the bat. If you’re planning to fly from NYC to Miami, for example, and have the choice to fly an American Airlines Boeing 737 or a Boeing 777, pick the latter. The Boeing 777 is a bigger aircraft with larger seats and more amenities. Get to know some of the popular aviation websites like SeatGuru, Expert Flyer or Seat Expert, which will be your best bet for examining your potential choice of aircraft before booking.

While it’s not always possible, sitting in an emergency exit row seat can make for a much more enjoyable experience. While you’ll generally have to meet a select set of requirements (at least 15 years of age and sufficient mobility, strength or dexterity in both arms, hands and both legs), if you are eligible, it’s a no-brainer. Keep in mind that some airlines charge extra to book a seat in the emergency exit row, which is when having airline elite status can be particularly helpful.

“It goes without saying, but always try to get an exit row seat,” says Paul Miller, founder of Family Skier. “The fact is that many exit row seats have more legroom than a [domestic] first-class seat. This usually involves snagging the seat online at the time of booking, or well before the flight.”

Clothing can affect the way you feel, which is an easy way to vastly improve your flying experience. We recommend wearing loose-fitting clothing, compression socks and layering in case the plane is too hot or cold.

Kevin Mercier, travel blogger at Kevmrc, suggests dressing for comfort, especially on long-haul, red-eye flights. “I tend to avoid belts, ties or big buttons or anything that can pinch, poke or constrict,” says Mercier. “You don’t have to look sloppy, either — I wear a comfortable pair of cotton or wool pants, layer two or three shirts, a winter coat and I am good to go.”

You don’t have to upgrade to first class, business class or even premium economy to increase your level of comfort. By now, many airlines offer marginally more expensive intermediate options that offer additional legroom, a better position in the plane and sometimes added perks, such as priority boarding.

Generally speaking, the cost to upgrade to an extra legroom seat will vary depending on the route and how busy the flight is. It’s also worth noting that each of the major US airlines calls their extra legroom seat something different — American Airlines calls it Main Cabin Extra, while Delta Air Lines’ is Comfort+ and United Airlines’ is Economy Plus. If you’ve got elite status with these airlines, oftentimes, you’ll receive complimentary upgrades to these extra legroom seats, adding to the value of staying loyal to one airline in particular.

$24.95 at Amazon

 

For long trips in economy, neck pillows sometimes just aren’t enough. “Rather than fold your body in half to try to sleep on a tray table, pillows like this support a natural lean forward while keeping your neck and back in alignment,” says Michelle Gonzalez, travel expert and founder of LAX to Luxury. “Look for options with easy-inflate valves that ensure you’re only a few deep breaths away from comfort.”

This option from Kimiandy is on a 45-degree angle, meaning it’s at the perfect position to allow your head and neck to naturally lean forward. It’s an inflatable pillow, meaning you can pack it away in your carry-on bag and then blow it up once you’ve boarded and assumed your seat. Perhaps best of all, this set comes with a free eye mask and earplugs to help make the flying experience even more comfortable — and easier to fall asleep.

$14.99 at Amazon

 

Sleeping in an economy seat can seem like a daunting task, but a compression eye mask will help foster an environment that is much more conducive to sleep on the ground. We like the Imak compression mask and eye pillow in particular. Its gentle pressure and light-blocking design provide relief from headaches and discomfort associated with flying while the innovative stitching over the eye area ensures your eyelids won’t become irritated, even with long-term wear. Or, opt for the Mavogel Cotton Sleep Eye Mask, which won the title of the best sleep mask overall in our testing.

$17.95 at Amazon

 

The original EarPlanes are a must-have packing essential for those who experience ear pain while flying. But, even if you don’t typically experience ear pain, they’re well worth bringing on board to tune out the noises from the flight cabin and focus inward. The patented EarPlanes help to relieve air pressure discomfort and reduce harsh noise thanks to the ceramic inner filter and snug design.

$348 at Amazon

AMAZON

 

It’s almost impossible to hear music on flights over the dull roar of the plane’s engines — especially if you’re seated right above the wing. Travelers often maximize the volume of their headphones to compensate, which can lead to hearing loss and increased stress levels. Better yet, opt for a quality pair of noise-canceling headphones to drown out the sound for you. “I always carry a pair of noise-canceling headphones for every one of my trips, making it a lot easier for me to watch movies and listen to music without any annoying sounds to distract me,” says Mercier.

This set from Sony won the title of best overall noise-canceling headphones in our testing. Thanks to their phenomenal noise-canceling ability, this set of headphones is a great option for any traveler. Better yet, when they’re on sale, you can get a pair for more than $70 off the standard price.

$24.95 at Amazon

 

This hoodie and neck pillow crossover is the perfect match for traveling. “I carry this hoodie pillow with me everywhere I go, mainly because it’s extremely comfortable and feels like sleeping in your favorite sweatshirt,” says Mercier. “A cozy hood with adjustable drawstrings can be pulled over your eyes to block out light and keep your head warm at the same time, while the attached inflatable pillow supports your head, making it the perfect item to help you get comfortable while you’re flying economy.”

$39.95 at Amazon

 

Let’s face it: Airlines didn’t make economy seats to be particularly comfortable. By squeezing more seats into a plane, they’ve become so thin and uncomfortable that they can wreak havoc on your back after a long flight.

“The main comfort I find lacking in economy airline seats isn’t space (which is sorely lacking), but proper lumbar support,” says Will Pattiz, co-founder of More Than Just Parks. “Simply wearing a jacket that you can take off during flight and tucking behind your lower back during flight makes a huge difference. Alternatively, you can purchase a lumbar travel pillow like this one — but small size is key here.”

$27.99 at Amazon

 

Let’s face it: Airport food often leaves a lot to be desired in terms of both cost and quality. But, it doesn’t have to be your only option. “Bringing some home-packed snacks and treats like dried meats, cheeses and crackers can make a world of difference while flying,” says Pattiz. “This way, you’re not reliant on the whim of the flight attendants and have more control over your own destiny in the air.”

Just be sure to keep in mind the TSA’s rules for bringing liquids and gels — including when it comes to food — through the security checkpoint.

$49.99 $39.99 at Amazon

Cabeau Evolution S3 Travel Pillow

 

A traditional neck pillow can make all the difference between a comfortable economy flight and a miserable one. The Cabeau Evolution S3 picked up the title as the best overall travel pillow in our testing, and for good reason. It’s firm enough to support your head and neck while also being soft enough to comfortably fall asleep on. Best of all, it’s made of memory foam that allows you to compress it to half its size for easy storage and transport.

$52.99 at Amazon

 

In the economy cabin, the blankets are usually little more than a single piece of fabric that’s neither large enough to cover you nor thick enough to keep you warm. Set yourself up for a good sleep on the plane with a comfortable blanket like this 6-pound weighted option.

$5.38 at Amazon

 

Packing your own instant coffee might be worth it if you tend to be quite particular about your morning cup of coffee — especially after a long flight in the economy cabin. Starbucks Via Instant Coffee offers much better body and flavor than most in-flight coffee options — and all you need to do is add hot water.

$118 at Amazon

 

“Always have your own water,” says Miller. “You never know how long you are going to have to wait for refreshments while flying in coach.” The Larq Water Purification Bottle is going to be your best bet for potable water while traveling. It uses UV technology to neutralize up to 99% of bacteria for safe drinking water on the go. Then, use the same bottle for water when you get to your destination.

$84 $74 at Cadence

Cadence

 

We love these customizable, magnetic and leakproof travel accessories. The Build Your 6 set allows you to take your travel essentials in your carry-on bag and keep by your seat at all times during your economy flight. Pack your favorite face moisturizer in one of the capsules to keep your skin hydrated. The options for Capsules are endless.

$65 at Paravel

Paravel

 

Paravel is one of our favorite travel brands — and for good reason. The products are made with sustainability in mind, and they’re incredibly versatile for the traveler. We particularly love this fold-up backpack because it’s something that you can store in your carry-on bag through the security checkpoint. Then, when you’re ready to board the plane, throw your must-have essentials to get through a long-haul flight inside the backpack and tuck it under the seat in front of you. No need to get up to access the overhead bin if you want to grab your magazine, book, charging device and more.

$29.99 $24 at Amazon

 

An economy-class flight can only be made comfortable if all of your necessities are fully charged and ready to go. We love this portable battery charger because it’s small but packs enough power to charge an iPhone 11.

Looking for a travel credit card? Find out which cards CNN Underscored chose as our best travel credit cards of 2022.

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