vintage airline photos

How to Have a First-Class Travel Experience in Economy

We’ve flown home to Australia every Christmas from wherever we happened to be living on the planet: Hong Kong, Singapore, San Francisco, and lately, Los Angeles. Needless to say, it’s a loooooong and expensive flight. 


We can’t afford the flat-bed luxury of first or business class, but experience has taught me a few tricks for staying reasonably comfortable during long-haul flights. As with everything, planning and the right tools are key, but even if you're already on your way to the airport, there are still things you can do to help improve your chances for a more pleasurable journey.  

Here are my best tips for traveling in style (no matter where you’re seated): 

Choose your airline (and seat) carefully. 

I just discovered Seat Guru, which is a flight search app like Kayak, Trip Advisor (which is the Seat Guru parent company), or Expedia, but with a sharp eye to personal comfort and seat selection. It's too late for me to change seats for our trip home this year, but maybe not too late for you! Get in there.

Map out your trip. 

Look at your itinerary. Really look. And not just at the departure and arrival times. Clock your layover if you have one and scope out your airport terminals ahead of time. Even if you’re a member, airline lounges are almost always the same: dreary waiting rooms with bad upholstery, stale sandwiches, and terrible coffee. On the other hand, there are some first-rate restaurant kiosks in most major airport hubs these days. Take the opportunity to check one out. You may discover a new favorite! 

Request a special meal. 

Even if you aren’t a child; a vegetarian, trying to keep Kosher, or are gluten intolerant, try requesting a special meal. They are almost always better than the usual fare.

Dress the Part. 

It is an unwritten but common practice of ticket agents to allot better seats to well-dressed (and well-mannered) passengers. You don’t have to wear a suit, but a collared shirt and tailored jacket paired with secretly comfy pants will go a long way toward helping you to snag that exit aisle seat. 

My own blanket

Did you know that they don’t always wash those thin polyester blankets between flights? Yeah, no thanks. I always roll up a fresh Turkish towel into my carryon. I feel like it keeps me warm, and my clothes and hair clean during air travel. Plus, it’s come in very handy as a lightweight wrap, or beach towel. Take one. 

A TSA-compliant Personal Amenity Kit

We've all known the heartbreak of losing a favorite night cream or expensive perfume because we forgot about local TSA regulations. Play it safe and get yourself a clear Dopp kit that meets London Heathrow regulations (in my experience, one of the strictest in the world). As a rule, keep all creams, oils, and liquids to 100ml (3.4oz) or under, in your carry-on bag. Better yet, pack the bulk of your toiletries in your checked luggage, and just bring the essentials in your carry-on. 

Carpe Diem. 

Sometimes, a long layover or a delayed flight can be a plus if you are prepared to seize the day! Was your flight canceled out of Austin? Time to sample some world-famous Tex-Mex or Bar-B-Que while listening to some great music! Endless delays out of Perth? This is the perfect opportunity to indulge in a guilty pleasure: An airport massage and a cheesy Danielle Steel novel. Why not? Attitude is everything.

Be Prepared. 

This is the part that really counts. I’m totally against dragging overstuffed carry-ons onto planes, but I do like to tuck a lightweight, satellite bag, packed with everything I need for the flight (and an overnight stay, just in case). And...I just bought four of these for all of us. Will report back to let you know how they worked! 

Make your bathroom bearable. 

Airplane bathrooms can get seriously grotty. Especially on a long-haul flight. I wear a pair of nitrile gloves through the airport and also slip them on to use the bathroom. Before I touch anything, I spray the door lock, the flush button, the toilet seat, taps, and the sink with Travel Safe. If you see me use the bathroom, you should go in right after me. It will be cleaner than it was before you took off!

Healthy, portable snacks.

Please keep your fellow cabin mates in mind when selecting something to take on the plane. Eggs and stinky cheese probably aren't a great idea. But I always take protein rich breakfast bars, fresh fruit, or some kind of healthy snack from home. Nobody wants a $6 pulpy apple. Or overpriced pretzels.   

Do Not Disturb. 

I always bring my own headphones and an eye mask to escape a bad movie or an overly chatty fellow passenger. Since COVID, I’ve taken to wearing a cotton face mask around my neck to double as an eye mask.  It was a lifesaver on a recent trip to Copenhagen to provide a small barrier from my nose and a vigorously gassy cabin mate!  

Chair Yoga. 

Yeah, I know, but stay with me. These exercises were a huge relief for me on my way back from London recently. Mr. Handsome booked me on some super saver fare that took me from London to Copenhagen, to San Francisco, to LAX. It took me 23.5 hours to get home. By the time I landed in Los Angeles, I was questioning all of my life choices. Chair yoga kept me from going insane. I’m not kidding. 

Bon Voyage, Baby!  

Xx, mlk