FLYING COACH is never glamorous. Unfortunately, the price tag on business or first-class seats is usually equal to my entire budget for three months in Indonesia. So coach it is. Struggling through more than a few brutal flights and getting stranded in airport hell on almost every continent has taught me a few things.
1. Check in early.
If you’re going to be sitting on a plane for 10-15 hours, one extra hour at the airport won’t kill you. By checking in early, you have a better chance to request (and receive) open seats in exit rows, windows, and aisles. It’s imperative that you avoid the middle seat at all costs.
2. Pack for comfort.
So you saved some coin by booking the cheapest ticket you could find on some airline you’d never heard of. It’s probably worth spending just a few of those saved ducats on a neck pillow and eye mask, both of which will go a long way to making sure you get some sleep. A good pair of noise-canceling headphones is also really nice, but earplugs work just fine.
3. Meet your neighbor.
You don’t have to be creepy, but a few pleasantries exchanged with the seatmates you’re going to spend the next 12 hours next to can’t hurt. That way, you’ll both feel more comfortable when you start rubbing arm hair on the shared armrest. Who knows, you might even meet a new friend or future spouse. If there’s a language barrier, a simple smile and head nod is better than nothing. Offer them some of your m&m’s and you’ll have a loyal flight buddy — if it worked in grade school, it works in coach.
This also goes for the people sitting behind and in front of you. If they recognize you as a fellow human being, they might think twice before slamming their seatback into your knees or using your headrest as a drum kit.
Some people might disagree with me on this one, but when you’re stuffed into a seat that doesn’t recline next to a 300-pound Fijian, it’s hard to fall asleep. And since sleep is the goal, a little helper can make all the difference. I’m not necessarily advocating hardcore narcotics — there are plenty of all-natural alternatives — but not taking anything is like begging to get bitch-slapped by jet lag after a miserable flight.
5. Avoid the booze.
Yes, I know it’s free — even in coach on international flights — but staggering out of the plane in New Delhi after 6 glasses of bad wine and a few meager hours of alcohol-induced “sleep” before waiting for an hour or two in a curry- and BO-spiced customs line will redefine what you think of as a hangover.
6. Be nice to the flight attendants.
They despise you, and could care less who you are or where you’re going. Even though it’s their job to serve you, the fact that you’re sitting in coach means they don’t have to smile at you and ask if everything’s ok or serve you white wine spritzers on demand. THEREFORE, it’s up to you to kill them with kindness.
Learn their names, talk to them, and ask about their favorite places to visit in your final destination. More than likely they’ll be able to point you in the right direction once you get off the plane. Smile, say please and thank you, and you’ll be amazed how quickly an extra blanket will show up on your lap.
7. Skip the meal.
Loaded with sodium and preservatives, not to mention looking like cat food and tasting like prison slop, the meals in coach just aren’t worth it. Avoid the gut bomb and grab some nuts, dried fruit, trail-mix, and energy bars for the flight. You’ll be able to eat when you’re hungry and help regulate your body’s internal food clock, which leads to less jet lag.
If you insist on eating the meals, try requesting the vegetarian option beforehand. You get served first and the food is invariably lighter and fresher.
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