Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Business Traveller Tip – 10 tips for surviving economy class flying

They call it Business Class for a reason. To ensure that everyone travelling on business feels a pang, a dip and a sense of hopelessness when not travelling in the class with your name on it. But often we must turn right on entry to the plane and keep on walking to seats numbered in the 30s or lower. Here is the next chapter in the BOOT's Business Traveller Tips 10 tips for surviving flying economy class on business
  1. Aim for day flights - travelling up the back is much easier if you don't have to sleep. Check and re-check schedules to see if you can take a day flight rather than overnight. I would prefer to fly during the day on a usually un-preferred carrier than overnight on my favourite carrier;
  2. Check in online 23 hours and 59 mins before your flight - Most modern carriers allow online check-on 24 hours before take off. Do what you can to be on their website at as close to the 24 hour mark as you can. Assuming you are a relatively high grade flyer you will get the better choice of seats. There are two schools of seat choice depending on your view. My choice is aisle up the front. Up the front for as fast as possible exit. The aisle to add a little bit more leg room and eliminate the need to climb over any one to get anywhere. If you take this option then look for the latch under the aisle armrest that unlocks it and allows the arm rest to be lifted up to be in-line with the seat. Not all economy class seats allow for an uplifted arm rest but many do. The ones that do need a little cajoling before they lift – but when they do lift they open up and free the right/left hand leg, thigh, buttock, shoulder and much more. Just watch out for the speeding food trolley. The other view is the privacy and extra lean value of the window seat. The aisle brings more room with a lifted arm rest, aisle leg room and an easy exit. The window brings a big resting place but requires a lot of dexterity and balletic skills to exit and reach the bathroom. Either way, avoid the hell of the middle. In fact better to have one off the aisle in the middle set of four than the middle of the left or right window set of three. Goes without saying that either way exit row is the best. Be careful with exit rows. Choose middle or aisle as sometimes the window exit row seat has the leg room blocked by the emergency slide compartment attached to the door;
  3. Dress loose – in a perfect world you would dress in good clothes as you board and change into shorts and a t-shirt during the flight (see tip "What to wear on-board"). But in cattle it is often hard to change clothes. To get the best rest you can, you need to be in loose clothing. In a perfect world you would come on board in pyjamas. As that is not possible I suggest loose cotton pants and a t-shirt or long sleeve polo. Take off your belt and shoes, keep them overhead. The belt will tighten and constrict as the trip continues. Your feet will swell making them uncomfortable in shoes;
  4. Eat before you board - The food on economy class is cut rate at best. They are doing everything they can to cut a buck or two. Give yourself 20 mins at the airport to eat before you get on board. The food at the airport will be much better than on board. If you have lounge access this is easy. Taking a meal in a CX, SQ, QF, BA, VS, etc lounge before boarding will leave you happily full. If you don’t have lounge status I recommended eating at an airport restaurant and charging it back to your company as a work meal. Eating before you board not only gives a better meal, it also gives a more comfortable seat. When the meal service is on the tray table is down. When the table is down, you are forced upright with your knees up. You are boxed in even more than usual. The less you need to eat on board the less you are boxed in by the table;
  5. If you have to check – check it all - Chances are if you are up the back you will have to check luggage as the chances of bringing 2-3 bags of 20 plus kgs will be pretty slim. Therefore if you have to check bags, you might as well check as much as you can. Leave yourself with as little as necessary to take on board. If you have to check something, check everything. [see more in tip 6];
  6. Board sooner rather than late - Business class has little to no space limitations for cabin baggage. I know as I have often trudged on board with a suit carrier, roly bag and laptop bag. All told 30 kilos and a whole over head bin of space. In cattle class the overhead bins fill up fast. If you have carry on, you will do well to get on board sooner rather than later to claim the limited space availability over heard. If you miss out over head the only place will be under the seat in front and you want to keep that space for your legs;
  7. Bring Ear Plugs and a mask – planes are noisy. Particular ones with 10 people in a row rather than 7. The pointy end provides not only less people to reduce the noise but technical implements to help keep it so. The back of the plane is noisier and absent in technical implements. Therefore bring your own. While the seat may be upright, a mask and ear plugs will make a world of difference. Somewhere in an old amenity pack you will have a mask and plugs. If you don’t, spend the 10 bucks to get one before boarding for the back for the bus;
  8. Bring Drugs – I have a separate post on the best (legal) drugs that every business traveller should take with them on any trip. Within the list of seven pharmacological necessities are two critical sleep aids – Unisom and Melatonin . These are not knock out drugs. I eschew the true knock outs like Ambien and Stilnox as I do not enjoy the wake up afterwards. Unisom wont knock you out but they will help you drowse – especially in an upright seat;
  9. You can hide an iPod – if you try - For sleeping you drown out the cattle noise with the ear plugs (see tip 7). You will want to use your iPod to drown out the waking hours noise. This is easy during the flight but hard on the ground and during take off. For some reason the aviation industry has convinced itself that a $200+ million plane can be brought down during take off by a $300 mp3 player. Cabin crew will obsessively walk up and down the cabin looking for downed tray tables, lent back seats and plugged in ear pads. If you try to listen to an iPod in the usual way (white earphones in both ears) I give you a 15% chance of not being spotted and enjoying music from 0 metres to 10,000 meters above sea level. But if you follow my tips, the chances of listening to music from door close, through wheels up and onto seat beats off increase to 77% (or thereabouts). Step one – get black earphones. White pads stick out like dancing silhouettes against a purple background. The cabin crew are less likely to spot black cords and pads. Step two – hide the iPod/Phone under a book or blanket. Don’t give them anything to look for. Step three- only listen in one ear. Do not put pads in both ears. Put a pad in the ear opposite to the aisle. Left ear in seats A, B, C, F and G. Right for D,E, H, J, K (in a typical 3-4-3 seat layout). This is the ear that the cabin crew can’t see. Then run the black ear cord down the arm away from the aisle in such a way that it cannot be seen from the aisle. A black cord down your arm from an ear that can’t be seen for the aisle connected to an obscured music box will work more often that it doesn’t in keeping you wired for sound before and during take off; and
  10. Bring spray or moisturiser – 30,000ft is dehydrating. Just being there will dry you out. They seem like silly touches but the Biz Class perks of hot face towels every four hours and moisturiser in the bathroom make an important difference to keeping you dry and hydrated. Up the back I recommend replicating those experiences with spray on water (like the Evian stuff) and one of the bottles of hotel creams that are sitting in your draw at home.
Over to you dear readers. Any other tips for flying coach?

Thanks to clstal via flickr for this fantastic photo of a Ugandan cattle ranch


Kurt Knackstedt - The "Travel Barista" said...

Hi Tim - great posting and extremely good advice! I think you've nailed the top 10 tips, I'll just add a "sub-tip" to your iPod one: plug the on-board headset's cord into your seat outlet, put the actual headphones out of sight, and tell the flight attendant that your headset is actually plugged into the onboard music. Yes, it's a bit of a bait-and-switch, but hey, long haul flying in cattle class is every man, woman and child for themselves!

And although pretty much every traveller should know about it, for any traveller no matter how frequent if you don't check SeatGuru.com before you fly, shame on you. SeatGuru opened my eyes up to the best economy class seats on the planet - seats 71D and 80K on the Qantas A380. These seats have no seat in front of them, but they are not exit row seats so you don't have to beg (or pay extra) for them. 71D is an aisle seat and with the open space in front, plus the new "slide forward" cushions on the QF seats, it's nearly as spacious and comfortable as a Premium Economy seat. Seat 80K is against the window, but again without a seat in front it's easy access to get out and also gives you the wall space to lie against when sleeping. Night night!

Mel K said...

Great tips Tim! Another couple to add:

*Bring your own water bottle and snacks - while some Qantas service does provide refreshment, on other airlines (or even a bad crew on QF), you can be stuck in a mid-flight desert of no water and nothing to eat.

*The iPad is great for economy class working as it is basically impossible to work on a laptop - even for me, and I'm only 5'3"!

And, be sure to unpack your inflight materials into the seat pocket - given the ridiculous squeezing of seats, it will be impossible to get anything from under the seat in front of you unless you are both small and very flexible....

Tim Hughes said...

@kurt - great tips, especially Seatguru. Absolutely essential to check seats.

@MelK - love the tip about unpacking the essentials and keeping them close

steve sherlock said...

lol - you could make a comedy skit out of that.

>don't sleep, wear a mask, take drugs, smuggle an ipod, ooh and dont forget the moisturiser (less than 100ml)

Phil W said...

Great post Tim!
You've pretty much covered them all. With earphones, I would recommend lightweight in-ear ones that block out ambient noise. This way you can have the volume at safe levels and still be able to make out the lyrics. You can then cross off earplugs from your things-to-bring list. A great sub-$100 one is the Klipsch S4i which also features call, answer and playback controls for iphone users. Enjoy!

Julian Cacchioli said...

Whilst you're setting up your ipod earpiece like some CIA agent, spritzing yourself with a myriad soothing herbs and filling your seat pocket with more equipment than a marine takes into battle...don't forget your elbows...yes, that's right, if you don't grab the arm rest first, you will spend a lot of the flight with your arm position similar to that of a playgirl showing you her cleavage...

Tim Hughes said...

@Steve - we also need to add Julian's comment "be first, be mean" :)!

@Phil - nice tip - thanks

@Julian - I with you. Take no prisoners!

Tim Hughes said...

Reader Andy sent me the following by email

On clothing, I'd add at least bring (probably wear) a sweatshirt/light sweater. Last thing you feel like doing especially departing from a tropical city, but the cabin can get coooold

On hydration, bring a water bottle. Some airlines in economy only give out plastic cups, on a long sector (say 7 hrs plus) I need to drink about 6 or more of those cups, having a bottle that I refill means maybe only 2 refills.

I prefer windows (can sometimes enjoy a view, hate people disturbing me when they want to leave their seat etc). There's a few tricks to using a window seat when you want to go to the bathroom etc. First, good idea to wear disposable socks (from an old bus-class amenity pack), or OK with normal socks if you know the airline keeps the bathroom reasonably clean (and it's not late on a long flight). Then get the tray table up. Then check if the middle or aisle seat occupants are awake, if so ask them just to stay where they are (it's bad if they try to get out of your way, they usually spoil the manoeuvre or get in the way). Then make sure there is at least a few inches of the one-in-from-the-aisle armrest (i.e. between B/C seats if on the left side) not covered by arms/hands.

OK, here goes. Stand up in a crouch (to avoid the overhead lockers - not much headroom...) onto your own seat cushion. Step across onto the B/C armrest space whilst holding onto the seatback in front of the B seat for balance and try not to straighten up. Then hop straight down into the aisle and walk away. If you're less agile, you can step onto the aisle armrest then down - might be easier for you.

Voila! It's actually quite easy once you realise that only three things can go wrong: straightening up so you hit the overhead locker, losing balance because you forgot to grab the seat in front, or the armrest space disappearing because your neighbour/s get startled and move their hand or try to get up.

BTW, windows aren't so bad in widebodies because the fuselage curvature is larger, so less space lost near your legs. Middle seats often have the IFE box taking up a LOT of leg space. Forward seats are usually better for 2 more reasons: less motion in turbulence (ask the hosties - they know which aircraft types are worse for this - some types have a near resonance that causes the back end of the fuselage to be almost constantly swaying from side to side), and less noisy (engine noise mostly goes backwards). Off topic, but have you noticed that upstairs in a 747 is reeeaallly noisy? there are areas of the 747 fuselage near the back of the hump that causes the airflow to become supersonic locally - causes a lot of whistling. But I still prefer the top - usually way more room!

Cam said...

Tim, great blog great post... couple of additions.

1. If you are in the exit rows, wear white socks, that way there is a small chance the people waiting for the toilet or stretching their legs and waiting at the exit door have 'slightly' less chance of standing on your toes.

2. Ask the flight attendants to hang your jacket, they often do and you don't have to pack it or squeeze it in the overhead bins.

3. Beware the muppets that sit behind you and pull on your chair as they sit down, Always sit forward when ever you feel them getting up or coming back to their seat, you avoid the chair back slap and the 'I'm going to yell at you' feeling.

4. The most important thing is your mental state, don't, don't think about business class and what it would be like if you were flying business class, accept economy, and know it will be over soon and just relax, it's not that bad (for day flights)

5. Wear a dark t-shirt do if you do happen to spill any salad dressing or pasta sauce it doesn't show up that bad.

Tim Hughes said...

@Cam - great list. Mindset tip is spot on!

Andrey said...

Thanks for the info, very good and detailed! I liked this post!

Anonymous said...

My top tip after 30 years of international air travel, mostly in cattle class - bring good quality battery powered noise reducing headphones. The type that cover your ears completely, and spare batteries. These will cut out about 80%-90% of the cabin noise and you don't get hearing problems or ear infections like you do from using earbuds for long periods. Don't plug them into anything just enjoy the silence.
Regarding the comment about a $200M airplane being brought down by a $300 mp3 player, probably not, but imagine the RF from 250-300 cleverly hidden mp3 players, smart phones and laptops sending emails and mobile phones all working at the same time! As a licensed pilot my comment on this is - Grow up! if you can't last without electronics for the time required for takeof and landing, then take a ship or stay at home.

Anonymous said...

I was reading some info from an airline design pro who said that it isn't true tht electronics can cause plane crashes. They said if it were true, they wouldn't even allow them on the plane. The actual issue with electronics on take off and landing is that people wearing/listening to them won't hear the safety instructions or directions. I can see that...lots of people are very blaise about those now and don't pay any mind.
Happy travels! Arlette