Flying first class is fun. Flying in the middle seat of row 42 generally isn’t. But a few tricks and low cost gadgets can transform that coach seat into a much more pleasant experience.
How To Score A Good Seat In Coach: The Basics
First, let’s be clear: there’s a big difference between a good seat in coach and a middle seat. So securing a good seat is the first trick. You’ve probably heard of seatguru.com; it lists all carriers and plane configurations to help you figure out which seats have the most legroom, which don’t recline, and which ones are too near the bathroom. You may assume that you can only get seats with good legroom in the more expensive economy plus type regions, but that’s not always true. Just as an example, seats 23A and 23F on a US Air Airbus 321 are amongst the cheapest seats on the plane, but there’s a missing seat in front of them to accommodate an exit row. So if you’re 6’3”,you need to reserve one of these.
New App: Seat Alert
Your best bet for getting a good seat is to take the time to select it when you reserve and pay for the ticket. You’d be amazed how many people don’t do this. If for some reason you are unable to get a good seat at booking, your next bet is to use the Seat Alert app available for IOS devices or Android. You put in what type of seat you want: aisle,window, or even seats together, and it alerts you if anything that meets your criteria opens up.
Strike Just As Good Seats Open Up
If even that doesn’t work to get you a seat in advance, set a reminder on your calendar to pop up exactly 24 hours before your flight takes off. At this exact time, the airlines often start moving members of their elite flying program up into first class – and that opens up some of the primo seats on the plane. If you can jump on the website 24 hours prior to take off, you’ll have a good shot at sneaking into a bulkhead, aisle, or extended legroom seat.
Noise-Cancelling Headphones for $31
Once you’re sitting in a first class seat, they serve you champagne and then often hand you a pair of noise-cancelling headphones. As a million miler myself, I can’t tell you what a difference these make. The reduced white noise makes for a much less fatiguing flight. If you’re riding in coach, you have to bring your own. And while high-end Bose models start at$300, they aren’t the only game in town. I tried two pairs in the $30 range:one from Panasonic and one from Sony. The Panasonic model ($31) really surprised me. The cups over my ears were soft and comfortable, and the headband was comfy as well. Sure, the noise cancelling wasn’t as good as in the Bose model I own, but to my ears, it reduced about 80%of the white noise around me. On the other hand, the Sony pair ($32) I tried didn’t feel comfortable on my ears (the speakers lie flat and don’t cup your ears), and the headband over the crown of my head is made of hard plastic without cushioning. But the noise cancelling was as good as the Panasonic pair. Both models prove that much of the technology is replicable in less expensive headphones. So take the time to find a pair that’s comfortable for you; it’s way less expensive than a first class ticket.
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How to Sleep in Coach
The true beauty of flying First is the ability to sleep.While you can’t recline as far in coach, new neck and seat pillows offer some good solutions for long-haul flights. I’ve always seen the Skyrest pillow in Skymall ($29) and wondered how trying to sleep slumped over the tray table could possibly be comfortable. So I was excited to try it out. First observation: blowing it up is pretty involved. The thing is huge, and it took me about 3-4 minutes – which may not sound too long, but when you’re in the middle seat of a packed plane, it’s a little embarrassing. When I did lean over onto it, it was truly comfortable. I liked how it didn’t pitch you over onto your seatmates, and you could really relax all your muscles. While I probably wouldn’t use it on a regular basis, if I was on a long-haul to Beijing and had the center seat, I’d use it.
Next, I tried the Travel Rest Pillow ($29). It has a strap that slings across your back and then the inflatable horn-shaped pillow curves from over your shoulder down around your neck and across your chest. It’s much less invasive (only took 30 seconds to blow it up), and I found it much more comfortable than traditional crescent-shaped neck pillows. That said, my head still rolled when I hit deep sleep, and I wouldn’t call it a complete solution.
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Special thanks to thefolks at San Francisco International Airport and the HillerAviation Museum for location assistance.