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Carry on Cocktail Kit Margarita photo credit Justin Fuller 2.jpg
Carry on Cocktail Kit Margarita (Justin Fuller)

How to make your long haul coach flight feel a little more like first class

Remember that episode of Seinfeld where Jerry takes the only first class seat remaining on a rebooked flight, leaving Elaine to fend for herself in steerage? His rationale is that since he’s flown first class before he can’t possibly go back to coach--while Elaine won’t know what she’s missing. Elaine tries to sneak up to first class after dealing with cramped conditions, a missed meal and rude passengers. She ends up getting busted by the flight attendant and shrinking back to her seat--but not before begging to stay and offering up a diatribe about how we should be living in a society without classes.

“Oh, no, please, don't send me back there. Please, I'll do anything. It's so nice up here. It's so comfortable up here. I don't want to go back there. Please don't send me back there!”

Isn’t it crazy how different things are up front?

Like many of you, I’m staring down a few long haul coach flights this summer. I have been lucky to experience a handful of business class flights to Europe, which makes it all the more painful. Yeah, first world problems, I know, but still. Over the years, I’ve picked up a few tips to make the experience at 35,000 feet a little less dreadful, and make me a little less jealous of those coveted seats.

Win at the seating game

Obviously, it’s smart to try to snag your seating assignment as soon as you book your flight. Check what type of aircraft you’ll be flying, and use to discover the best and worst rows and seats (the site reviews seats bases based on proximity to the galley and bathrooms, ability to recline, etc.) Sometimes though, because of flight class or airline restrictions, you won’t be able to get a seat until exactly a day (or even 23 hours) before your trip. Set a reminder to the minute so you can log on and see what’s available. If you get that dreaded middle seat, keep checking, as things continually change as passengers get upgraded or change flights.

My restless legs and claustrophobia always make the aisle an absolute necessity, but I know some flyers prefer the window. The best row is often the bulkhead--the row with a wall in front of it separating it from the galley or bathrooms--as it can have more legroom. Ditto for the emergency exit row, though this is often priced as Economy Plus rather than regular coach. I recently sat in the middle seat in the bulkhead row on a 747 Lufthansa from Frankfurt, and the legroom was great--I didn’t even have to disturb the passenger on the aisle to use the restroom or stretch my legs.

Put together a fancy DIY toiletries kit like you’d get up in business or first class

I always save the zippered fabric or nylon pouches that hold all the goodies I get in business class and repack them with my favorite products, as a little bit of pampering when flying can go a long way. (I have a really roomy canvas Samsonite bag from Lufthansa’s Business Class that’s especially nice.) If you don’t have one from a previous flight, buy a small toiletries kit, and stock it with the following. Remember carry-on restrictions for liquids, though:

Make it easier to get some zzzz’s

Nothing can beat fully reclinable beds and full-size comforters and pillows, but just because you are stuck in a regular seat doesn’t mean you can’t get some rest. Pack fuzzy socks and slippers to keep your feet comfy. (But for goodness sake, don’t just sit there without shoes, or go to the bathroom just wearing socks. Gross.) Tote a neck pillow, and if space allows, a lightweight blanket. This would also be a good time to break out that Snuggie you received at that holiday white elephant party a few years ago--it’s lightweight, warm and travels well.

Be super nice to the flight attendants

It’s amazing to me how dismissive and downright rude some guests can be. Remember, people, besides the pilot, the flight attendants are the only ones who can make your flight enjoyable. Greet them on the way in, learn their names and remember your manners when they are serving you or helping you. If you want to try to switch seats, board as soon as possible and politely and calmly tell them your request.

Make your onboard dining experience a little more gourmet

If you get a meal in coach, it’s definitely not going to be the multi-course experience they are getting up front. Pack a bento box or segmented container with olives, cheeses, charcuterie or jerky, nuts and a gourmet chocolate bar as a little precaution from rubbery chicken or overcooked pasta.

Up your cocktail game

Okay, lots of people recommend not imbibing at all when flying. But let’s face it: you might need a drink or two if you find yourself in coach class--either to forget where you are, or to fall asleep without the benefit of that comfy seat-turns-bed.

Depending on the length of the flight and the airline, you may be lucky enough to get free drinks (hint: international airlines are way better at generously doling out the booze than domestic ones.) Some passengers carry on mini bottles of liquor, but this is technically not permitted, so I don’t suggest it. What is allowed, though, are Carry On Cocktail Kits. These handy tins available online, have the fixings for two libations--minus the booze--from an Old Fashioned to a Margarita. They aren’t cheap, but they definitely elevate the coach cocktailing experience. A sample-sized bottle of regular or orange Angostura Bitters will also let you turn a two-ingredient drink like a Bourbon and seltzer into something you might get at a cocktail bar. At least you can pretend.