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How to Make Econ Travel a (Semi) First Class Experience

Whenever I’ve failed to play the points game correctly, and find myself miserably marching back to economy, I’m reminded of a Louis CK joke. “The best part about sitting in first class, is the fact you get to sit there, sipping champagne and watching all the sweaty, miserable people…”. My memory is probably butchering the quote but the fact remains that people sitting up front know they’re going to be having a better time than you. The seats are bigger, the drinks are better, the food is better, the list goes on. But I was wondering, how close could one get to a first class experience without actually coughing up the extra dollars(or miles)? Here are five ways I’ve come up with to make your econ trip feel like first class.
TSA Precheck

Start Your Trip by Fast Forwarding the Security Line

It’s widely accepted that everyone thinks everyone else is slowing down security. From the older gentleman whose forgotten to remove his money clip to the kids who haven’t learned the TSA doesn’t run playgrounds, security is a judgement-rich environment. Why not do yourself a favor and sign up for TSA Precheck or Global Entry(which comes with the former)? You will feel like a VIP as you gleefully gain access to the “special” line. Furthermore, you get to cast that indignant, smug smirk to those who’ve shown up less prepared.

Airport Lounge

Spend your Pre-Flight Time in a Lounge

What’s the difference between the lounge experienced by those who’ve entered via membership and those who’ve entered via a first class ticket? Answer, none(well, in most cases). By signing up for Priority Pass, available compliments of your Chase Sapphire Preferred, Amex Platinum or Citi Prestige card, you can avoid the terminal slums. I’ve got to admit, I have a special dislike for this area of the airport. From people anxious about flying, babies screaming, inconsiderate folks taking up multiple chairs and loud-talkers, I just can’t stand it. Fortunately, Priority Pass’ network includes a facility in almost every major US airport, and even better options abroad. You will typically find free WiFi, free booze and free food. However, to me, the single biggest reason to avoid the public areas of the terminal is the consideration shown among fellow lounge-attendees. Very rarely will you encounter the man who channels Samuel L Jackson during conversation(no inside voice), or the parents who believe the terminal is a playground. There’s a sense of understanding that this is a quiet oasis, and place to enjoy low-end liquor peacefully, before the upcoming flight.

Some econ meals, such as this one from Air France can be quite tasty. But this is the exception.

Pre-Purchase Gourmet Food for the Journey

There’s no getting around it, economy food is terrible, if you’re lucky enough to even be fed. The truth of the matter, is that no matter how much an airline tries, it’s just not realistic to expect bulk-TV dinners taste all that great. Some airlines, Cathay Pacific or Air France for example, do better than most. But even the best don’t hold a candle to even the lowest end fast food. So before you board, stop by the terminal restaurants and pick up some nice food to go. While there’s virtually no escaping your seating situation, and least you can avoid the gastrointestinal one.


Don’t be Stingy with in-Air liquor

Fact: booze makes flying better. Well, at least if you’re not the pilot. The screaming baby, the grumpy flight attendant, Mr. All-Knees behind you, all seem a little less annoying when you’ve got some extra liquid coursing your veins. When you think about it, you’re really not even being overcharged all that much. Sure, paying $5 for a Budweiser feels like robbery compared to the grocery store. But compared to a bar, downright reasonable. I distinctly remember a MSP-PHX SW flight I took a couple weeks ago that was actually very pleasant. It was an evening departure, and my window seat provided a great view of the sunset over the clouds. So, between my noise canceling headphones, double vodka-tonic, iPad and non-talkative neighbor, I was genuinely relaxed.


Arrange for Destination Car-Service

Almost more stressful that the flight itself, is trying to navigate to your hotel in a strange city. On a recent trip to Guangzhou, I failed to heed my own advice and ended up paying the price(literally). You see, my girlfriend and I failed to pre-arrange any airport transfer service, or really even research the issue before landing. I think a quick Google search told me Uber was available in the city so in the back of my mind I was set. Well, turns out, Uber didn’t work, and I couldn’t figure out the subway without a translator. Meanwhile, I happened to notice all these happy chauffeurs holding signs with their riders’s name on them. No mess, no fuss, just a waiting car and a pre-negotiated price. However in my case, after exploring other options, we ended up paying about $80 for the most terrifying taxi ride of our lives. To make matters worse, it turns out we over-paid by quite a bit. So my advice: hire a car before you take-off.

There you have it, 5 ways you can make your econ trip feel like you paid a lot more. If you play your cards right, the only thing separating you from the front might be the size of the seat. Well that, and the smug grins you’ll of course have to endure on your way in.


Bonus tip: Noise Cancelling Headphones

One cannot overstate the importance of good headphones on a long-haul. Sure, most airlines will give you free ones, but they’re generally terrible. Without a premium set, you will typically need to play your AVOD system at max volume to drown out the ambient noise. I personally fly with a pair of Sony MDRZX770BN’s(Amazon). I got them refurbished on Amazon for about $100.00. Less that half the price of Bose Quiet Comfort 35’s(Amazon), but better than half as good. Furthermore, I’d recommend you go for the over-ear style. Not only do they help block noise, but they’re much less fatiguing.