Flight tips: How to feel like you're in first class (when you’re actually in economy)

1. Bag a lounge pass – for less

Limitless snacks, an open bar, fast Wi-Fi, super-comfy sofas…airport lounges will give you that 'first class feeling' – and they're not as expensive as you might think. If you're not a business or first class passenger, you can still buy an airport lounge pass for as little as $30 a pop, giving you all the perks of a pricey ticket. Try Priority Pass, Lounge Pass or DragonPass.

Qantas Club members and Gold, Platinum and Platinum One Frequent Flyer members will get access to Qantas lounges – even if you're flying economy. The same goes for Virgin Australia lounge or Velocity Platinum or Gold members for that carrier's lounges. Some banks also offer cut-price or complimentary lounge passes with particular credit cards or premium accounts.

See: Six of the best airport lounges

2. Indirect flights aren't all bad

If your flight stops for a while to reload or refuel, take the opportunity to chat to the flight crew while you wait on board. If the onward leg of the journey isn't too busy (a connecting flight within the Caribbean, for example), they might bump you up to business or first class for a brief taste of the good life. Airline staff are usually outgoing and friendly, and most will try their best to make your journey as comfortable and happy as possible – especially if you make the effort to be friendly.

3. Avoid the 'best' seats

The exit row isn't quite as heavenly as you might imagine. Sure, there's plenty of legroom and you'll be the first out of the door should anything go awry, but there are a few downsides too. You'll have to store your hand luggage out of reach (to keep the exit route clear), and your entertainment system will either be smaller than usual (tucked away in the arm rest of your seat) or further away (that's the price for extra legroom). The same goes for seats at the front of the cabin.

Also, steer clear of the seats in front of the exit row – they often don't recline.

See: The best and and worst plane seats

4. Stick to the centre

If you're a nervous flier or suffer from travel sickness, select a seat that's over the wing section. This is the most stable area of the plane in turbulence – smoother than first class, in fact. Be warned, though: you'll be sitting right over the landing gear, which contains the wheels of the aircraft. When you're taking off and landing, the gear retracts or lowers – a rather noisy (and potentially alarming) experience if you're directly above it.

5. Travel solo

Ditch your friends and family for an improved flying experience – because if you're travelling solo, you'll be more likely to get an upgrade. If check-in staff have an overbooked flight with a tricky seating arrangement, they may well upgrade your ticket so that groups in economy can sit together more easily.

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"Board strategically," advises travel writer Nick Boulos. "I always get on last allowing me to do a quick circuit of the cabin so I can bag (if there is one) a highly-coveted empty row before the inevitable post take-off scramble. Who's to know that's not your allocated seat?"

See: The pros and cons of solo travel

6. Befriend an air traffic controller

As the saying goes, it's not what you know – it's who. If you have any contacts in the airline industry or at your departure airport, use them. You never know what influence they might have. Air traffic controllers are particularly handy: if they're working when you depart they could move your flight to the front of the take-off queue, sweet talk your flight captain into sending you a bottle of Champagne, or even wangle an upgrade on your behalf.

7. Bring your own entertainment

Qantas and Virgin Australia might offer a great range of in-flight entertainment options on long-haul flights – but not every airline offers such a stellar service. Travel with your own personal array of podcasts, films, TV programmes and music in case the entertainment service isn't up to scratch – or the whole system breaks down (it happens). 

See: In-flight entertainment options explode

8. Bring your own pillow – and blanket

Invest in a soft breathable blanket and pillow for long-haul flights. The ones supplied by airlines are often scratchy and cheap, so it's worth spending some cash if you want to relax in comfort.

Or, throw caution to the wind and opt for a novelty gadget, like the WOOLIP, an inflatable armrest/head pillow that lets you get a good night's sleep on your fold-down table – and amuse your neighbouring passengers in the process. 

See: How to sleep better on a long-haul flight

9. Make your own foot rest

Elevating your feet during flights can help with blood flow and comfort – and get you marginally closer to that 'lie-flat' first class experience. In-built foot rests aren't often found in economy sections, so you might want to bring your own inflatable cushion to bolster your feet – or perhaps try the Fly Legs Up hammock, a sling to support your feet and legs.

10. Give your eyes space

Don't rely on the free eye shades that you find in in-flight vanity kits – purchase your own pair instead, curved to suit the contours of your face. Cheap eye masks can put pressure on your eyeballs, making them painful, your sight fuzzy, and inhibiting eye movement if you're lucky enough to reach the REM stage of sleep.

11. Bring your own snacks

While the folks up front tuck into silver service fare, economy class food can leave a lot to be desired – so it's best to bring your own as a back-up. Fresh fruit, salad boxes and energy bars are all winners. Alcohol should be off-limits, say travel health experts, but if you really can't survive without a tipple, be warned that you can't drink your duty free alcohol. Only the folks in first class can sip Bollinger.

See: Inside the secret world of airline meals

12. Buy some noise-cancelling headphones

No screaming babies. No altitude updates from the captain. No dull conversations. What's not to love?

13. Choose your outfit wisely

This is not the place for linen or lycra: keep your outfit crease-free and loose-fitting, all the better for hiding your deep vein thrombosis (DVT)-preventing compression stockings, in-flight bloat, and bobbly slipper socks (so much more comfortable than shoes). Finish with a blanket-sized pashmina – a handy extra pillow, and for covering your nose in the loos.

See: How to dress for a flight

14. Create your own personal vanity kit

Chances are, your hand luggage bag is a hefty beast, jam-packed with all sorts of things you won't need on a flight. So leave it up in the overhead locker and keep a small bag stuffed with the bare essentials with you instead. Think of it as your own personal vanity kit – with a mini moisturiser, hand cleanser, wet wipes, mints, and other in-flight essentials.

15. Be loyal to one airline

Choose the right airline, and you'll be much more likely to have a superior experience in economy class. And all kinds of perks are available to loyal customers – first dibs on discounts, free lounge access and priority check-in to name but a few. You're also much more likely to get an upgrade if you have a loyalty account.

16. Stay local the night before

Got a morning flight? If you can spare the time – and a bit of cash – an airport hotel will improve your flight experience no end. Armed with a good night's sleep, decent breakfast and no last-minute traffic stress, you can saunter to the departure gate without a care in the world, and board your plane feeling rested and ready.

The Telegraph, London

See also: Why the best seat on the plane is an aisle seat
See also: Is 7F the perfect plane seat?

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