Monday, October 18, 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

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