Survive Economy

How to Survive Economy on International Flights

International flights can be 8 hours long. With the longest routes pushing 16 hours. You can survive economy by preparing ahead of time, spending a little money, or picking the right plane. International journeys will be made easier, and all you have to do is a little preparing.

Survive Economy on a Boeing 787

If you have the option, fly on a 787. New technologies make surviving economy easier. The same technologies are coming to the new 777X, and Airbus is following suit with the composite A350. They all have higher cabin humidities, higher cabin pressure (lower pressurized altitude), and are noticeably quieter than previous generation planes.

Everyone knows the desert-like feeling of flying. The moisture being sucked from your skin, your nose and mouth get dry, lips get chapped, and dehydration kicks in. What you don’t realize is what it’s doing to your body. It leads to altitude sickness and jet lag. The first time you fly on a 787 – it’s an amazing feeling.

I didn’t realize how much better the cabin air was on the 787 until I flew on a 737 immediately after for a connecting flight.

You can use FlightAware to search routes, and filter by aircraft type.

Filter routes by aircraft type on FlightAware
Filter routes by aircraft type on FlightAware

You can then search for those specific routes on SkyScanner.

Upgrade to Economy Plus

Although it’s the main selling point, the secret to flying in upgraded premium economy isn’t the extra legroom. On international flights that aren’t overbooked and depart full, it may be worth the small upgrade to premium economy. You can get a whole row to yourself, lay down and sleep. However, don’t choose to upgrade at check-in. Talk to the gate agent, and ask if there are any empty rows in upgraded economy.

The worst case scenario is you’ll share a 3-seat row with one other person. If you have status, most airlines will upgrade you to premium economy for free. If you don’t, it’s available for a small charge – sometimes worth it.

Avoid Alcohol, Caffeine, and Bring a Water Bottle

Aside from disturbing your body’s internal clock, alcohol and caffeine dehydrate you. The effects of alcohol are also more intense at altitude. Avoid consuming tea, coffee, and alcohol on the day of your flight. You’ll arrive in better shape.

On most international flights, the cabin crew will hand out small bottles of water before they turn down the lights. It’s recommended to bring your own large bottle of water, and when you finish it – the cabin crew will refill it for you (don’t toss out that bottle!).

Alternatively I recommend the Vapur Element Bottles. They roll up to take less space, and you can fill them up before your flight, and during your flight. Not to mention, they’re quite TSA friendly.

The Vapur bottles roll up to take less space.
The Vapur bottles roll up to take less space.

Bring Your Own Headphones

Unless you’re flying in business or first, the headphones in economy class are utter garbage. If you don’t already have headphones you love, you have two types to choose from: Noise Isolating and Noise Cancelling.

The main considerations for choose one or the other is whether you can sleep in them. Noise Isolating Earphones are small earbuds that won’t get in the way.

Our recommendations for each:

Be Comfortable

It’s completely okay to wear your comfortable clothes. Sweatpants, yoga pants, whatever works. Wear breathable clothing that you can layer. This isn’t just a recommendation to survive economy, but the same applies if you’re flying business or first. Don’t wear jeans, don’t wear dress shirts. Stick with what’s comfortable and something you can sleep in.

Main photo by Martin Deutsch

Do you have any tips to survive economy? Share your stories in the comments below.


Published by

Kevin Chau

World Traveler, Photographer, Expat. Traveling at the Pointy End.