By Sharyn Alden
Comfort on a plane? It’s kind of an oxymoron, when you think about it.
You’re in seat 32B. It’s a middle seat – naturally – and you’re squeezed between someone obviously fighting a cold and a white-knuckle type wringing his hands with anxiety.
What to do? You can pretend to be out cold, listen to music with your trusty headphones or pull a blanket over your head. Or you could also prepare—imagine that—to be more comfortable in an uncomfortable situation.
If you choose that route, a few simple tricks can make a huge difference.
Let’s start with the biggest and most obvious source of airline discomfort: Where you sit. Discomfort is the tradeoff for a cheap economy/coach seat. Even though coach is the largest section on most airplanes, it’s also the most popular, and everyone is scrambling for the same thing – a window or aisle seat. So it’s easy to get stuck in a middle seat when you shop for flights on a busy route.
If you’re on an hour-and-a-half flight, economy/coach is bearable. But on a long-haul, it’s the worst torture imaginable.
At that point, the $26 or so airlines like United charge to sit in “Economy Plus” starts looking pretty good. These seats offer more legroom, seat selection in many cases, and often the best perk of all: an empty seat right next to you.
Besides seat selection, what can you do to make your next ride in the sky more comfortable?
Coach comfort starts with bringing less. You’ll have less to carry and store, and if the plane’s overhead bins are full, you won’t have to wedge your gear in that tiny spot on the floor in front of you.
Next, dress for comfort. When you fly, consider wearing these:
- Loose-fitting clothing. Leave tight-fitting clothes and new shoes at home or stow them in your luggage. Advice about shoes: slip-ons are best.
- Clothes with great pockets. I have a lightweight jacket that has really deep pockets for carrying just about anything. The gray/black color goes with everything; it’s comfy, stashable in overhead bins, and doesn’t wrinkle. It’s been around the world with me, it’s almost worn out, and I rue the day it totally goes and I have to replace it.
- Layers. Planes can have erratic temps, from meat-locker lows to sauna highs. Layers let you adjust to that day’s in-plane weather.
- Compression legwear. Savvy frequent flyers know it’s wise to wear compression stockings or socks. They promote better blood circulation and help prevent swollen legs (not uncommon when you fly). Most importantly, they help prevent the blood-clotting of deep-vein thrombosis (DVT) – more common on flights of four-plus hours. So get up as often as possible, stretch, flex, walk up and down the aisle, and wear those not-so-fashion-forward looking stockings.
- All-season coats. Unless it’s bitterly cold where you were or where you’re going, ask yourself: Do you really need that heavy coat? If overhead-bin space is at a premium you may have to wear the coat, put it on your lap or leave it by your feet. Not fun. Instead, invest in a mid-weight all-season coat, good for all temps above zero. The coat I bought for my winter trip to northern China is similar to a raincoat, but made for more than rain; it’s warm even when temperatures are in the 20s, folds up tight, and never wrinkles. In a pinch, I’ve worn it onboard for the full duration of flights.
For extra comfort, consider spending some of your precious carryon space on these:
- A rolled-up pashmina blanket. If you get cold, you’ll be far more comfortable with this lighter, softer covering compared to heavy, scratchy airline blankets.
- Foldable slippers or an extra pair of socks.
- Easy-to-pack collars for neck comfort. If you don’t already have a favorite, try the Komfort Kollar.
- Snacks, in case you get stuck en route and you can’t bear one more ham sandwich.
- Electronic devices, plus chargers, cords and extra batteries.
- Hairbrush, comb, eye drops, travel toothbrush, toothpaste, mouthwash, hand sanitizer, mints, antacids, and other travel-sized toiletries. Obvious stuff like this often gets packed in checked luggage.
Here are some last-minute recommendations for before you leave, to enhance your comfort and reduce the possibility of you overlooking anything.
- Decrease the chances of having your luggage lost or stolen by using Bluetooth and GPS-powered bag-tracking technology. Tile has a wireless signal that can be detected up to 100 feet away and a battery life of about a year. Other Tile users in the network help find the bag. A similar device, KiiTAG, has a range of 200 feet and a shorter battery life.
- Also consider Trakdot, a small computer device that uses celluar technology to send your smartphone notifications when your luggage is at an airport.
- One last thing that seasoned travelers recognize as a wise investment: travel insurance. I don’t fly anywhere without it.
In the end, a good airline can make a world of difference in your travel comfort. In that regard, a shout-out to Singapore Airlines, because they know how to prioritize comfort. The moment you enter the plane a Singapore flight attendant greets you by name and offer a “goodie bag” with practical items like slippers, toothbrush and toothpaste, eyeshades and more.
Talk about comfort. It’s definitely something to think about on your next trip to the middle seat.
Sharyn Alden is a long-time travel writer with a media-relations business, Sharyn Alden Communications, Inc., based in Madison, Wis.
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