As a seasoned traveller, flying economy class long haul is something I am quite accustomed to. Long time readers of this site may think that all I do is travel Business and First Class but that is far from the case. Sometimes my travel budget is tight or a fairly full flight no longer has reward or paid seats in the upper cabins. Then, like most travellers I sit out the journey towards the back of the plane.
If I’m honest, until now I rarely blog about economy class flights, well it’s not very exciting is it? Whilst not entirely the same with each airline, the overall flight experiences are similar.
There are lots of downsides to long haul economy class flights.
Here are a few:-
The downsides to flying economy class long haul
Yes, you know it, the seat in front is all your knees can feel as you are crammed into your seat. You can’t twist and turn or stretch your legs. Deep vein thrombosis alert so you better roll those ankles, lift your thighs and keep doing some exercises in the tightest of spaces.
Meal in your lap
Whether you are trying to work or just eat your meal the space is limited. The situation is made a whole lot worse when the person in the seat in front of you decides to recline their seat, right into the space in front of your mouth. Yes, that’s right, not only have you no room to move your legs, but now you can no longer move your arms in front of you either.
Whilst I’ve never suffered from air rage, I could see how this issue could cause a lot of tension. When you are flying long haul in economy class, (oops sorry that is flying coach for all the readers from the US) you often end up sat in a row of 3 to 4 seats. Space is tight, not only in the width of the seat but also the space between seats. A tiny arm rest acts as a dividing line and a point of silent contention between you and your neighbouring fellow traveller.
Be prepared to have your elbows knocked from the arm rest and accidental elbows in your side and ribs for several lovely hours. Whilst some of this is preventable, as I sit bolt upright with elbows by my side I still feel the prods as my neighbour wriggles about.
You also have my sympathy if your neighbouring passenger suffers from bad BO or excessive flatulence.
Sleep, what sleep?
Have you ever tried a 14 hour long haul economy class flight followed directly by another 8 hour flight? I’ve done it numerous times and trying to sleep is a whole new challenge. Sat almost bolt upright with virtually nowhere to turn, remember these are narrow seats so you are hardly in a position conducive to sleeping. Then there is a risk of neck ache if you do nod off. Thankfully, a while ago I discovered an amazing neck pillow which is far superior to all those nonsense donut shape ones. This pillow has ALWAYS prevented neck pains for me. Read more about it here.
Throw in a bit of turbulence and you are all set for a bumpy ride. Be prepared to arrive at your destination totally shattered and willing to write off the next 2 days to sleep and jet lag.
Getting to the bathroom
Let’s face it, at some point on a long haul flight nature is going to call for you and your fellow passengers. If you are sat on the aisle seat then you can go to the bathroom as often as you please. However you’ll be like a yo-yo as you get up and down to let out the people sharing your row of seats.
If you are sat at the window or middle of the row seat then you need patience and opportune timing as well as a strong bladder! If the person beside you is sleeping what do you do? Hold it in or wake them up because you really need to pee?
There is also the whole situation of getting out of the seat. It is really tight and you can’t really climb over people, although some try. Then if you grab the seat in front of you for balance as you get out you are going to upset some more people.
This may surprise you but it is something I often suffer from when travelling economy on long haul flights. The whole posture of my body is far from ideal because of the shape of the seat. This often results in my suffering from stomach cramps, whether I’ve eaten or not! So some good tummy soothing tablets go a long way.
Yes, this is a very real problem if you suffer from this. If you end up sat in a window or middle of the row seat and you are not on an exit room you could well feel trapped. Whilst I never thought I suffered from claustrophobia I do sometimes break out into hot sweats and have some internal turmoil as I feel stuck in a very tight space. I can’t twist, turn, lie back or sleep. Help I want to get out!
A real pain in the butt
Then there is this one, the pain in the butt and I mean it literally. Flying economy class long haul forces you to sit in some really uncomfortable seats for a very long time. Within an hour or two I can start feeling a pain in my butt cheeks and the small of my back. You may hear people refer to it as the tail of their back or in medical terms it is the coccyx or tailbone (http://www.spineuniverse.com/anatomy/lumbar-spine-sacrum-coccyx).
Since I have a fantastic neck pillow for travel I don’t tend to use the airline provided pillow to support my head. Until recently I used the airline provided pillow to sit on. The idea is to provide a more soft seat and hopefully alleviate the pain around my coccyx. Sadly, in almost every instance this pillow is too flat and flimsy. My tailbone aches like there is no tomorrow.
How to make long haul economy class flights more comfortable
So to solve this problem I’ve begun trying to bring my own travel cushion. Again this is far from ideal. As someone who continues to fail in the mantra of travelling light I don’t want to be carrying more things with me. However if it is that or sitting in pain I’ll opt for the former.
I’ve already tried a bean bag style travel cushion which, whilst providing some comfort had mixed results.
Then I found an inflatable travel cushion available on Amazon. It had a lot of good reviews so I was willing to give it a try. It is also sometimes labelled as both a pillow and a cushion which I think reflect its versatility. It is also dirt cheap to buy too.
So there I was, about to embark on a 14 hour economy class flight with an inflatable cushion!
I must admit that my first mistake was not actually trying out the travel cushion before flying. The reason I say this is because with the inflatable I received, the air valve was very effective!
There I was, sat getting comfy in my seat whilst puffing away trying to inflate this thing. I’m not great at blowing up balloons as it is and this valve was a lot more restrictive. I felt like a real numpty struggling for more than 10 minutes to get air into this inflatable cushion whilst an air stewardess was stood directly in front of me greeting boarding passengers.
I did get there in the end though and I had it inflated. (On my second flight using the pillow I did find it easier to inflate and managed it in half the time.)
Then when I first sat on it I must admit it was like manna from heaven. Pure luxury for my butt!
With it being an inflatable cushion you could also adjust the firmness of the cushion by how much you blew it up.
Would this initial comfort last though? 14 hours was a big test.
I will be honest though on this first flight the comfort didn’t last, not entirely. Over the course of the flight I did start to get pains in my tailbone. I had to lean forward for a while or reshuffle myself on the cushion to alleviate the discomfort.
Having said all that it still beats having nothing at all or using the airline provided pillows which are close to useless.
14 hours is a very long time to be sat in one position and I guess pains in my coccyx are inevitable. I do think the cushion helped a fair bit though and it also acts as a good substitute to a pillow if needed.
I tried the cushion again on the return leg of this long haul trip and had a little more success second time around. Again not perfect, but I found a way to position the cushion which provided more comfort and much less pain.
The wonderful valve mechanism did add more woe as the flight ended. The valve is so effective at keeping air in that it took me a very long time trying to deflate the cushion. Just as well the queue at passport control was quite long!
So on reflection I haven’t found a complete cure to suffering a pain in my back or should that be butt on long haul travel in economy. However I do think this helps a lot. The seat is certainly more comfortable. My second flight with the cushion was more comfortable than the first. I guess like many things you have to find a way to use it to your advantage.