Anyone who is a long time frequent flier will remember the good flights and the bad.  The good ones were those business or first class international tickets and the bad ones were the four seater commuter planes.  Everyone has their own story to tell, but mine is about how the every day traveler can replicate the posh aura of First Class (or Upper Class as Virgin so lavishly calls it).  Many of these tips and tricks are unnecessary for those short one hour flights from SFO to LAX, but when you are on the long haul from SFO to LHR (London Heathrow) then you will certainly want to pack some supplies and get ready to be seated for the next 8+ hours.

A recent trip of mine went from SFO to LHR to JNB (Johannesburg, South Africa).  Yes, that’s a 10.5 hour flight, then a 7 hour layover, then an 11 hour flight.  For long hauls like this you want to make your Economy (or ‘cattle class’ as some call it) be as nice a flight as you can.  We cannot guarantee you can replicate every amenity of First Class, but we certainly push the envelope of trying.

(Add comments and I’ll be sure to update this post with your suggestions.)

Items to replicate:

Space/Room

The first thing you will notice about First Class is the vast amounts of not only leg room but also fully reclining seats.  I can’t promise sleeper beds, but you can check out SeatGuru.com to find the best seats on a plane with the most leg room.  Simply look up the airline and plane you are flying.  For example, if you are flying United Airlines and know your plan is a Boeing 777 (because it says so in the itinerary) you can check out the best configuration for you.  This website will remind you that seats with the most room are usually in the bulkhead of the plane or emergency exit rows.  Also remember that the seats directly in front of the exit row do not recline.

Power

No matter how we tried, and without running a power cord from the lavatory to your seat, there is no real way to get power to your sear.  On the plus side, most international flights have in flight entertainment systems.  If you want to watch your own movie then be sure to bring a portable DVD player or rent one.  New lines of netbook style laptops have given rise to longer batter life.  Combine that with a spare battery and you’re golden.

Food and Beverage

Most airlines provide free alcohol to the entire plane on international flights, and rightly so.  But what about all those other delicacies the passengers in First Class always get?  The dinners, cheeses, wine, desert!  I don’t guarantee sizzling salmon or a fine fillet, but let’s see what we can get.

  • Apple Stritzer: You want to start out with an “apple spritzer“, which is standard along with juices offered in the pre-flight resting period.  You can easily make this by adding 7-up to apple juice.  Both of these are available to economy passengers, but difficult to come by in the pre-flight procedures.  I recommend you buy your juice in the airport and mix it the moment you take your seat.
  • Fruit & Cheese Plate: You want to bring various cheeses and fruit for later in the flight.  Nothing like a “fruit & cheese plate” made with fancy cheeses you picked up at your local grocery/cheese store and sliced fruit from the same.
  • Snacks: I’m sure you’ll want to snack at times other than the prescriptive mealzeit.  I recommend dried fruit (peaches, raisins, apples, pears) along with some sweets (chocolate, gummy bears).  The smaller more bite sized the better.  Feel free to stock up at Halloween for trips like this.

Amenities

One of the hardest things to come by while hurling through the air in a big metal cylinder are the most elegant of amenities.  Let’s see how many we can recreate.

  • Warm face towel: Now anyone can bring a face towel onto the plane but few can get it piping hot steamy the way it feels best.  The flight crew probably won’t give you access to the microwave, so how do you heat up your spa mask?  Take the towel into the bathroom and run the hot water until it steams.  Run your towel under the steamy water and remove excess water.  Close your eyes and enjoy!
  • Vanity Kit:  Nothing is more luxurious above 40,000 ft (12,000 m) than a change of clothes.  The standard vanity kit should include the following: spare socks, sleeping eye mask, tooth brush/paste, moisturizer, and lip balm.  International flights typically provide the standard toothbrush/paste and eye mask, but imagine having a comfortable change of clothes for sleeping or just a different set of socks to snuggle around in.  You can pack these yourself or buy high priced replicas at the Flight 001 store or online.  I personally recommend bringing your own because they will be more comfortable and personalized than anything you can buy or be gifted.
  • Packaged wet towel: Sure you may be able to request one of these in-flight and the crew may give one to you but one never wants to leave sticky fingers to chance.  It is essential that you bring a few of these with you for cleaning your fingers after a nice cheese and fruit snack that you created yourself.
  • Neck pillow: Ones ability to sleep on the long-haul flights is paramount to you enjoying the time you get on the ground.  One of my most valued in-flight possession that I bring with me even for short trips is the neck rest air pillow.  Many airports and travel stores will sell you the beaded ones but these take up space and do not collapse into your luggage well making them ostensibly useless for the compact traveler.  I recommend finding the air inflatable kind that you can adjust to the level of firmness you desire and still fold up as a slim carry-on.  If you know you will not sleep, check with your doctor if they recommend Ambien (zolpidem).  Beware because this will typically knock you out for a solid 7+ hours.

Added Bonus

Sure we want it all and want it now, but let’s get a little realistic about travel items.  Perhaps even the laptop-as-DVD-player mentioned above may fall into this “bonus” category were it not for the fact that for many of us techies it’s an extension of our body.  Let’s take a look at some first class bonus items.

  • Noise canceling headphones: Anyone who has traveled first class will recognize the noise canceling headphone specially made for making you feel like an individual, alone in flight.  So why not pack your own and rid yourself of that crying baby, snoring neighbor, or simply the chatty person to your left.  There are many styles but I always check out the C-NET reviews (July 2009) prior to making a purchase.  Smaller ones are easier to travel with but also more costly.  This is a decision about how much a bonus you want to make of this item.

(Add comments and I’ll be sure to update this post with your suggestions.)