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Cheats to turn your economy fare into a first-class experience

Envious of the passengers sitting beyond the curtain? Here’s how you can recreate the First-class vibe in your Economy-class seat.

6 tips for turning your economy fare into a first-class experience

Skip the queue

Queue at the airport check-in counter

Have you ever looked on in envy at the Business and First-class passengers using the Fast Track lane at security as you languished in long, snaking queues? Newsflash: at many airports, it’s available for everyone, and access isn’t as pricey as you might think. It can save a good bit of time, too, if the airport is particularly busy.

At Dublin Airport, for example, Fast Track costs between €5.95 – €7.99, depending on when you’re flying. It comes with a complimentary hot beverage, too!

General boarding queue at the airport - Cheats to turn your economy fare into a first-class experience

Check your airport’s website before departure to find out if they offer it. But be aware that it’s sometimes not advertised, in which case, it never hurts to walk to the Fast-Track queue and ask if you can buy it. Sometimes, if they’re feeling generous and they don’t sell Fast-Track access, they might even let you swan through for free.

Unwind in the lounge

Woman reading at an airport lounge

If you want to kick off your journey in style, beeline to the airport lounge. And don’t feel cowed by the fact you don’t have a Business Class ticket. Most lounges are available to Economy passengers – albeit at a cost, but it’s much less than the price of plumping for a full Business-class fare. And as you can often eat and drink as much as you like from the lounge buffet, you’ll also save on the cost of an airport meal.

Check in advance to see what’s included before paying up, though. Some international lounges don’t offer alcohol, or hot food, for example. Use Lounge Buddy to suss things out before you pay.

Pau Casals VIP lounge at Barcelona Airport - turn your economy fare into a first-class experience

It’s almost always cheaper to book lounge access online ahead of departure. If you’re flying stateside from Dublin, the swish 51st & Green is located beyond pre-clearance and has a proper bar, generous menu and comfy seating. Entrance is €35 if you book online, €39 if you just rock up. In Shannon Airport, access to the Ború and Burren Lounges costs €25 if you book online (€27.50 on the day).

Pimp up your seat

Business class seat

There’s no skirting around it. Flat-bed seats are the best part of long-haul Business Class. And, try as we might, we can’t help squeeze a carry-on flat-bed into Economy. But what you can do is bring the other luxe elements of the seat to the back of the plane. With these tips, you can cocoon yourself in your own little world, so that it almost feels like you’ve been bumped up to First.

Thin polyester fibres might be durable, but they’re also static magnets, and do little to keep you warm on chilly flights (which seems to be all of them!). Use the plastic-wrapped blanket the airline provided as a lumbar support, and wrap yourself up in a super soft shawl or poncho instead. Or bring a large pashmina that can double up as a blanket, scarf, evening wrap and beach cover-up.

Shawl, travel pillow, eye mask - turn your economy fare into a first-class experience

A decent neck pillow will help you catch a few winks. But make sure it has 360-degree support since most people find their chin dropping to their chest when they try to snooze upright. This one from Slumber Suite fits the bill.

The flimsy eye masks they give Economy passengers on long-haul flights do little to block out light and press uncomfortably on your eyes. Pack your own moulded eye mask, the kind they hand out to Business Class customers on Qantas, for example. This type blocks out all the light without touching your eyes, which allows for a better, more natural sleep.

Read more: Pillow talk: 11 best travel pillows reviewed

Don’t skimp on headphones

Man in the airplane cabin reading with headphones on

The basic ones they dole out to Economy passengers make it hard to hear the dialogue of in-flight movies, so plump for a quality noise-cancelling pair. These have special electrics that counteract the noise of aircraft engines. And while it won’t completely tune out that screaming baby, it will make it sound far, far away.

If you’re a frequent traveller, you won’t regret splurging on the noise-cancelling models from the Bose QuietComfort range. The 25 Acoustic model costs €199 and is similar to those provided by Etihad to their Business Class passengers. And if you’ve cash to splash, go all out for the ones they give to their First Class customers. You can pick them up for €399 from Bowers & Wilkins. While both pairs are pricey, they’re still cheaper than the difference between an Economy and First Class seat on the airline. And you’ll only have to buy them once.

Headphones

But if you just want a good night’s sleep, you can get one for much less outlay. Good-quality soft-foam earplugs will cost you mere pennies per pair, and are so much comfier and more durable than the plasticky ones they dole out to Economy passengers. Pop in a pair of these Moldex Spark earplugs, and your flight will be whisper quiet.

Stretch out

Man sleeping in three seats - turn your economy fare into a first-class experience

These days, it seems like most flights near are at full capacity. But if you’re flying at a quieter time, it’s still possible to score an empty seat next to you, which is your best chance at stretching out in Economy. Keep an eye on the airline website seat selection page to see where the seats are filling up. And book a seat towards the back of the plane to boost your chances as the front rows tend to fill up first. It never hurts to keep sweet with the cabin crew, either. Ask them if the flight is full, and if you can switch seats after take-off.

But be careful not to book the non-reclining seats in the last row or the ones with airplane storage items that eat into your leg room. To make sure you’re booking the best seat in Economy, look up your plane layout on Seat Guru, which shows which seats on your specific flight are likely to be troublesome, and which will allow you to stretch out more without additional outlay.

Pair of feet with flip flops on a plane seat

Some airlines even let you pre-book an empty seat. It might sound an indulgence, but two Economy seats are often much cheaper than a single Business Class flat-bed.

Etihad Airways allows you to bid for up to three empty seats next to you, as part of its ‘Neighbour-Free Seat’ policy. Other airlines, including Air New Zealand, allow you to buy an empty seat, but you have to do that at the airport check-in counter.

Flat bed

Pro tip: get the real Business Class flat-bed experience for a fraction of the price on some Aer Lingus flights. You can book a flat-bed seat on certain flights to Malaga and Faro from just €74.99.

Read more: 15 ways to get a free upgrade on your next flight

Upgrade your meal

Plane meal

Some Economy Class meals have improved over the years, while others are at the decidedly soggy-sandwich end of the spectrum. But no matter how edible, they’re never a patch on the multi-course affairs they get in Business Class.

However, some airlines let you pre-book a meal that is far fancier. On Aer Lingus transatlantic flights you can order a three course meal from €24.99. Dishes include a succulent fillet of beef served with gratin dauphinoise, smoked salmon and a glass of wine. And you can expect china with proper cutlery, too.

Fancy plane food

But the other option is to pack a posh picnic. You can bring your own decadent creation from home, as long as you aren’t carrying liquids through security. Or pick up a delicious takeaway dinner at the airport, such as a sushi platter from Wrights Food Fayre at Dublin Airport. Once you’re through security, pop into Java Republic for a much-better coffee than the scorched beans or instant coffee you typically get served in Economy. Bring a flask with you to pour your latte into, and it should still be warm when you need it to help you wake up after a long flight.

Read more: 9 expert tips for booking cheap flights in 2019

How to turn your economy fare into a first-class experience

1. Skip the queue
2. Unwind in the lounge
3. Pimp up your seat
4. Don’t skimp on headphones
5. Stretch out
6. Upgrade your meal

*Updated August 2019. Prices correct at the time of publication but may be subject to change and/or availability.

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