a seat in an airplane

Let’s be realistic – if wearing a suit was all it took to get upgraded to business class, the airport  fashion scene would look vastly different. Since upgrades are out of sight for 99% of passengers, happy travel is about turning your attention to opportunities which make air travel feel like you’ve been upgraded – even if you haven’t. Here are six affordable ways to enhance your travel experience.

a row of beer taps on a plane


You aren’t dreaming. It’s entirely possible to bring your own alcohol on planes and consume it too. There are just a few rules to observe. First – if it’s coming from home – quantities must remain within the 100ml liquid rules – but you can bring many 100ml bottles through security; and there are even travel cocktail kits to jazz it up. If you’re purchasing at duty free, you can go even bigger. Second, you CANNOT serve yourself on board. You must politely ask a member of the flight crew if they would be obliged to serve you your goods. You’d be surprised, if you ask nicely. Here’s everything you need to know.

a seat in an airplane
Air New Zealand Economy Sky Couch

Unlimited Legroom

Especially for long flights, the key to pretending you’re not in economy and are instead living life like a 90’s rap music video, is unlimited legroom. Bulkheads are the first row of any part of the economy cabin and generally have so much legroom – you can’t touch the wall in front of you. You won’t be fully flat, but you’ll be able to stretch out to the max. Second bet – go for the exit row Bring your own pillows and blankets to make it magic. There’s even a trick to score an entire row. You may pay $25 or so to book the seat, but it’s a lot cheaper than business!

a crowd of people in a terminal
No caption needed.

Zip Through

Misery starts early for most travelers, and there are few things more miserable than an economy security lane. Waiting really is the hardest part, especially when 1,000 consecutive people forget to take their belt off. Almost anywhere in the world – you can sign up for trusted traveler or airport fast track programs. Yes! You – you fool! For about $16 per year, joining one of these programs will zip you past most other travelers and get you to the more relaxing side of the airport sooner. That’s less than two months of Netflix.

a group of plates of foodBYOF

Food is yet another misunderstood airport conundrum. You CAN bring food through security! Even a nice steak which will be better than what’ served up front. Just don’t bring it into another country, that’s a no no. Normally you wouldn’t care what I hate for dinner – but last night I had an incredible biryani from a hotel in India, while sitting in between flights. Pack it well, double wrap it and put it on through the x-ray machine just like any other piece of luggage and eat it before you reach your next country. Just no liquids over 100ml. If you’re staying in the same country – eat it whenever!

a bar with a large ceiling and a large window
Etihad lounge JFK.

VIP Lounge

Lounge it, love it and relax. There’s just no excuse anymore. As little as $12 per visit can score you unlimited alcohol beverages (within reason), a shower, some food, wifi and a comfy place to hang before your flight. Feeling as if you’re no longer in the airport, while chilling at the airport is just about priceless. Thankfully, at more than 1,000 airports around the world this is 100% doable. They may be  free when you fly business class, but this is a great little tip and cost so much less!

a pair of headphones in a bagNoise Cancelling

Noise cancelling. Since you’ve carefully selected an exit row or bulkhead and luxuriated before your flight, it’s time to keep things rolling. One click and all the screaming babies, loud seat mates and every other frustration – gone. They get nice noise cancelling headphones up front, so why shouldn’t you? Pop on your Netflix offline and stretch out. Noise and light are two of the most uncontrollable and annoying parts of flying economy, so grab an eye mask while you’re at it. Noise cancelling headphones aren’t all expensive, so find something that works for you.

For less the price, it doesn’t get much better…

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. I can vouch for the food tip, on a budget trip to Orlando the food going out was so bad that my wife and I took an entire roast chicken through security and onto the return flight. The other passengers weren’t so impressed but we really enjoyed our meal!

    Another tip – if you do want to have an airline meal and are in economy – check to see if you can book a special meal option (e.g. Kosher, low salt etc.). I used to do this for long haul flights on BA when the company I worked for at the time insisted on economy travel. The advantage on BA was that you got your food ahead of the other passengers and also that it tended to be a bit nicer than the standard chicken or beef options.

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