14 Ways to Survive 14 Hours Seated in the Economy Class Cabin?

I  have flown as a passenger seated in the economy class cabin on many transoceanic — and even transcontinental — flights, from which one might arrive at the conclusion that I might know a thing or two about this topic based on my experience…

14 Ways to Survive 14 Hours Seated in the Economy Class Cabin?

El Al Boeing 747-400 airplane

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

…so when I read this article written by Debra Bruno — who is a freelance writer for The Washington Post — I felt that I had to comment on it.

After all, I spent 15 hours from Shanghai to New York on China Eastern Airlines back in October of 2014. I have endured multiple flights between the United States and Amsterdam — such as this one with an annoyingly rambunctious boy whose parents exceedingly failed to keep under their control. Count into my tally the worst Alitalia flight I have ever taken — which was from Los Angeles to Rome — and the reasons why. There was also the first flight operated by Etihad Airways which I had ever taken; and it was the first of several long-haul flights — including this one seated next to a really nervous passenger who continuously fidgeted; as well as the worst one of my experiences.

All of the aforementioned experiences — as well as those from Newark to Prague; Atlanta to Tokyo; Abu Dhabi to Johannesburg; New York to Dakar; Amsterdam to Seoul; and many other flights — were as a passenger seated in the economy class cabin. Some flights were better than others, yes — but in my opinion, none of them were so terrible as to dissuade me from traveling via airplane seated in the economy class cabin ever again.

Without further ado, let us get to the list.

1. Choose Your Seat Wisely.

Economy class seat

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

Bruno opined that an aisle seat is best — even if you think you might want to sleep. I disagree. For me, the window seat is the best option. I feel like I have more privacy; an extra place to rest my head or body; and the bonus of a view outside of the window.

However, I do agree with the following statement: “Sleep on planes is overrated. Even in comfortable seats, you won’t be sleeping as much as you want. An aisle seat gives you the luxury of being able to pop up to stretch your legs. Of course, if this is an overnight and you want to be fresh when you land, a window seat and a good pillow might be better — if you promise yourself you’ll still move around. Deep vein thrombosis is real.”

Although highly unlikely today, you could “score an economy class lie-flat seat” if you are fortunate. That is your best bet to being able to sleep reasonably comfortably during a long flight.

Believe me: I have no problem asking passengers who are blocking my egress to the aisle aboard an airplane for passage, as I do not believe that anyone expects a passenger to — er — “hold it in” for 14 consecutive hours; which leads to the next item…

2. You Have the Right to Move.

Etihad economy class

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

Deep vein thrombosis and the right to use the lavatory are two of many reasons why you should not be hesitant to ask your seat mates to excuse you as you venture towards that “unyielding wall between” you “and freedom.”

I do assess the situation, though. I have no intention of unnecessarily disturbing fellow passengers in the row in which I am seated. I try every way I can to be as considerate as possible. On a flight whose duration is 14 hours, I might get up four or five times — and I attempt to time my exit from my seat when other passengers are already up to minimize disturbing them. That strategy has worked out rather well over the years.

3. Recline Your Seat.

Seat recline

Please excuse the poor quality of the photograph demonstrating the seat reclining in front of my seat; but there was not much room and it was somewhat dark. Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

I usually have no problem with the person in front of me fully reclining his or her seat — but please do not keep it reclined while it is unattended. That is rude, in my opinion.

There is nothing wrong with reclining your seat if that means more comfort for you; but you might want to first ask the passenger seated behind you. More likely than not, the passenger will grant you “permission” — and that is half the battle: soliciting input from people who will be directly affected by your actions. When they are involved in the decision, that usually leads to the decrease in the likeliness that a controversy will erupt — and they can tend to be violent, as in this particular situation.

4. Food is Overrated.

Gulf Air meal

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

“Even if the meals surprise you with their quality — in which case you’ve been hitting the chardonnay a little too hard — don’t indulge in every last crumb of that brownie or roll. Your digestive system will thank you.”

I vehemently disagree with Bruno on this one. Despite being a fussy eater, I usually enjoy airline meals — and I almost always feel much better after digesting one. For me, long-haul flights in the economy class cabin are usually more tolerable after consuming meals and beverages provided by the airlines.

Sorry, Debra Bruno — but my digestive system thanks me whenever I eat one of those meals — and I usually indulge in every last crumb of that brownie or roll. I rarely leave anything over.

5. Do Eat Something.

The portions were generous for a meal served in the economy class cabin, in my opinion. Photograph ©2014 by Brian Cohen.

The portions were generous for a meal served in the economy class cabin, in my opinion. Photograph ©2014 by Brian Cohen.

“There is nothing worse than the feeling of having passed up the middle-of-the-flight meal only to realize you’re ravenous and you have another three hours before any kind of sustenance will be offered. A snack with protein (think nuts, not that pork knuckle you bought before you got on the plane in Munich) is a good backup plan.”

Although Bruno does give good advice, watch out with the nuts and other foods with potential allergen conflicts. If you are seated next to a passenger who has a severe allergy to nuts or some other form of food, that snack could lead to trouble…

…and no, I am not excusing that person if the allergy is severe but he or she has failed to properly inform anyone who works for the airline. We all have to cooperate with each other and be considerate to one another if the flight is to remain tolerable — or, dare I say, even enjoyable — for 14 hours.

6. Stay Hydrated.

Bottle water

Photograph ©2014 by Brian Cohen.

“Take every cup of water that is offered and don’t be shy about asking for more or walking to the service area”, advised Bruno, who is correct, in my opinion. “On many flights, trays of water are set up so passengers can help themselves.”

My experience is that members of the flight crew are usually quite proactive in ensuring that you are indeed properly hydrated during the long flight. Typical beverages include water, apple juice or orange juice; but sometimes cola is offered as well — all usually with ice. They will pass through the cabin with those trays so that you do not have to get up — and the service is usually performed even when people are sleeping and the cabin is dark.

7. Remember the Accessories.

Audio Technica bulky noise canceling headphones

Photograph ©2016 by Brian Cohen.

Although Bruno recommends some accessories to take with you — a good neck pillow, a mask or a book as three of many items — I generally am just fine with a portable electronic device from which I can listen to music or play games. I keep my packed items to an absolute minimum; and rarely have I ever regretted leaving anything at home.

In other words, I manage with what I have, as a lighter bag is more important to me than accessories — but then again, that is me and may not be you…

…and speaking of those portable electronic devices…

8. Make Sure Your Devices are Charged.

China Eastern Airlines Shanghai to New York

Photograph ©2014 by Brian Cohen.

Although “some older-generation iPads, Kindles, phones and laptops don’t hold 14 hours of juice, and if you don’t have a battery pack and your seat doesn’t have a charger, you’re out of luck”, I have been finding that airlines have become more proactive in providing electrical outlets with which you can charge your portable electronic devices.

In fact, I have difficulty remembering the last time I was a passenger seated in the economy class cabin on a long-haul flight and could not charge any of my portable electronic devices…

Mobile Telephone Charging Cropped

Photograph ©2013 by Brian Cohen.

…but just in case, I always charge my portable electronic devices at the gate area in the airport so that they are fully charged. Combined with sleep and the food and beverages, I can stretch a charged device to operate for a 14-hour flight without absolutely needing another charge.

9. Be Disciplined About Entertainment.

Crossword puzzle

Photograph ©2016 by Brian Cohen.

For me, music and games on my portable electronic devices — as well as a puzzle or two included in the in-flight magazine — are typically enough to keep me entertained throughout the flight.

Of course, I have been known to write articles for The Gate during the flight — but you might instead want to read a book or magazine.

Often, portions of the in-flight entertainment system will be free of charge to all passengers — and sometimes that includes games in which other passengers can participate.

Come to think of it, I am rather disciplined pertaining to entertainment. I do not just arbitrarily add songs to any portable electronic device which I carry with me whenever I travel, as music is important to me.

10. Bring a Pair of Soft Socks or Slippers to Protect Your Feet From the Bathroom Floor.

Lavatory Toilet

Photograph ©2013 by Brian Cohen.

I really do not want my feet to come into contact with some unknown fluid on the floor of the lavatory.

I will either put on my shoes or sneakers when I use the lavatory; although one of those pairs of disposable slippers offered in the rooms at many hotel and resort properties outside of the United States are perfect for the ability to quickly slip them on or off for any reason.

As for soft socks: no. They can absorb that aforementioned liquid on the bathroom floor. I advise wearing something whose surface will protect your feet when touching the floor.

11. Do Not Wear a Lot of Makeup.

clipping nails

Photograph ©2016 by Brian Cohen.

“You’ll feel gross after 10 hours. Pack some makeup removal wipes for the end of the trip to freshen up.”

I think I will defer to Debra Bruno with this specific piece of advice, as I have never worn makeup while I was a passenger aboard an airplane — at least, not that I can remember…

…but whatever you do, please: do not clip your nails during the flight. Unidentified flying objects are frowned upon aboard an identified flying object…

12. Alcohol is Rarely Worth It.

Bern’s Steak House restaurant Tampa wine cellar

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

I do not drink alcoholic beverages; so I will again refer to Debra Bruno: “Airline wine is generally unimpressive, and if you choose red you’ll have purple teeth and lips for longer than you like. And the beer is generally bad. Besides, it’s really too cold to be drinking beer.”

13. Try Very Hard Not to Look at the Little Screen That Tells You How Much Time Remains in the Flight.

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

Interestingly, I do not have this problem on long-haul flights or short-haul flights. Ironically, medium-haul flights can sometimes be excruciating. A flight of three to five hours means interrupted movie time, fewer service options, less comfortable seats, not enough time to sleep well, and other contributing factors which tend to have one of these medium-haul flights seem significantly longer than a long-haul flight.

14. Being Nice to the Flight Attendants Pays Off.

Delta Air Lines bankruptcy emergence Salt Lake City

Photograph ©2007 by Brian Cohen.

“…even when they seem to be scolding passengers and rushing by you so fast there’s a breeze. You never know when one might slip you an extra Dixie cup of ice cream or look the other way when you grab an entire empty row for a good long rest.”

I not only have been advocating this important piece of advice for years here at The Gate; but I also recommend extending this courtesy to anyone: gate agents, ticket agents, fellow passengers — the list goes on and on.

Ironically, being nice to people altruistically will usually reap bigger rewards than being nice to people with a goal or purpose in mind. Yes, that immediately renders the altruism — well — not altruistic anymore; but being genuinely nice and respectful to other people really does not take much effort. In fact, many people will usually appreciate it.



Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

As I have said, long-haul flights are not usually a problem for me when I am seated in the economy class cabin aboard an airplane — and in fact, I am preparing for another upcoming long-haul flight seated in the economy class cabin, which will occur soon. I suppose my frame of mind that I am traveling yet again is enough for me to usually enjoy the experience — and when I encounter issues, I can write about them in articles here at The Gate. As much as I do not like experiencing negative anomalies during my travels, they do usually tend to be more interesting to read in articles through which you could live vicariously…

…but although Debra Bruno generally gives some good advice overall, you have to determine what is ultimately best for you — so please feel free to share your own thoughts about how to be more comfortable seated in the economy class cabin in the Comments section below…

…and no — please do not write “upgrade to business class”…

All photographs ©2007, ©2013, ©2014, ©2015 and ©2016 by Brian Cohen.

11 thoughts on “14 Ways to Survive 14 Hours Seated in the Economy Class Cabin?”

  1. Levy Flight says:

    Try and get a flight that leaves in the evening to increase the chance you’ll sleep and that time will pass. That’s said, I would rather avoid anything over 11 hr segment and tend to break up the journey of can. Even in biz class 14 hrs is mind numbing.

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      I enjoyed business class on the upper deck of a Boeing 747-400 aircraft from Los Angeles to Sydney, which was approximately 14 hours, Levy Flight — and as much as I enjoyed it, I had enough by the time the airplane arrived at the gate.

      Breaking up a trip is a great idea — but unfortunately, getting a free stopover is more difficult these days due to tighter restrictions from some airlines…

  2. Hilo Hattie says:

    All my flights are usually long haul, in tourist… because I live in Hawaii and usually fly either to Europe or South Asia.
    I agree about a window seat but be sure it’s not over the wing!
    You mentioned a good pillow. They come in all kinds of configurations nowadays. But, the most important addition to whichever kind of pillow you chose is the mask! Be sure it is nice and thick and made of cotton. Earplugs help too.
    Finally, cozy up and hibernate with your own coat as a blanket or, a suspiciously clean airline one, if you have to. Definitely use the airline pillow for lumbar support though..
    Forget the always disappointing meal. If you must, from curiosity, just pick at it… avoiding the carbs but, have a bottle of water within your reach throughout the flight.
    Homeopathic anti-jet lag tablets… maybe.
    In the end, long haul is still miserable!

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      Thank you for sharing your personal list, Hilo Hattie.

      I personally avoid medication of any type if at all possible.

      I liked your description of “suspiciously clean” for an airline blanket…

  3. Peter Jones says:

    I fly between Asia and east coast of US 7 to 8 times a year. 12 to 14 hour flights. A lot of the time another connecting flight that is 3 to 5 hours.

    1. Bring a seat cushion
    2. Use foam ear plus AND Bose noise canceling headphones
    3. Eye mask with string that goes around ears and not all the way around back of head
    4. Create a sticker and put on your seat that tells flight attendants NOT to work you up for food
    5. Massage oil that has no smell
    6. Loose comfortable shoes. Loosen the shoe laces so have loose fit.
    7. Aisle seat in middle column
    8. Find the handicapped toilet (biggest)
    9. Bring big canister to fill with water at airport. Always have water.
    10. Bring own healthy food. Do not eat the food they serve. Full of salt will make you bloated.
    11. Bring extra set of clothes
    12. Load up tablet or phone with relaxing spa music
    13. Load up tablet or phone with downloaded youtube videos. Documentaries or reality shows are good since will put you to sleep with all the talking. Use Documents app to store videos or music on iOS device. Easier to use then iTunes (https://readdle.com/products/documents)

    If have connecting flight make sure you have enough time to go to the lounge and take a shower.

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      Thank you for sharing your personal list, Peter Jones. I hope it helps fellow readers of The Gate fly more comfortably as passengers.

  4. Evan says:

    How tall are you if you don’t mind me asking? If you are over 6′ there is no chance that you can take a window seat comfortably in economy.

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      I am not over six feet tall, Evan; but I am not short, either.

      Yes, I have had my share of discomfort in a window seat; but I have also had my share of it as well in an aisle seat…

      …and for me, yes, the ability to stretch at least one of my legs into the aisle can be welcome; but sometimes it is at an odd angle that doing so becomes uncomfortable after a while — plus, I am too self-conscious about keeping it stretched out that my leg could be in someone’s way and therefore not be able to get at least some sleep without having to be concerned.

  5. I always bring plenty of reading material to help pass the time. If you have some great articles or an excellent book to dive into, the time just flies by.

  6. rosemary g says:

    I regularly fly from Vancouver, Canada to Sydney, Australia. I always opt for a window seat, just behind the wing on the 777 which allows me to make a “nest”. This way I am close to the bathroom, close to the exit (God forbid) and you don’t feel boxed in because of the open exit area just ahead of rows 33-35 and also they often start the economy meal trolley at the exit so you are pretty much guaranteed your choice of meal. I bring my own small down pillow which really compacts down in my carry-on and I have my own blanket because the ones they provide on Air Canada are skimpy and who knows how often they wash them! I use their tiny pillow for lumbar support. On a 14-16 hour direct flight you just try to make the most of it. I do take a Gravol tablet which helps me nod off for an hour which is about all I can sleep.

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