We’re assuming with this review that you don’t spend as much time in First Class as you’d wish but endure more than your fair share with us and the rest of the world, somewhere behind the engines.
We have, however, been fortunate enough to fly First on a number of occasions and it achieves two things – it delivers you refreshed and in high spirits at your destination…and fills you with dread when you next fly coach. Faced with the inevitable therefore, what can you do to mitigate the misery?
Our Top Ten Tips might give you a more comfortable and equable flight if you employ as many of them as possible.
1. Sitting pretty. If you’re taller than average you’ll find that compressing yourself into regular coach seats might mean you don’t need extra legroom next time! Improving your seating differs from upgrading in that within each cabin there are often seats with improved legroom that can be booked for a slight increase in cost. Early booking is essential. These might be pre-designated with extra space by the airline, near emergency exits and in front of bulkheads, or staggered seating near galleys. Beware of some bulkhead seats as they can have restricted space, especially if someone attaches a cot in front of you with a screaming bundle of fun in it. However, they are generally well worth it. Seats in the middle of the cabin might mean you get a spare space next to you to stretch out; whereas seats nearest the tail will always feel the effect of turbulence or manoeuvres more than those nearer the front.
2. Dress sense. Wear comfortable clothes. Nothing tight and with shoes that slip on and off easily or can be loosened if slippers aren’t provided. Restricted blood flow and knicker strangulation can make a flight really uncomfortable. Unfortunately ‘casual’ these days so often means crappy – can’t we please smarten the world up a bit?
3. Blowing hot and cold. Bear in mind also that although it might be freezing when you leave home it may be tropical when you arrive – or vice versa. Pack a cabin bag that allows for a change of clothes for one night. Even if the climates are similar at either end you might just want to freshen up with a change – especially if you’ve dropped your dinner in your lap by mistake or the airline loses your bag at the other end! Throw in a toothbrush and eye shade in as well – you don’t always get them supplied and keep documents to hand with a pen for immigration paperwork.
4. Get off to a good start. By that we mean arrive early at the airport. There’s nothing worse than cutting it fine, rushing to the check-in, trying to race through security (like swimming in treacle) missing the opportunity for a calming rest before flight and the gathering of your senses. Don’t start in a panic. It also means that if there are any options available at the airport, you’ve got the time to consider or take advantage of them. At the very least, by arriving early, you might be able to reposition your seats to a more favourable location within your cabin.
5. Go up in the world. While the chance of an upgrade is as likely as being served by the Hollywood idea of cabin crew these days, nevertheless it can happen if you’re in the right place at the right time. Putting serendipity to one side, there are often ‘special promotions’ available at the airport for reduced cost upgrades on particular sectors and we have often upgraded to Business for quite modest uplift compared with booking it at home. The point here is to ask if there are any special offers that you can pay for – rather than just asking for an upgrade with puppydog eyes – they’ve seen it all before.
6. Happy hours. Typical cabin humidity is circa 10-12% – dryer than most deserts – so if you hit the Tequilas you won’t like the sunrise. Once on board, however, we’re on holiday, so we do drink and celebrate but we try to match any alcohol intake with at least the same amount of water if we’re going to stand a chance of feeling human at the other end. Aviation induced hangovers are not pleasant and can seriously ‘mess up your happiness.’ Food varies dramatically from airline to airline, often depending on what the local caterer has available but do request any special requirements (gluten free, diabetic, vegetarian etc) at the time of booking to stand any chance of getting your preference on board.
7. Keep a level head. In the same way as you wouldn’t, we assume, drink yourself stupid and sit motionless for thirteen hours on a daily basis at home; it doesn’t make sense to do it on a flight. ‘Moderation in all things’ seems a little puritanical but its nevertheless common sense. In order to sleep well after your meal/drinks on a long flight we find that taking curved neck cushions on board are invaluable as they stop cricked necks and other passengers and aircrew delighting in bashing your head just because its hanging over the aisle. Inevitably you’ll be awake for part of the journey and whilst it’s tempting just to watch a fifth movie, you really should get up and walk the length of the cabin a few times to restore circulation. We rarely remember to do exercises whilst seated and you won’t always be popular if you get up just as the trolleys are coming round but a regular trip around the cabin is essential.
8. Keep Breathing. You’re highly unlikely to catch an infection from breathing the same air as your passengers and the notion that your coach class seat is being fed coach class air is a myth – it’s all the same front and back. There might be fewer people up front breathing what you’re sharing with a hundred behind in the equivalent space but the a/c units are really effective at scavenging air and cleaning it with filters. You’re far more likely to catch something from touching things (toilet fixtures and fittings, armrests, trays etc) than from breathing bugs. We had minimal health issues during seven years in India by keeping our hands clean above all else – so most problems are self-inflicted ailments by virtue of not keeping your hands clean – always use sanitary wet-wipes at every opportunity, so that when your hands do make contact with your mouth – even to yawn – they’re clean. We’re not suggesting you become paranoid but just count how many times your hands touch your face during an hour at home.
9. Make friends! Whilst we don’t make a habit of sharing our love around the plane we are civil and friendly to our most immediate neighbours at the outset – they then tend to be more caring and considerate before climbing over us, hogging the armrests or digging us in the back with their knees. Prevention rather than cure!
10. A stitch in time… You have of course allowed sufficient time between transit flights if you’ve been unfortunate enough to have to change planes – especially if changing carriers as they’re much less tolerant of other airlines’ delays. You have of course checked that transit is within the same airport or terminal and that you don’t have to pass through immigration and security again; so that your transit is smooth, hassle free and without you getting a stitch by running everywhere – not very ‘frequent flyer’ of you. But – have you checked what day you’re leaving – as expecting to leave on the 15th at 0005hrs means, in effect, about 9.30pm on the 14th that you’ll need to be at the airport – so you can easily lose a day without noticing until the last minute.
Now, having re-read this; can we perhaps consider squandering the kids’ inheritance for First Class?