When it comes to air travel, there aren’t many things more important than your in-flight experience.
While airlines understand the importance of providing a pleasant in-flight experience, it’s also important for you to be aware of all the various aspects that can make or break your flight, including seating options, in-flight entertainment, comfort accessories, food and drink, rest and sleep, hygiene and health, stretching and exercise options, and child and infant comfort.
Table of Contents
- 1 Seating Options
- 2 In-Flight Entertainment
- 3 Comfort Accessories
- 4 Food and Drink
- 5 Rest and Sleep
- 6 Hygiene and Health
- 7 Stretching and Exercise Options
- 8 Service and Assistance
- 9 Child and Infant Comfort
Whether you’re flying for business or leisure, or short-haul or long-haul, where you sit on the plane will have the biggest impact on your overall flight experience.
There are several options to consider, so you can make the right seat selection for your needs and preferences.
Legroom and Seat Pitch
Legroom is self-explanatory, but in case you didn’t know, seat pitch means the distance between one point on a seat to the same point on the seat in front.
With this in mind, you always want to look for a seat that offers more legroom and seat pitch.
Some airlines have more generous legroom and seat pitch offerings than over passengers that we cover in our Best Airlines for Overweight Passengers article.
Window vs. Aisle vs. Middle Seat
Window seats are popular with flyers because they are arguably the most comfortable option, especially if you want to sleep on your flight, as you will be able to rest your head against the wall. Let’s not forget about the view, either.
However, if you want to use the plane’s bathroom, you have to ask the people sitting next to you to get up, which can be awkward.
Aisle seats are equally popular because the benefit in sitting in the aisle is that you can get up to stretch and use the bathroom easily. The downside is that you may be bumped by passing passengers or carts, and it’s harder to sleep compared to sitting by the window.
Middle seats are rarely a popular option due to their limited space and no view, but if you are traveling as a family or in a group, they are good if you all want to sit together.
Exit Row Seats
Exit row seats can be a great choice if you’re looking for extra legroom, but they aren’t necessarily without their downsides.
Many airlines will charge you extra for one of these seats, you are required to assist in the case of an emergency evacuation, and exit row seats may not recline.
Bulkhead seats are those found in the very front row of a cabin. As seats in this row do not have a seat in front of them, there can be more legroom, but the downside is that there may be limitations, such as no under-seat storage.
Premium Seating Options
It’s common for airlines to offer passengers the choice of paying extra for a more comfortable in-flight experience.
These options may include:
- Seats with extra legroom that are typically found in the front of the economy class cabin or in another designated section of the aircraft.
- Business/first class seats that are inevitably both the most expensive and most comfortable.
There are a few other things to consider, including:
- Proximity to the toilet and galleys: These seats will be louder and experience more traffic.
- Seat configuration: Different aircraft have different seat configurations. For example, larger planes used for long-haul flights may have a 3-4-3 configuration.
- Turbulence: Turbulence isn’t dangerous but it can be scary and uncomfortable. So, avoid sitting at the back of the plane if you want to feel less turbulence during your flight.
If you have a short-haul flight coming up, you are unlikely to have many in-flight entertainment offerings at your disposal. But with long-haul flights, this can all change.
- Personal TVs: On long-haul flights, you can expect to find a personal TV installed in the back of the seat in front of you where you will be able to watch movies, TV shows, listen to music, and even play games.
- Wi-Fi: Some airlines offer Wi-Fi, so you can connect your personal devices, such as smartphones, tablets, or laptops, to the aircraft’s Wi-Fi network and access a selection of movies, TV shows, music, and more through a dedicated app or website. Keep in mind that most airlines will charge for Wi-Fi and plane Wi-Fi can also be slow.
- Personal Devices: Of course, there’s also the option of loading up all your favorite movies, TV Shows, music, and games before your flight without having to connect to Wi-Fi.
Making the Most of the In-Flight Entertainment
- Charge Your Devices: If you’re on a long-haul flight, there should be a USB port where you will be able to charge most of your devices. But if your upcoming flight is short-haul, remember to fully charge your devices before the flight.
- Bring a book or magazine as a backup: As in-flight entertainment systems can sometimes experience technical issues, it can be a good idea to go old school and bring a book or magazine as a backup.
- Bring headphones: There’s no guarantee that your headphones will work with the in-flight entertainment system, especially Bluetooth headphones, but it can be better to bring your own pair that are likely to be more comfortable and provide a better audio experience than the complimentary headphones. Airpods are particularly great.
Sometimes it’s the little things that can have the biggest impact in making your in-flight experience more comfortable, especially if you want to surivive a red eye flight or long-haul trip.
From neck pillows and eye masks to compression socks and travel blankets, let’s take a look at some of the best accessories that will make your flight more comfortable.
- Neck Pillow: The most popular accessory for flyers is a neck pillow. Neck pillows are excellent in providing support to your neck and head, and make falling asleep on a plane that much easier.
- Eye Mask: If you have a red eye flight, you can expect the lights in the cabin to be dimmed, so you can fall asleep more easily. If not, an eye mask can be helpful to block out the cabin lights.
- Compression Socks: Compression socks are important but often overlooked by travelers. Every passenger should wear compression socks on long-haul flights because they are designed to improve blood circulation and reduce the risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT).
- Travel Blanket: On long-haul flights, airlines will provide blankets, but they aren’t all that comfortable and studies have shown that they are very unhygienic too. So, it’s best to bring your own blanket.
- Hygiene Kit: If you have a long-haul flight, it’s always nice to stay as fresh and clean as possible. So bringing a kit with toothpaste, toothbrush, mouthwash, wet wipes, lip balm, makeup remover etc. can be a good idea.
Food and Drink
Unless you have a very short flight coming up, you will either be provided with a meal or two as part of your ticket (common on long-haul flights), you will be able to purchase food and drink onboard, or you can bring your own food and drink on the plane.
In-flight meals can range from standard economy class meals to gourmet options in business or first class.
Some people think airplane food tastes bad, but it seems to be getting better and better over time.
Either way, regardless if you are vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, or have any other special dietary meals, you should be accommodated.
It’s common for airlines to provide passengers with complimentary snacks, such as pretzels or cookies, though you will also be able to purchase snacks in-flight, including sandwiches, nuts, and potato chips.
You can also bring food through TSA and onto the plane, too.
Staying hydrated during your flight is vital, especially as the low humidity levels in the cabin can lead to dehydration more quickly than on the ground.
Depending on the duration of your flight, you may be provided drinks for free, or will have to purchase them.
You can also bring a water bottle onboard.
Rest and Sleep
Long flights, jet lag, and uncomfortable seating associated with air travel can all take its toll, so it’s always a good idea to get some sleep in on the flight, so you arrive at your destination feeling refreshed and ready.
There are a few things you should keep in mind to help you get to sleep more easily on your flight.
- Come Prepared: Creating an environment suitable for sleeping on a plane comes down to being adequately prepared more than anything else. Packing essentials like a neck pillow, eye mask, and earplugs will all help to block out distractions and make it easier to fall asleep. Dressing in loose, comfortable clothing and bringing a blanket on the plane can also help.
- Choose a window seat: A window seat is your best option if you want to sleep on the plane. Not only will you be able to lean against the window for enhanced comfort, but you will be able to control if the window is opened or closed – i.e. how much light will be let in – and no-one will disturb you if they need to go to the bathroom.
- Change your sleep schedule: If you are worried about jet lag, if possible, it can be a good idea to try to adjust your sleep schedule a few days before your flight. Then, when you are onboard your flight, you can adjust your watch to your destination’s time.
- Take a sleep aid: Sleep aids, including sedatives for flying, can be helpful if you want to fall asleep on a plane more easily, such as taking melatonin on the flight.
- Practice relaxation techniques: Relaxation techniques that can help calm your body and mind, will make it easier to fall asleep during your flight. Deep breathing, meditation, and progressive muscle relaxation techniques are all effective and can be done while you are seated.
Hygiene and Health
Airplanes are generally clean environments, though due to there being many people in a confined environment, along with the effects of changing time zones and long hours of sitting, it’s important to take steps to ensure good hygiene and health.
- Wash your hands: Keeping your hands clean is one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of germs. You don’t necessarily have to go to the bathroom to keep your hands clean, as hand sanitizer can be effective.
- Stay hydrated: Air travel is infamous for causing dehydration due to the lower humidity levels. So to compensate, you must make sure that you drink plenty of water during the flight. Avoiding caffeine and alcohol would also be wise, as they can further dehydrate your body.
- Eat Healthy: Just because you’ll be stuck on a plane, it doesn’t mean that you can’t eat healthy. You are allowed to bring your own food and snacks onto a plane, including fresh and dried fruit, nuts, granola bars, and other healthy items. If you have dietary restrictions or food allergies, plan ahead and bring your own snacks or meals, or be sure to contact the airline in advance.
- Stay Active: Sitting for a long period of time can result in stiffness, discomfort, and reduced blood circulation. Therefore, make an effort to get up, walk around and stretch on long flights. Consider wearing compression socks too, as they will improve blood circulation and reduce the risk of deep vein thrombosis.
- Get some sleep: It can be hard to sleep on a plane, but you can increase your chances by coming prepared with essential sleep items, choosing a window seat, and practicing relaxation techniques.
Stretching and Exercise Options
While it’s important to get up and move around, there are also ways of stretching and promoting better blood circulation while seated to prevent your feet from swelling and reducing the risk of deep vein thrombosis.
- Seated Neck Stretches: Gently tilt your head to the left and hold for 15–20 seconds, then repeat on the right side. You can also perform this exercise by moving your neck forwards and backwards, or your head up and down.
- Shoulder Rolls: Roll your shoulders in a circular motion, forward and backward. This will release tension in and loosen up your shoulder muscles.
- Ankle Circles: Rotate your ankles in circular motions, both clockwise and counterclockwise, in order to improve blood circulation in your lower legs and reduce the risk of DVT.
- Seated Leg Raises: To help improve blood flow to your legs and prevent stiffness, lift your feet off the floor and extend your legs straight in front of you. Hold this for a few seconds before lowering them back down.
Service and Assistance
The airline industry can be a competitive and ruthless business, so airlines strive to provide excellent service and assistance to ensure that passengers have a comfortable and smooth journey and become repeat customers.
If you need help with anything during the flight, don’t hesitate to speak to cabin crew, who are hired due to their ability to provide prompt, friendly, and courteous service to create a welcoming environment onboard.
Cabin crew members are trained to assist passengers with various tasks, such as boarding and deplaning, stowing and retrieving carry-on luggage, providing information about the flight, handling special requests, and addressing any concerns or issues that you may have.
Don’t worry, it’s all part of the service. You don’t have to tip flight attendants.
Child and Infant Comfort
Flying with children and infants can be challenging, especially if the baby is constantly crying on the flight, but airlines thankfully take steps to ensure the comfort and convenience of families and other passengers sitting next to families during flights.
So, if you’re flying with kids, you may expect to experience one or more of the following to make your flight experience as comfortable and stress-free as possible for both you and your kids.
- Priority Boarding: Airlines often offer priority boarding for families with young children, so they can settle in comfortably before everyone else gets on the plane. This gives you the chance to store your carry-on luggage, set up your seats, and get organized before the rest of the passengers board.
- Seating Options: Bulkhead seats or seats with extra legroom can provide more space for families to comfortably manage their kids, so airlines may prioritize families being offered these seats.
- Amenities: Amenities such as bassinets or baby cots for infants may be provided, allowing parents to have their hands free and ensure a safe and comfortable sleeping arrangement for their little ones. Coloring books, toys and other amenities to make the flight more enjoyable for children may also be offered.
- Child-Friendly In-Flight Entertainment: Airlines include children’s movies, TV shows, games, and other activities on their in-flight entertainment systems to keep kids entertained during the flight and can be one of the best ways to stop babies from crying on a plane.
- Child-Friendly Meals: Airline meals for kids are usually deigned to be more appealing by providing options such as kid-sized portions, age-appropriate snacks, and familiar food items.
- Cabin Crew Assistance: Cabin crew members are trained to assist parents by warming bottles, providing hot water for formula, and offering assistance with diaper changing. Baby-changing facilities may even be provided onboard.
Ella Dunham, a Freelance Travel Journalist and Marketing Manager, boasts an impressive career spanning eight years in the travel and tourism sectors.
Honored as one of "30 Under 30" by TTG Media (the world’s very first weekly travel trade newspaper), a "Tour Operator Travel Guru" and "Legend Award" winner, Ella is also a Fellow of the Institute of Travel, a Member of the Association of Women Travel Executives, has completed over 250 travel modules, and hosts travel-focused segments on national radio shows where she provides insights on travel regulations and destinations.
Ella has visited over 40 countries (with 10 more planned this year).