Here’s how I barely survive the hell that is flying in the “cheap” seats in airplanes.

1. PLANNING

My plan of survival starts with planning my travel months beforehand. Fact: some airlines have better planes, seats, and in-flight entertainment than others. I pay more for a better plane and a better airline and start from there. If it’s a route I haven’t taken before I check out a number of third party websites (Zuji, Expedia, Google Flights) to see which airlines travel there. I usually never book on these websites and always go through the airline’s own website. Just a little simpler and there never really is any difference in price and probably slightly cheaper this way. If I know that budget airlines fly in that area and they’re not appearing on the third party websites I will go to their website and check it out.

Tip: If you type in to Google “flights singapore-hong kong” Google will give you a quick summary of what airlines fly that route which will give you a good summary:
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If you have connections, you need to scope out how long it might take you to transfer ( Do you need to pick up the bags from the carousel and place them in a transfer area? Do you have to travel 20 miles between terminals *cough Heathrow* ?) Having a longer connection sometimes is less stressful. I find 3 hours in between international flights is usually a comfortable timeframe.

2. SEATS

You’ve booked the flights. Seats time. I’m an economy guy unless I find an amazing business class deal (Air India Business Class is sometimes cheaper than Singapore Airlines Economy to Mumbai on 787 and KLM Singapore-Bali sometimes has some good Business Class deals). Does the airline offer Premium Economy? You may as well take it if it’s within your budget. What type of plane is it? You must check out SeatGuru.
Travelling as a couple?
On an Airbus 330/340? Choose the two seats on the side option.
Travelling on a Boeing 777/747/ or Airbus 380/350? Choose two seats in the middle three/four as nobody will be clambering over you then or vice versa on the side three seats.
Travelling on a narrow body? Choose two aisle seats across from each other. That way you each have at least some space on one side of you with the chance that the middle seat is empty.
Travelling alone?
On long haul wide body airplane flights choose the aisle seat in middle seating. That way only one person can bother you getting up to the toilet. When choosing your seat online look for empty seats in the middle of the middle section and empty seats in front of you. Maybe, just maybe, nobody will take them up and you wont have a seat in your lap and somebody fighting for elbow room beside you. On short hop flights on narrow body airplanes, choose the window seat if you think you can make it without toilet breaks.

Avoid seats near toilets (bulk row seats are commonly near toilets); the line of people is annoying. And the smell sometimes…well…

Bothered by turbulence? Center seats over the wings are preferable. Seats at the back of the plane tend to move side to side and have a different, more unsettling feeling in turbulence. Let’s face it though, turbulence happens and even though the B787/A350 is said to have a turbulence detection and dampening system, you’ll still ride through it more often than not no matter where you sit.

On a related note; KEEP YOUR SEATBELT ON! It beggars belief that there are still injuries occurring in those cases of severe turbulence because people are smashing their heads on the roof because they’re not strapped in.

3. STAY ALERT

Plane looking a bit empty and boarding is well under way? Always ask the flight attendant about the load and about moving to a more spacious area. I’ve often won the race to get 3 side seats to myself by asking early. Sit on the aisle/middle seat until after cruising so nobody gets an idea to share the three seats with you!

4. NOT DYING OF BOREDOM

I can’t sleep on planes. So I watch a lot of in flight entertainment. Start with short episodes, then move on to movies, then end with short episodes. Your brain won’t want to invest too much energy in Gone With The Wind near the end of a long haul flight. Short and snappy episodes are better. If you have a tablet/laptop load it up with your favourite movies/TV shows; you never know when the in-flight movie/TV choices will be pretty lame. Netflix now allows you to download shows so get to it!

I can’t sleep on planes so sometimes I drink alcohol. Yeah, that’s right. Everybody says don’t do it. I say I’ll handle my own dilemmas thanks very much.A couple of wines/beers puts you in to a more sedate mode; you might even nod off for a bit. If you are a violent and miscreant drunk then please skip over this paragraph. I find that I never lose any sense of common sense with alcohol on planes no matter how much I drink; I’ve tried. Believe me. Ethiopian Airlines from Addis Ababa to Bangkok; I may have depleted their weekly allowance of Heineken. There was no in-flight entertainment…I had to do something…
Anyway, it works for me but it might not work for you and I tend not to drink on narrow bodies as access to toilets is less..accessible.

5. FOOD

Bring snacks on board. If at all possible put a carry-on under the seat in front of you for easy access. You will never know how inedible the food they serve you will be.

6. COMFORT

Economy Comfort/Premium Economy I’ll pay for within economic reason. Extra leg room like bulkhead row or emergency exit? I don’t go for it. More often than not at the bulkhead it’s beside a family with newly borns (not their fault etc.). Bulkheads usually go hand in hand with being beside the toilets too. With the evolution of in-flight entertainment being available the minute you get on board with some airlines (eg. Singapore Airlines or Emirates) you will be stuck until cruising altitude until you can take the screen out of the armrest.

Person in front has reclined in to your knee caps? Nothing much you can do about it unless you buy this which might just end up with you in a 40,000 feet fist fight. You can make a big deal about forcefully changing the angle of your TV and making sure you let the flight attendant know to tell them to push it forward when meals are served. When you are getting out to go to the bathroom make sure you bump as much as you can in to their seat; it actually will probably happen naturally anyway due to your confined space.
I just get really irked if they aren’t sleeping and are just watching TV. How much more comfortable are you right now? You are now reclined a few inches back. Congratulations.

7. LOSE TRACK OF TIME

A watched pot never boils. I always try and ignore flight maps and flight time left. Just pile on the TV shows and movies and embrace the inner couch potato you have inside you. You’ll know when you’re getting closer when they either a) start serving the final meal or b) the captain comes on and mumbles on about descending soon, thanking you for flying with us and hoping to see you soon mumble mumble mumble.

That’s about it. There’s not a lot you can do to actually immensely enjoy economy class flying. Especially on long haul flights. See you in 45D. Weeping.