Sunday, September 24

How to fly economy class but feel like you’re in business | Airline industry

Flying economy class can often feel like you are in a jail cell in the sky, particularly if you’re flying long haul.

From cramped seats and toilet queues to waddling past luxurious business class seats, there is no end to the many ways airlines remind you of your class.

But after Air New Zealand introduced its economy class sleeper pod earlier this week, and amid surging costs, it has become more essential than ever to stay across the many ways you can improve an economy seat.

Air New Zealand’s designs for its bunkbed cabins, which will allow economy passengers to pay for a lie-down snooze in the sky. Photograph: Fraser Clements/Air New Zealand

Here are a few ways to feel like you’re flying business class in economy.

Going neighbour free

One semi-luxurious option for long-haul flights is the Neighbour Free scheme offered by Etihad Airways.

Basically, travellers can place bids to ensure that the one or two seats next to them remain free, allowing them the full row of seats to themselves.

The bid can be placed when buying your seat, and there is a minimum and maximum bid that Etihad will share with you, based on your flight and destination, with priority given to frequent flyers.

Etihad Airways plane
On an Etihad flight from Sydney to Abu Dhabi in June, one extra seat will cost only A$187, while two seats will cost A$373. Photograph: Patrick Riviere/Getty Images

Winners of the bid will be notified 32 hours before the flight departs, and while Etihad does not have firm prices, it’s a potentially cheaper way to have more room on a long-haul flight.

Qantas is also offering a Neighbour Free scheme that works in a similar way, with the airline contacting eligible passengers on select Qantas operated Australian domestic flights.

On an Etihad flight from Sydney to Abu Dhabi in June, one extra seat will cost only A$187, while two seats will cost A$373. Additional seats can be bid on for each flight on a multi-legged trip, so costs can add up, but who can put a price on comfort?

A couch in the sky

Late last year, Air New Zealand introduced a scheme call Skycouch, where travellers can book up to three economy seats that can fold out into one large sleeping space, like a couch.

Coming in at 1.55 metres long and 74cm wide, the Skycouch can fit a maximum of two adults and a child, with various configurations available.

The airline will also provide an infant harness and belt for infants under two years old.

Prices vary according to the destination and length of the flight. You don’t pay the full price for all three seats but prices depend on how many people will be using the Skycouch.

Air New Zealand’s in-flight Skycouch.
Air New Zealand’s in-flight Skycouch. Photograph: Air New Zealand

For example, on a flight from Los Angeles to Auckland, a Skycouch will cost you an additional $1,300 per customer, on top of your ticket price.

It comes as the airline looks to also introduce a rentable bunk-bed cabin, which can be booked for up to four hours and cost between NZ$400-$600 (US$250-$380).

The beds are suspended a few feet from their fellow sleepers, and the pods are not fully enclosed, although passengers will be shielded from their co-sleepers by a privacy curtain.

The catch is that you can only book them for a maximum of four hours, so at some point you’ll have to clamber down and join the rest of your fellow passengers, there is no option for an eight-hour nap.

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Auctions for space

There are multiple airlines that offer online auctions for empty business class seats, allowing economy passengers the chance to nab a low-cost upgrade.

Qantas, through its Bid Now Upgrades scheme, Virgin through its UpgradeMe Premium Bid, along with Malaysia Airlines, Etihad Airways and Cathay Pacific, all offer upgrades on select flights for passengers to bid on.

The offers are usually reserved for selected passengers, who are informed via email, with minimums and maximums usually shared to avoid unrealistic bids.

Premium class

There is also the growing option of a “premium” economy seat, where travellers are offered a little extra service for a little extra fee.

Each seat offers a little extra legroom, comfier seats, and usually a wider recline angle, with some offering premium food options, extra baggage allowance or upgraded entertainment options.

It’s not quite business class, but it is something to improve long-haul flights.

Prices vary according to flight time, destination or airline, with domestic premium economy seats going for cheaper than long haul.

At the 2022 Skytrax World Airline awards, Emirates came out on top with the best premium economy seats, followed by Virgin Atlantic, Delta, Air New Zealand, Singapore Airlines and Qantas in sixth.

Prices can range based on airlines and destinations, but a flight from Sydney to London in August on the Emirates premium economy is A$3,416.75, compared to A$1,330.75 on economy.

Gadgets and gizmos

Finally, if there are no options for skybeds or seat auctions, there are always the strange looking travel contraptions.

Everybody knows you can get a neck pillow, but you can also buy a foot strap to raise your feet, or an inflatable foot rest you can place between seats, or even an inflatable travel pillow you lean into.

Of course there are now all-consuming neck pillows available, so that you can be enveloped in comfort and can ignore your reality and how you look.

From this napping pillow to this headset-like pillow, there are a range of options here if you want to completely ignore how you’d look.

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