x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

The Practical Traveller: Take a (good) seat and enjoy the flight

Chris Guillebeau is on a five-year mission to visit every country in the world, and is currently on No. 190. This week, he offers tips on how to make the most of flying economy.

If you twinge with jealousy upon hearing of the world's premium travellers, complete with stories of six-course meals and beds with duvets, rest easy. There's more than one way to travel comfortably. With a bit of planning, you can have an enjoyable trip no matter where you sit on the plane, even without dining on the lobster thermidor offered on Singapore Airlines or relaxing in the on-board shower on an Emirates flight.

After all, most people don't fly first class, so what's the best way to maximise your experience while sitting in the back with the masses?

It all starts with picking a good carrier. If you're beginning your journey in the UAE, you're in good hands: the best economy seating is found on Emirates and Etihad Airways. This is also true of Asian carriers such as Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific- they all offer complete in-seat entertainment, full meals and a wider pitch in economy than carriers elsewhere in the world. On a three-hour Japan Airlines flight from Brunei, I was offered three drink services, a nice meal, dessert with ice cream and hot towels. All this came directly to my seat in row 38 - all the way in the back.

When flying in the back, it's all about the seat. You don't want to get stuck in the middle, and if there is more than one person in your row, you probably don't want the window either.

Tip 1: Check-in in advance for the best possible seat. Most airline websites let you pre-select your seat. In some cases, there may be a charge for "premium" seats but this usually only applies to the exit row and the first row behind business class.

Tip 2: Check again nearer to your date of travel for better options. Between booking and actually getting on the plane, two things happen. First, the plane fills up: the row you had selected may now be completely full but a row nearby might still be empty. Second, seats that were once reserved for premium payment may now be available at no extra charge.

These days, if you don't have your own in-seat entertainment, you can bring your own distractions. Some airlines are now removing the overhead television screens, simply because so many passengers carry entertainment-loaded iPads. If you're going on a long flight, formulate a plan for the hours you will spend in the terminal before departure.

First- and business-class travellers have access to comfy lounges but keep in mind they may have paid dearly for good seats in a quiet area. You can get the same access by purchasing a day pass to the lounge or by joining a programme, such as Priority Pass, which offers lounge access in hundreds of airports around the world for an annual fee. (Both Abu Dhabi and Dubai have multiple lounges for Priority Pass members.)

Can't get lounge access? Treat yourself to a nice meal in the terminal instead. If it is more expensive than outside the airport, just think of all the money you've saved by travelling in the back.

Lobster thermidor might not be on the menu but, in the end, you're on the road. No matter your seat on the plane, travel well.