How to Make Coach Feel Like First Class

Frequent fliers who have grown accustomed to getting upgraded usually end up with a phobia I call econophobia. I’m one of them, especially when it comes to long-haul flights.

Econophobes will pull out all the tricks to try and get upgraded but as they sometimes learn, sitting in a comfy first-class seat isn’t always in the cards. In fact, more often than not, the first/business class cabins are full, the fare rules on the ticket don’t allow for upgrades or it’s just too expensive.

Instead of begging or coming up with a lame excuse, the best thing to do is to secure the best seat in coach. Always do this as early as possible to reserve it. If you don’t know what the top-rated seats are on a particular aircraft, then consult

Arguably the best seats are always in the exit row since they have the most legroom. On some airlines and planes it might be the bulkhead so find out in advance.

If it’s a night flight, I prefer the exit row window and if it’s a day flight, I usually opt for the aisle. But one trick I’ve learned over the years to make my economy seat as comfortable as possible is to use my carry-on roller bag as a leg rest.

Of course, I have to wait until after takeoff but once at a cruising altitude, I take my bag down from the overhead bin, place a blanket or my sweatshirt on top of it and then lay my feet across so it’s like a La-Z-Boy.

The photo above illustrates what I’m talking about, as I fly comfortably across the Atlantic on an American Airlines flight from London to Miami.

I would have been even more comfortable if I’d fully reclined but I didn’t want to be cruel to the passenger behind me. Speaking of which, should you recline your seat at all? It’s a hot topic – what do you think?

37 Comments On "How to Make Coach Feel Like First Class"
  1. Tom Hawker|

    Another option is to try for the Economy Plus type of seat. A recent trip on Delta exposed me for the first time to their upgraded economy seating……! seats recline more than any coach or premium coach I’ve encountered. Well worth considering on long-haul flights.

  2. Charles Sessanga|

    I’m an econophobe one of my tricks to get a better seat in the economy is i purchase ticket as early as possible,then i can go in the flight virtual seats chose the seat/s in the economy class with more leg room but pay a little fee which is normally between $50 – $150.
    That works great for me.

  3. Hampton|

    A good site to read is Australian Business traveler. Not only do they tell you the truth about the different types of seats in all classes but they give you cabin maps of seat placement that tell you which are best. Join “One World”whose partners include, Emirates, Cathay-Pacific, Singapore, Eithad, Quantas, Finnair and American. United still has awful trans-Pacific service.

    1. Ben|

      Oneworld doesn’t include Emirates, Singapore and Etihad. Qantas is not spelt Quantas either.

      I agree on the awful transpacific service from United… Why no TVs in the seats!! Will always fly a non US airline anywhere if possible. Why are US airlines so terrible. British Airways, Air NZ, and Qantas are all examples of great airlines operating in the anglosphere which have similar cost bases

      1. Dan Nainan, Comedian|

        After the ellipses, you should not capitalize the word “why”. “Will always fly a non US airline” is a sentence fragment and requires the pronoun “I” at the beginning. “Why no TVs in the seats” is a question and should be followed by a question mark. “non US” should be hyphenated as “non-US”. “Why are US airlines so terrible.” is another question and should also be followed by a question mark. “Air NZ” – no such airline; it’s Air New Zealand. Anglosphere should be capitalized. You have no period at the end of your last sentence.

        1. Anonymous|

          Your not funny Mc Gee!!!

          1. Proofreader 2|

            “You’re not funny, McGee!!!” is corrected reply to the above post. You forgot the apostrophe and the comma needed.

  4. Jim Allen|

    Have a look at Seat Guru online at
    It will help you with finding seats based on passenger input and experiences for all the airlines.

  5. naoma4|

    Great suggestions. Will keep those sites on my travel page.

  6. JA|

    There are more than 4 seats in row 31; there are actually 9. The middle five C-D-E-F-G are standard economy seats. its only A-B-H-J that have the extra leg room. For the middle section you want row 30

  7. Nikos|

    If available I do try and pre order a meal upgrade if the airline supplies it. Does tend to make the inflight meal side of things a little more bearable, and might actually make your fellow pax a little jealous. Only down side not a lot of airlines are offering these meals, just a handful of them. I’m with Charles too, will pay for extra leg room too!

  8. alba|

    I love how $50 – $150 is just a “little fee” to some people.

  9. Marcelo|

    Take your own food in coach and ask them t heat it up when the service is over.
    Use china dishes from first if you can they can be found at thrift stores bring nuts pillows and blankets with you and your noise canceling headphones.

  10. Robert|

    I find that not stressing about the flight or where I’m going to sit makes it a more enjoyable experience overall. Last overseas flight on Air Pacific to Fiji the Gate Agent changed our seats (travelling with my Dad) that she said were “better”. They ended up being a front row, with a wall way too close in front of us so we were really cramped. I didn’t let it get to me even though that was over 13 hour flight. So I guess it’s not always wise to trust the Gate Agents that they are taking care of you.

  11. Judy Colbert|

    I thought exit rows seats didn’t recline at all. What am I missing?

    1. Johnny Jet|

      Only the ones that would lean back a an exit row

      1. Rob|

        would you say 31a would be ok for ord-pvg? I normally get exit aisles, but all are spoken for. This one , 31a, just popped up, so I grabbed it. With the legroom, I think it still is good enough and I could still get up when I need to. Thoughts?

        1. Johnny Jet|

          Grab it and then try and switch to exit row at the last minute

  12. Callum Pragnell|

    Love this! A common problem for many people , including myself! I will bear this in mind for the future.

  13. nsvok|

    I believe that writers like you need to go in economy all the time so you can write about how awful travel is for retired tourist like me. If the airlines start getting a lot of bad press instead of glowing reports from your travel in first class and the hotels get bad press from your stays in ordinary rooms rather than suites, maybe they will start upping their game.

  14. Molly Simon|

    Not all the seats on AA’s premium Economy have the extra legroom yet. Two weeks ago on a flight, I sat in the section and noticed that I was still squeezed in. When I asked the Flight Attendant about it, they said not all planes have the extra legroom yet.

  15. Anonymous|

    One more thing….
    I think that all airline executives should be forced to fly in coach on each and every flight they take.. Maybe then they’d give more comfort in coach!

  16. EvanG|

    When even coach is full, and you have a bad seat tell the gate agent that you will board last, after upgrades have been made, and that if someone in coach has been upgrade you would like their seat. This works virtually every time. You have to be nice to the sgent though because this gives them one more task as they try to close the flight.

  17. Dan Nainan, Comedian|

    I admit it! I have a severe, severe case of econophobia! I am Diamond Medallion on Delta (and Executive Platinum on American thanks to a status match), and on the rare occasions on which I am not upgraded, I’ve even resorted to de-boarding (getting off the flight) and taking a later flight!

    Fortunately, Delta has a very liberal same day confirmation policy.

  18. Leigh McAdam (@hikebiketravel)|

    I do ante up for exit row seats on long haul flights. The service will never compete with the front of the plane but at least I’ve got legroom. I am dismayed though at the creep in prices for these seats in the last few years.

  19. John F|

    I’ve been lucky enough to secure that seat on a LAX-LHR flight and it’s great for economy! One question, though: Did the flight attendants let you keep the bag on the floor in front of the emergency exit door? I would’ve thought that impeding access to an emergency exit like that would not be allowed.

    1. Johnny Jet|

      They did let me keep it. But (obviously) not during takeoff and landing

  20. Brian Schweitzer|

    1. Checkin as early as possible. Often you can checkin online and choose the best seat (isle, window, or exit row with more leg room).

    2. Bring your own entertainment. Use your Ipad and save some films to watch, do some work, or play a game. It is always better than the in-flight entertainment.

    3. Earplugs – Crying baby? Tired? Two chatter bugs keeping you awake? Tune out from the noise with earplugs and relax more.

    4. If all else fails take a sleeping pill and ask the flight attendant to wake you up just before landing.

  21. naoma4|

    Re flying: I usually travel with my husband, but if we get separated re seating — no big deal. And I choose an aisle seat. Do not enjoy sitting next to huge people who want the arm rest raised and then “spill over” on me — do not enjoy having children next to me. But, my likes are not everybody’s and so let me have them, OK?

  22. The Guy|

    As a frequent business traveller on business class tickets for long haul flights I am certainly an econophobia type of guy. I just admit though I accept the ticket I have is the ticket I have. I don’t play the all the tricks in the book card, my ticket is priced as it is for a reason, it is not premium.

    I do enjoy my high frequent flyer status cards and they are beneficial. Numerous times I’ve been upgraded without asking, even upgraded to First Class on Emirates without asking :-)

    I think if you plead and try to get something for nothing then you’ll only get the back’s up of the airline staff.

    Admittedly, if your ticket allows, then paying for an upgrade with cash or points (or even both) is certainly an option to consider.

    As for me, well I just have to suck it up tomorrow. I’m flying with a discount carrier so nothing to upgrade too!

    I do agree that seat guru is a great tool to use.

  23. Bethany|

    Maybe stop being a diva and be appreciative that you can afford to fly, instead of giving advice and encouraging someone to lie, beg and essentially grovel in order to be upgraded. If you can’t afford to fly business or first class, then you need to accept it and stay in coach. This generation is soooo needy and in the frame of mind of me, me, me. No home training. Wow.

  24. Deann|

    Thank Johnny, this really useful for me.

  25. steve|

    Problems are people normally getting around the emergency exit area, doing exercise, playing
    with the babies etc. Also near the bathrooms.

  26. Mike Reynolds|

    I try to be one of the first to board on Southwest. That way I can stretch my legs into the empty space beside the emergency exit door from the row behind. But wait. If SW boards 20 to 30 very healthy looking pre-boards, which is not that uncommon, that could be a problem. Then there’s the person in the middle seat next to the emergency exit door that claims that empty space. See picture.

  27. Chrisanna|

    I’m a “very healthy looking pre-board” – Mike Reynolds’s would really have something to whine about if he had the not-very-visible chronic illnesses I have.
    Assuming makes one look like an a$$.
    Sometimes you just have to deal with what you’re dealt.

  28. Mike Reynolds|

    Noted by this healthy looking 80
    year old with multiple joint replacements and an open heart surgery.

  29. Jan|

    My economy class aids: 1) my own down pillow 2) my collapsable footrest 3) ear plugs 4) eye sleeping mask. 5) green tea or herbal teabags. I roll the pillow like a sleeping bag then secure the center with a tie or ribbon and stick it between the arms of the suitcase pulling handle. I am a pillow snob so I never have to call the hotel desk for a “better” pillow. Even in business class their foot rests aren’t comfortable or reachable for short people. The portable foot rest relieves lower back pressure also. The pillow also works as a small down comforter on those absolutely freezing flights.

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