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10 Ways To Make Flying Coach Comfier

Got a lemon of a coach-class seat? Make lemonade with these tips for a comfier in-flight experience.
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Got a lemon of a coach-class seat? Make lemonade with these tips for a comfier in-flight experience. Sure, the limitations of coach seats--narrow width, minimal pitch, encroaching seatmates--are very real. But with some determination you can make the cramped journey a bit easier.

Clear the Area in Front of You

Sure, it's nice to have your bag on hand, but that carry-on is taking up the space your legs desperately need for stretching out a few more inches. Use the overhead bin (if there's room) to stow most of your belongings, keeping only what you immediately need with you at your seat. And don't overstuff the seat-back pocket—in addition to being against the law (weird, right?), the bulge will also compete with your knees for space if the person in front of you reclines.

Bring a Travel Pillow

A good travel pillow can't perform miracles, but it can boost your comfort level just enough to pave the way for an in-flight nap. And no longer is U-shaped your only option; the world of travel pillows has gotten really creative in recent years. One of our favorites is the vaguely guitar-shaped Travelrest pillow. There are also jackets that double as pillows and inflatables that rest on the tray table. And if you really just need some cozy sensory deprivation, then the fabulously strange Ostrich Pillow might be just the ticket.

Add Lumbar Support

If humans were shaped like shrimp, the C-shape of most airline seats would be super comfortable. Since we're not, passengers regularly stumble off the plane with achy backs, necks, and legs. Sitting for long periods is already hard on your back, and without lumbar support, your spine and the muscles in your lower back have to work even harder to maintain healthy alignment. Counteract the crush by wedging a blanket, scarf, or rolled-up sweater behind you to allow your lower back to maintain its natural curve.

Pad the Armrest

Draping a folded scarf or sweater over your armrest adds just enough padding to boost the comfort quotient from ouch to ahhh. Draping a folded scarf or sweater over your armrest adds just enough padding to boost the comfort quotient from ouch to ahhh. Found yourself in the middle seat, with no armrest of your own? In the competitive real-estate market on planes, nothing says "mine" like a draped sweatshirt or scarf over the contested territory.

Recline Politely

Often, a slight recline makes a world of difference in seat comfort. Score travel karma points (and reduce the chance of vengeance-kicking from behind for the duration of the flight) by turning around and asking the person directly in back of you if they mind if you recline your seat slightly. They're unlikely to say no, and their knees will appreciate the advance warning. Just remember the golden (unspoken) rule of reclining etiquette: Resume the upright position during mealtime. Not only will this keep your shirt crumb-free, but the person behind you will not be forced to eat with a tray table wedged up against his or her chest.

Reserve the Window Seat

Boost your leanable surface area by reserving the window seat. The molded plastic of the airplane's interior won't ever be mistaken for a pillow-top mattress, but in a pinch, it's nice to be able to rest against something besides the stranger in the seat next to you. You can easily boost comfort by rolling up a jacket to lean against. By varying the angles of your repose, you'll also spare yourself some of the discomfort that comes from sitting in the same position for hours on end. Alternately, if you're taller than average, you might find more comfort from an aisle seat, where your legs can borrow a little extra room from the aisle when they start to go numb.

Adjust Air Vents

When you take your seat, make a habit of adjusting the air vents. To get that Goldilocks sweet spot (not too hot, not too cold), open the air vent about halfway, and then position it so it blows right in front of you but not on you. Not only will you boost circulation in your personal zone, which can counteract that stuffy plane feeling, but some experts suggest that you may also be protecting yourself from germs.

Get Up and Stretch

While not technically a way to make your seat any better, standing and stretching regularly can do wonders for your overall comfort level on a flight. Stretching can help combat muscle cramping and fatigue and is an important protective measure against deep vein thrombosis, which can develop when you sit for long periods. Whenever possible, get up every hour or two. If you're self-conscious about stretching, take a walk to the bathroom or do a lap up and down the aisle.

Wear Loose-Fitting Clothing

It's a comfort calculation we've all learned the hard way: Narrow seat plus tight clothing equals discomfort, squared. But while you can't do a thing about the squeeze of airline seats, your clothing decisions can at least spare you from additional pain. We're not condoning boarding in your pajamas, but making an effort to wear breathable, loose-fitting clothing will go a long way toward making your flight far more pleasant.

Bring Along Comfort Accessories

Socks, eye masks, earplugs -- the passengers who often look the most comfortable in coach are the ones who have planned ahead. Fluffy socks, often worn over regular socks, allow you to kick off your shoes but keep your feet warm. And eye masks, earplugs, and noise-canceling headphones help passengers determined to nap cut themselves off from the buzz of the cabin.

-- Christine Sarkis