7 Ways to Make Flying Economy With Your Family Feel More Like First Class
Confession: I was recently spoiled in business class on a 14-hour flight from New York City to Dubai and I may never be able to fly economy again. Not only was I in business class, I was in business class on Emirates—and those frequent flying families out there know there’s nothing like traveling on the top deck of an A380. (For the newbies like me, this means there’s a lounge with a bar on the airplane. I repeat, a lounge and bar in the sky!)
So now I’m in a new reality where I know this luxury type of travel exists and I will likely not be able to experience it again, or at least not for a while. And definitely not when I travel with my future kids. That’s why I called in the experts to help me hack my future economy flights to make them feel like first-class travel. And not just any first-class travel—Emirates first class travel (yes, that’s my new gold standard. Did I mention there’s a lounge on board? Also a first-class spa bathroom with a shower!).
Yes, Emirates ruined all other travel for me, but there’s a silver lining: I made some friends on the cabin crew team who were willing to share the secrets to what makes their business and first-class experience so special. Of course, I’m sharing all their secrets with you. Going on your babymoon? I got you covered. Family vacation? Get ready for a relaxing flight with your baby (yes, you read that right).
These insider tips will make traveling with kids feel almost luxurious. Maybe you’ll even feel bold enough to book a 14-hour international flight after reading this. When you do, don’t forget to sneak up to first class while your partner and kids are sleeping to check out that lounge!
1. Pre-download media onto your tablet device
On my swanky Emirates flight, I could choose from more than 4,000 channels on top of brand new movies (I watched On the Basis of Sex and Free Solo). Not to brag, but it was pretty great. You can easily replicate this experience though, by packing a tablet loaded with pre-downloaded content.
Netflix allows you to download movies and TV series while in WiFi that can be played through the app in airplane mode. You can also download podcasts on Apple's podcast app, e-books in the Kindle app, and audiobooks from Audible. Really there's no excuse not to be geared up with media on a flight these days. The inflight TVs most airlines have are just a nice bonus.
Load up a tablet with the movies and shows and your phone with the podcasts and audiobooks. Bring a paperback book, too, so you can share the tech with your partner and kids during a long flight.
2. Pack play kits for each kid
"Emirates offers toys from the Fly with Me collection and Loney Planet Kids activity kits to children traveling in all classes," says Emirates Cabin Crew member Lauren Guilfoyle. "On short haul flights, children 2 years old and younger are offered a vibrating plush toy which can then be repurposed and attached to a stroller when baby and parents are on the move. For children aged 3-6 years old, Emirates introduced a travel case which includes puzzles, games, and stickers to keep them busy during the flight. On long haul flights, infants will be given a dual purpose plush toy with a printed activity blanket with older kids receiving a plush backpack with activity kits."
Not flying Emirates? Use the activity kits described above as a guide to pack your own. Fill a backpack with toys and plush animals that are new to your child, and don't give them a sneak peek before you board the flight—new toys will keep their attention longer.
As Guilfoyle puts it, "Kids love playing with their animals and activities; they help give parents a break."
3. Bring a beauty bag
While you won't always get a freebie amenity kit full of lotions and skin care while flying economy, there's no rule saying you can't bring your own.
During a long flight, always pack an eye mask, travel toothbrush, toothpaste, comb, and chapstick for each family member. Hand lotion will also come in handy as airplane air is very dehydrating. I'm a fan of also picking up a few paper face masks from Sephora before a long flight. If you're hesitant to go full face mask, they make ones just for under your eyes that are still very hydrating.
If you're in economy on Emirates you'll get an eye mask, earplugs, toothbrush, toothpaste, and socks, so you don’t have to pack your own. In case you are flying Emirates business class soon, you can also expect to get Bulgari fragrance, Eau Parfumée Au Thé Vert (Green Tea), in your amenity kit, Guilfoyle says.
4. Snacks, snacks, snacks
Not sure how it took me this long to mention the food on my Emirates flight. I haven't traveled internationally in a while so I'll admit I'm only used to getting a bag of chips on my flights, but being wined and dined at 30,000 feet was amazing. While I enjoyed grilled lamb chops and cream of spinach soup, Guilfoyle says the top orders off the kid's menu are chicken tenders and pasta (no surprises there).
Whether or not your fight provides food, it's always a good idea to bring more, especially if you have a picky eater on your hands. You can bring unpeeled fruit on board, as well as packaged crackers and hard cheese, or granola bars. In terms of hot food, you can bring dry oatmeal or even an Easy Mac package and ask the flight attendant for hot water to help prepare the meal.
- RELATED: The 16 Best Travel Snacks for Kids
5. Book a bassinet for baby & pack diapers
On Emirates, when booking your ticket you can request a bassinet in the passenger details section online. Several airlines have similar bassinet seats reserved for parents traveling with babies. Call ahead to make sure there's one available on your flight.
I'm sure you've already thought of this, but pack your diaper bag with a bib, spoon, baby wipes, a changing mat, diaper rash cream, a change of clothes, and lots of diapers. Guilfoyle says that Emirates offers bottle warming services on-board, so it's worth calling ahead to see if your airline does the same.
6. Call ahead for stroller rentals
There are ways to feel like a VIP in the airport without having access to that first-class lounge. Call ahead to see if your airline offers stroller rentals. If so, you can leave yours at home (assuming you won't need it at your destination) or check it upon arrival and not have to worry about folding up the rental before you step onto the plane.
"When flying in and out of Dubai International Airport, we offer complimentary baby strollers (single and twin) to help you travel through the airport," Guilfoyle says. "These are located at several points throughout the airport for ease and accessibility."
7. Invest in noise canceling headphones
Just because you're traveling with your kids doesn't mean you don't deserve some peace and quiet inflight. While Emirates loans all first class guests Bowers & Wilkins Active Noise Cancelling E1 headphones, you can definitely pack your own in economy. Tag team with your adult travel partner so one of you can be the on-call parent and the other can catch some shuteye on an overnight flight.
And don't forget to sign up for your go-to airline's points program. Maybe soon you'll earn enough points to treat yourself to a true first-class upgrade.