Inexpensive flights can help shave costs off one of the heftiest expenses of a transatlantic trip – the airfare. © Getty Images
Inexpensive flights can help shave costs off one of the heftiest expenses of a transatlantic trip – the airfare. © Getty Images

Tips for managing a long haul flight in basic economy

TripFalcon February 26, 2022

Last Update: 2024-01-22 11:06:39

As countries are rolling back travel restrictions thanks to falling COVID-19 cases, a parade of low-cost transatlantic airlines has announced new routes and bargain fares in anticipation of a bounce of passengers ready to travel in 2022.

With momentum building that transatlantic travel may return in earnest this summer, a steady drumbeat of low cost and legacy carriers have offered sweetheart deals in recent weeks to entice customers to, after nearly two years of pandemic setbacks, book that long-awaited trip across the Atlantic. 

For instance, Icelandic airline PLAY announced starting in September, it would launch service from Orlando, Florida, to Keflavik, Iceland, connecting passengers to final destinations in Europe including Berlin, Dublin, Copenhagen, Gothenburg, London, and Paris. To celebrate the launch, PLAY offered a stunning introductory fare of $129 one way until midnight ET on February 27. 

It comes on the heels of several other announcements for summer 2022. German leisure carrier Condor announced that after two years it would fly 16 nonstop routes between Frankfurt, the US and Canada in summer 2022. French carrier Frenchbee will launch new service from Los Angeles International to Paris’ Orly airport on April 30 after launching service from Newark and San Francisco last year. 

These inexpensive flights can sometimes be a tempting way to shave costs off one of the heftiest expenses of a transatlantic trip – the airfare. But, like in all things, you get what you pay for. Make sure you read the fine print and do a little prep work in advance to get the best bang for your buck.

Here's a round-up of some of our editors' best advice on how to survive a long-haul flight when traveling on a discount fare,

Before you book: Add up the costs

A warning: This is going to involve math. Some discount airlines and basic economy fares on legacy carriers use an "unbundling" business model. That means they charge really low base fares but upsell you on everything from seat assignments to bag fees.

Some even charge for carry-on baggage and printing your boarding pass. 

Make sure you read the fine print on what the fare covers and do the math on what extras you might need so you can accurately compare apples to apples with the fares the legacy carriers are offering. Sometimes, the fares end up being similar once you add in everything you need. 

Finally, check the fine print on cancellation policies especially given the uncertainty we’ve seen in the pandemic thus far. If there’s a deadline to cancel, add a calendar reminder on your phone so you don’t forget. — Melissa Yeager. Senior News Editor

What to pack in your bags for a low-cost flight

Consider a travel backpack to avoid bag fees: The Mother Lode backpack and the Junior Motherload from eBags went viral on TikTok for good reason. This carry-on can pack in a tremendous amount of stuff. I’ve had the Junior version (now out of production) since 2014 and carried it everywhere when I lived in Europe – from trains to Ryanair flights. 

The $119 USD retail price might seem a bit steep but when you consider how much it’ll save you in bag fees, it’s well worth the price. And, pro-tip, I’ve often found eBags running coupon codes that will save you some cash. One word of warning: The bag fits more than you might imagine so be careful packing it. It can get heavy fast.  — Melissa Yeager, Senior News Editor

Pack smart, invest in a scale: So you’ve managed to cram everything into a backpack to avoid any extra charges for check-in suitcases. But do you know how much it weighs?

 Invest in a scale (you can get portable hand-held ones for around 10 bucks). Budget airlines are the most likely to make you weigh your hand luggage and will be more than happy to slap on a fee even if it’s a few grams over. That also means you need to get really good at packing light. Merino wool, which can withstand multiple wears without a wash, is your friend and can mean bringing two t-shirts on your trip instead of seven. — Sebastian Modak, Editor-At-Large

A high-quality portable scale is the way to go. Our large luggage has a scale built into the handle, but it’s not digital, just a flimsy red flag that pops up if the bag weighs too much, but it was never 100% accurate and has only gotten worse with wear. We spent a lot of time before a recent trip deliberately packing and repacking to get under the weight limit, only to show up and be hilariously over the limit according to the official scale at check-in. — Evan Godt, Editorial Director 

Pack a small necessities bag Keep a small-ish bag of necessities (floss, tissues, hand sanitizer, battery pack, snacks, etc) that will fit in the seat-back pocket in front of you. That way you’re not fishing around in your carry-on under the seat or (the horror!) asking your seatmates to move while you get that tube of chapstick from your overhead luggage. —  Alexander Howard, Senior Editor

Don’t wait for the airport to get your tech: Get a good Battery Charger/ Power Bank days before departure and make sure it is fully charged and compatible with the devices you are bringing on board.  Do not make the mistake of buying one at the airport, only to realize when you board that it too needs to be charged. — Fin McCarthy, Editorial Director

Download movies and podcasts before you arrive at the airport. © Damircudic/Getty Images

Download movies and podcasts before you arrive at the airport. © Damircudic/Getty Images

Download movies/podcasts in advance: Depending on the airline, you might not have a lot (or any) options for entertainment. Bring a tablet and download all your entertainment for the flight before you get to the airport. The WiFi in the terminals often does not have enough bandwidth for streaming or downloading videos. —​​​​​​​ Melissa Yeager, Senior News EditorArriving at the airport

No frills: Onboard a low-cost flight

Download a language-learning podcast to help you with some phrases before you arrive at your destination. Coffee Break Languages from the Radio Lingua Network is a great place to start. They offer short episodes (between 15 and 25 minutes) that cover the basics, and you're killing time while learning something useful. —​​​​​​​ Sasha Brady,  Editor

Double-check the airport! This might seem obvious, but I consider myself a seasoned traveler…and have made this mistake. Budget airlines often fly out of less frequented airports (think: Midway instead of O’Hare, Stansted instead of Heathrow). Double-check that you know where you’re flying out of and where you’re flying into so that you’re not surprised at check-in. 

If you haven’t paid up, show up early: Budget airlines make a ton of money off of extras like premium check-in/boarding because the regular check-in can be such a hassle. Make sure you understand your airline’s rules (some charge you extra if you haven’t checked in online or printed your boarding pass). And if you haven’t checked in beforehand for whatever reason, show up early because check-in lines can be extra loooong. —​​​​​​​ Sebastian Modak, Editor-At-Large

Noise-canceling headphones will make any budget flight seem luxurious: Bring along a set of noise-canceling headphones so you can slip into my own world when the going gets rough on a long flight. Chatty seatmate? Sorry, can’t hear you. Crying baby? Inaudible. All that’s left is you, that latest show you’ve been meaning to catch up on and your couple square feet of space. —​​​​​​​  Alexander Howard, Senior Editor

Be that passenger with the neck pillow: Pack a  travel neck pillow and a throw or woolen scarf for when the temperature drops on the flight.  If you have an uncomfortable seat, the pillow can double as a cushion.  —​​​​​​​ Fin McCarthy, Editorial Director

Wear lots of soft, thick layers. Low-cost airlines tend to have uncomfortable seats so dress as if wrapping yourself up in a soft, cozy cloud. It will make it easier to curl up for a nap as well as keep you warm. —​​​​​​​ Anne Marie McCarthy, Senior Editor

Also, if you’re wearing the layers, they aren’t in your bag, which means you’re more likely to fall within the weight restrictions! —​​​​​​​  Sebastian Modak, Editor-At-Large

Bring an eye mask: And I mean both the kind to sleep and the kind to give yourself a spa day in your seat. A silk, sleep mask will block out the light if you want to take a snooze. Meanwhile, an under-eye mask (or the new hydrating masks that go under your face mask) can be a soothing way to get a little hydration when you're in the dry cabin of an airplane for several hours. —​​​​​​​ Melissa Yeager, Senior Editor

Bring snacks: Skip the TV dinner at 35k feet and pack your own. Fatty and fibrous snacks like nuts and dried fruit will get you through most lengthy flights (also a good idea to eat a large meal before taking off). Remember that you’re sharing the space with others, so although those hardboiled eggs have made it past security, do you want to be that person? —​​​​​​​ Alexander Howard, Senior Editor

Pack enough water for a long hike: Fill up your water bottle and buy additional bottles once you go through security.  You can never have too much water to stay hydrated on a flight, and other passengers who may not have been so savvy will be grateful if you share your surplus. —​​​​​​​ Fin McCarthy, Editorial Director

Buying booze on board: Our editors were split on advice on buying a cocktail on board

Team skip the booze: This goes for any long-haul flight, but avoid the temptation to treat your frugality with a (likely overpriced) adult beverage. No, it won’t help you sleep through the flight. You’ll just get a headache and feel worse. — Alexander Howard, Senior Editor

Team buy a cocktail: I love treating myself to a glass of wine to just take the edge off being in a metal tube for multiple hours. My tip is to make sure you're also hydrating (it's dry on the airplane) and be responsible in how you consume. Alcohol will hit you faster at altitude and along with not wanting to be a mess on the flight, you also don't want to be the person constantly climbing over people to get to the bathroom (for your sake and your seatmates). Also, know it's against the law to drink your own alcohol on the flight. You'll face a hefty fine if you're caught. --Melissa Yeager, Senior News Editor

Relax screen rules for kids: If traveling with kids, this is the time to not stress over their screen time.  This is one situation where we should be giving thanks for the distraction of screens. Also pack coloring books, pencils, games (maybe not ones that have loud noises), comics.  Go easy on chocolate and fizzy drinks on board - fruit sticks and yoghurt are better options when in a confined space. —​​​​​​​  Fin McCarthy, Editorial Director

Source: lonelyplanet