I’m an Economy traveller – and surviving well thanks very much!

I’m by no means a regular traveller, but over the past ~20 years I’ve probably done my fair share. I’ve flown to most major Australian cities on several occasions, and in more recent years I’ve been to Texas, Florida, China and twice to London. And all of those flights I’ve been in economy (or ‘coach’, depending where you’re reading this from).

I read with amusement some travel blogs where it reads as though the sky’s going to fall in (hopefully not at 38,000ft) if the blogger has to sit in an economy seat. In all the time I’ve travelled economy, there have only been two occasions (both on Jetstar Asia) where I’ve felt the seats were anything less than quite adequate. Perhaps I’d feel different if I had a Business Class, or even Premium Economy experience to compare it to, but I don’t – and the thing is I don’t feel I’ve missed out. I’ve also managed quite fine before the flight, waiting in the terminal rather than in a premium lounge. Sometimes I’ve had to stand (hardly a problem when you have a long sit ahead of you), or even sit on the floor.

But despite these privations, I’ve made it to exactly the same destination in exactly the same amount of time as those who paid 3-10x as much, sometimes with an even better result.

Two examples:

  1. In 2013 I flew return Melbourne to London in Economy on QF9/10 (which at the time was an Airbus A380 service via Dubai). It wasn’t a full night’s sleep by any means, but I slept well enough and felt sufficiently alive at both ends to be quite functional. I think the fare was about $AU1800 return. I had looked at the price of first class and saw it was close to $AU20,000! Two months later an industry colleague flew out to Australia from London on the same aircraft type in First Class, and he said he didn’t sleep a wink. I think I know who was better off.
  2. Earlier this year I flew to London again – Emirates on the way over, Qantas on the way back. Both were in economy. Again it was more than satisfactory both ways, and I slept quite well using the FaceCradle travel pillow which made a big difference over a standard neck pillow.

I remember a quote (unable to source it, if you can find it please let me know) where a business executive said he only flew economy. He said a 3 hour business class seat might cost $2000 while economy might be $200, and on the premise that a dollar saved is a dollar earned, he’d be happy to get paid $600/hr to sit in an uncomfortable seat. That resonated with me – at the end of the day all the passengers achieved the primary purpose of their journey, which was to get from point A to point B.

I’m not going to criticise those who, through personal wealth or business benevolence, have lounge access or travel in higher classes. I daresay it’s a lovely experience and they probably arrive fresh and ready to go, which is probably a consideration if you have an important meeting to get to soon after landing. I also grant that, for those who are accustomed to the plush treatment, economy certainly would be a negative experience; but in this respect whatever you’re used to becomes the benchmark against which you measure everything else.

But for a regular Joe who travels occasionally, particularly if you only have experience in economy, I think it’s important to take the opinions of more affluent bloggers accustomed to fancier options with a handful of salt. Travelling economy is far from torture; it is infinitely better than public transport seating; and at the end of the process you’re at the same destination as everyone else, just with a lot more coin to spend at your destination!

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