The "business class" experience varies widely from airline to airline. On smaller carriers, business class may mean little more than two additional inches of leg room and a meal. On larger carriers, business class competes with first-class service for luxurious experiences, for which people are willing to pay significantly more.
If you're flying economy, you can still position yourself to have a business-class-like experience with a little imagination and planning. In these days of no-frills travel, there is often little difference between a lackluster business-class seat and a well-planned economy experience on a less than fully booked flight.
1. Check out the facilities in the airports you are traveling to and from. Many airports now have pay-per-visit "business class lounges" where you can rest up, work on the Internet, have a snack and feel as if you've paid for a full-fare business-class ticket (at least before departure). Also ask your airline if they are running any promotions for a pay-per-visit at their own lounge - an increasingly popular phenomenon, designed to make the airline an extra buck and introduce economy-class flyers to what they're missing.
2. Check into upgrading to the new sections between business and economy. These seats combine qualities of both at a cheaper price than regular business class. If you can't upgrade, ask your travel agent or the airline's customer service for a flight that is often not fully booked. When it comes to comfort, there is a substantial difference between flying with an empty seat next to you and traveling on a fully booked flight.
3. Order vegetarian meals in advance. They are often served first and usually consist of fresher, healthier fare.
4. Pack your own amenities kit. Bring eye shades, travel socks, an inflatable pillow, mints and a plastic bag containing a small bottle (3-oz.) of luxurious moisturizer, a mini toothbrush, three ounces of toothpaste and mouthwash. You won't be missing much. Many business-class kits now offer the same basic items.
5. Get a seat in the front of the plane. You'll be the last one on (more time for phone calls and food) and the first one off. It's a good place to be in case of razor-thin connection times.
6. Take advantage of pre-boarding. If you are elderly, physically disabled or have small children, step to the front of the line and get on first.
7. Be very, very nice to your flight attendant. Polite and friendly passengers get better treatment. If you find yourself being ignored or getting shoddy service, always ask for the purser and make your complaint at the top of the food chain.
8. Never assume you'll get enough to eat in economy class. Bring your own non-liquid snacks (like packaged smoked almonds-which they'll probably be serving in business class) for the long lulls between meals. Also, be aware that many airlines don't serve full breakfasts even on transatlantic flights-even on business class the breakfasts tend to be skimpy these days. The most you'll get in economy will be a muffin or a small yogurt, so if you tend to be hungry in the morning, pack your own supplements.
9. Find a human to check in with, not a machine, and then ask for a bulk-head or an exit-row seat. You may not get one, but if you do, you'll have a significant amount of bonus legroom. If none are available, ask for a row with an empty seat beside you. After checking in, double-check the position of your seat at the gate, just to make sure a mistake wasn't made that puts you in the center seat. It happens more often than you'd think.
10. Pass up your laptop for personal entertainment. Increasingly aware of baggage limitations, thefts and other potential problems, many business travelers are putting aside their bulky laptops and opting for memory sticks instead. Bring a small portable entertainment system loaded with films instead of all that work you know you won't get done in flight. Sit back, relax and enjoy the show.