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I have booked countless international business trips during my time as an Executive Assistant. The CEOs I worked for always travelled in business class and more often than not I would manage to get them an upgrade to First Class. When it comes to my own travel, it is economy all the way. My brother lives in Singapore so I usually travel long haul once or twice a year to see him and his family. Living vicariously through my boss’ businesses trips, it becomes a bit of a let down when I find myself cramped into an economy seat for 13 hours, so over the years I’ve worked out some ways of pretending I am travelling first class and you can too.
Before you fly
1) If you fly a regular route, choose your favourite airline and sign up for their loyalty or air miles programme. Unless the prices vary dramatically I always stick to the same airline, that way every other year I have enough points to get a free flight to Asia (paying tax on top) or you might prefer to use your points to upgrade to premium or business class.
2) Most airlines let you chose your seat when you book your flight, some charging for the privilege. Although I don’t like adding to the cost of an already expensive flight it is worth paying the extra to pre-select my favourite seat. Most travel magazines tell you to avoid the back as they say it is bumpy and you are the last to exit the plane but this is my seat of choice. On the upstairs deck of an A380 plane, the window seats are in rows of two and 50% of the time I get two seats to myself. They have a cupboard just under the window to store all my travel luxuries, allowing more room to stretch your legs out under the seat in front. I choose the last row as there is no one sat behind me, the loos are in front rather than at the back and there is room to stand up. Read the comments on seatguru to find the seat that suits you the best (don’t select the upstairs deck if you are tall as it is smaller than the lower deck).
3) If you have signed up to the airlines’ loyalty programme then you should be able to download their app onto your smart phone and pre-select your in-flight entertainment. Just a little extra to make you feel the flight is tailored to you.
4) I am vegetarian so I always select a special meal but I have friends who order a special meal even though they are not veggie. You receive your meal before everyone else and another small win to make you feel like you have turned left when you got on the plane instead of right.
Planning your route to the airport
1) Aim to arrive the airport early. If you are flying from a London airport, the traffic is always slow, the London Underground always packed so allow at least 90 minutes travel time and two hours to check in. I allow more than that, preferring to arrive at the airport at the maximum check in time of three hours and avoiding unnecessary panic. If you have an early flight the next day, stay at a hotel close to your departure airport the night before. If you book well enough in advance usually the rates are reasonable.
2) If you are travelling to London Heathrow there are cheaper ways of getting to the airport than the Heathrow Express but if you want to get there unfrazzled and in plenty of time for your flight then this is the way to get there. If you book your train tickets 90 days in advance you can pick one up for £5.50 weekdays and £7.50 at weekends. I ordered mine around one week before my trip and I still saved money. If you have a lot of luggage or there are more than two of you travelling, it is cost effective to book a car or taxi to the airport. I use Airport Car Services, who offer a luxury car and reliable driver for only a small percentage more than an Uber or your local mini cab firm. I’ve recently discovered courier company Portr that will collect your luggage from your home or place of work and deliver it to the airport for you, so you can pack that extra pair of shoes or jeans.
3) Book your car transfer for when you arrive at your destination airport. If you are travelling to a new city your hotel or travel agent will be able to arrange this for you. Check out TripAdvisor to see if anyone recommends any car companies. It is an added cost but if you want to feel like you have travelled in luxury it is very comforting to know that you have someone waiting for you to help you with your bags and deliver you safely to your accommodation hassle free. When I’m in a city I usually pick up cards for car companies and pre-book an airport car for the return journey.
4) If you arrive at the airport super early or your flight is delayed, avoid the crowds and head for a nearby airport hotel. I recently travelled from Heathrow Terminal 5 and walked the short distance to the Sofitel hotel. When I arrived the concierge looked after my bags for me even though I told them I wasn’t staying there. I enjoyed a calming jasmine tea in the all day tea salon and read the vast array of complementary magazines and newspapers they had on offer or you can make use of their free wifi. There is a champagne bar and an excellent French fusion restaurant (which boasts two private dining rooms). The hotel has a large number of meeting and conference rooms (I’ll post a separate review). If you really want to treat yourself before a long flight, why not arrive with enough time to spare for a spa treatment at their Espa Spa or get a blow dry at the hairdressers (contact the hotel to pre-book). Feeling refreshed after my jasmine tea I head back to the terminal and now I don’t mind encountering the crowds. I avoid the self-check in desk and prefer to speak to a human, always in the hope for getting an upgrade. (Better luck next time).
5) When you arrive through security most large airports have a bar where you can enjoy a glass of champagne and I like sitting up at the Fortnum & Mason bar in Heathrow Terminal 5. I prefer not to drink alcohol on a flight so a pre-flight drink gets me in the holiday mood. Of course there is always a bit of window shopping in the luxurious shops that entice you around the terminal.
5) Remember to pre-pack your in-flight toiletries. I like the travel kit from Neals Yard Remedies but unfortunately it doesn’t come in a clear bag. Instead save a clear cosmetic bag you might have received complementary from one of your favourite cosmetic companies such as Molton Brown who give away a good quality clear zip bag with their travel sets. If you know someone who travels in business or first class ask them to save the complimentary toiletries bag for you. It is only a small win but will make you feel like you might have travelled first class at least once before.
6) I take many things with me on a flight, which probably warrants another blog post but the two things I cannot do without are my noise cancelling headphones and my smart phone pre-loaded with my favourite music and an audio book. The choice of music is personal to you but the important thing is it must be an album or playlist that you have listened to many many times. It sounds boring but that is the point, it is what helps me sleep for 9 out of the 13 hours on a long haul flight. Nora Jones ‘Come Away’ is my album of choice. Sorry Nora but I have listened to it on so many flights that my brain associates it with sleep. It cancels out the noise around me, it is soothing and recognisable. A warm scarf is also essential and it is worth investing in a cashmere one to give you that luxury feeling and keep you warm.
All you need now is a pair of sunglasses for arrival, not to hide your puffy eyes from the flight but to pretend you are a celeb of course! Oh and keep your fingers crossed for an upgrade, I’ve read it is near impossible nowadays but arrive at the check in desk in smart casual clothing and you never know.
(Header photo is from Huffington Post / Getty Images)