basic economy survival guide

What to pack in your carry-on bag to unsuck basic economy

It’s basic economy or bust when flying on a budget these days. These checklists make sure you know what to pack in your carry-on and how to prep for a long haul in the back of the plane.

Remember when everyone received in-flight pillows and blankets? And any trip over a couple of hours included a meal? We didn’t know how good we had it. Thanks to the broad adoption of basic economy, complimentary checked bags, pre-selected seats, and other small luxuries no longer come standard with the lowest ticket price.

Today, we live in a world where plebians like me must wait until group “E” to board the plane, begging for space in the overhead bin before taking a seat in the toilet section (i.e., the rows right in front of the bathrooms, where the scent of hand soap mingles with…other aromas).

That’s right — I’m a frequent basic economy flyer. I’ve flown as far as Portugal and Singapore in the cheap seats. I live on a budget, like most people, and can’t justify shelling out an additional $50-$150 for a little more legroom and a seat towards the middle of the plane. Instead, I’ve learned to prepare for the experience in advance to reduce the crappiness levels.

If you’re willing to deal with several hours of discomfort, basic economy offers the best flight deals around. I know I can spend that cash on meals, activities, and other adventures, so why upgrade and drain my budget before I even land?

To unsuck basic economy, you first need the right gear. Here is my carry-on packing list for every flight. Some items are more obvious than others, but either way this provides a handy checklist so you don’t forget the essentials. (I have not been asked to include any of these products, nor is this post sponsored. However, if you want this stuff and also want to support our site, please use the links below to purchase.)


What to pack in your carry-on for a basic economy flight:

1. Silk eye mask

2. Earplugs

3. Neck brace

4. Snacks like Larabars, Epic Bars, dried fruit, and nuts

5. Tea satchels (hot water is still free, even for us basics)

6. Phone charger

7. Magazine or book of choice (I like Outside and The Atlantic.)

8. Essential oil roller (to sniff when the bathroom smells are an issue, or just to relax)

9. Chapstick

10. Chewing gum

11. Water bottle

12. Comfortable shoes

13. Smartphone and/ or tablet (of course)

14. A warm sweater or jacket

15. Hand sanitizer or sanitizer wipes

16. Hand cream or lotion


Once packed, there are several additional steps to ensure minimal misery.


How to prepare for a basic economy flight:


  • Set a calendar reminder to check-in exactly 24 hours before the flight to get the best possible seats.
  • Download your favorite shows and movies on the Netflix app in advance. (A lot of people seem not to know about this, but Netflix isn’t just streaming — you can download too!)
  • Charge all your devices to 100%.
  • Bring headphones with a universal jack so you can use in-flight entertainment without buying a new pair from the flight attendants (always a problem for Apple users).
  • Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.
  • Stretch or do yoga for 20 minutes. You’re about to be crammed in the same, uncomfortable position for hours.
  • Plan an activity for the plane ride that will stimulate your brain for at least 30 min. It could be Sudoku or journaling or even getting ahead on a bit of work. This will draw your focus away from any discomfort.

It’s never going to feel like first class, but basic economy doesn’t have to be miserable. When you know what to pack in your carry-on, you’re at least pairing small luxuries with an otherwise unappealing journey.

Also, nobody messes with a passenger who’s rocking an eye mask, earplugs, and neck brace. Fellow travelers leave you 100% alone — no awkward small talk over here, thanks!

If I ever become a bazillionaire, I’ll be buying exclusively first and business class tickets for the rest of my life, if not flying on a PJ (private jet). In fact, this is among the primary benefits of being very wealthy, in my humble opinion. Until then, I’m living the basic economy life and making the best of it. Most people in the world never get to fly at all, so you won’t catch me whining!

What’s on your basic economy packing list? Let us know in the comments below, or on Instagram and Twitter.


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August 4, 2019 at 11:57 pm

[…] You are reading a travel blog. So, you probably already know to put everything into a carry on bag and leave checking a bag for the amateurs. This makes rebooking SO much easier for the airline and you will not be separated from your stuff if you have to fly out the next day.  (We gave some packing tips that might help here, especially in basic economy.)  […]

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August 5, 2019 at 12:14 am

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