I Survived and Thrived in Coach!

by on September 5, 2013 · 28 comments

in KLM, Points Guy Pointers

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Well, after 18 hours of flight time and a 3-hour layover, I finally made it from New York to Cape Town on Wednesday, and I had an overall solid experience flying in KLM Economy Comfort. For those of you expecting a whiny, complaining post, you may want to skip this one ;-)

When I originally posted about my trip, I think there were a few misconceptions about it and what I expected. This was not a dirt-cheap ticket or a mileage run (though the miles I’ll earn will be great and help me re-qualify for Delta Platinum Medallion). I flew there because I had the opportunity to visit some good friends in Cape Town, which I loved when I first traveled here last January, so I jumped at the chance to revisit the country and spend some time hanging out with locals this time around. When it comes to travel, although I appreciate the finer things and being able to fly first or business class, the most important thing to me is the destination.

The view of Table Mountain from my friend's apartment.. this is what travel is about!

The view of Table Mountain from my friend’s apartment.. this is what travel is about!

Some people seemed to think my post was whiny and that I was complaining about having to travel so far in economy, but that’s not what this was about at all. After all, this was not a comped trip- I paid $1,538.10 out of my own pocket to take these flights. While not cheap, the routing was ideal and the only way to redeem miles would have extended the journey and cut into my limited time on the ground. Believe me, I realize how truly lucky I am to get to travel the world for a living. I think a lot of us who live in the miles and points world get a little jaded about traveling 21 hours at the drop of a hat, but the truth is, what we get to do is wonderful, amazing and ultimately the best thing I can imagine.

My first window seat was a little tight, but decent.

My first window seat was a little tight, but bearable for a quick 6 hour hop to Amsterdam.

Thanks to points and miles, I have gotten to visit corners of the globe I never dreamed about, and in this case, although I could not afford a ticket in business class ($7,000!) or use the miles necessary to travel in a premium class of service (unless I wanted to waste 12 hours laying over in Frankfurt or Cairo- no thanks), I just didn’t care as long as I could get to South Africa to see my good friends. To me, it was more important to have another amazing trip where I know I will be tasting world-class wines, dining in delicious restaurants, getting to know more about what is becoming one of my favorite countries.

It’s true, I was a little anxious about flying over 9,000 miles in coach in one shot because I’ve never flown that long in economy. I realize that many in our frequent traveler community do this all the time, but you have to admit this is not the norm! And not to have a pity party for myself (I LOVE being tall), but economy seats were not made for passengers of height. I originally posted about my trip in order to solicit advice and tips about what I could do to make the time pass, and I would like to thank all of you who offered great ideas and tips on long-haul travel…as well as awesome recommendations for TV shows and movies to download and watch along the way. I’m now addicted to several new shows, including Breaking Bad and House of Cards. The only thing that thwarted my viewing bonanza was the lack of power outlets!

I actually had a really good experience flying KLM. I did have one last Twitter fiasco with the airline (more on that in my review), but I was able to score a great aisle bulkhead seat for the longest leg (Amsterdam-Capteown), and thanks to the reader suggestions I think I made the most of my time flying – I was practically grinning the whole way there, and I literally walked off the plane in Cape Town smiling and feeling relatively refreshed. I’ll do a more thorough flight review in a future posts, but in the meantime, be sure to follow along with my travels on Twitter and Instagram.

I was able to stretch out on my second flight.

I was able to stretch out on my second flight.

Thank you again to all the readers who submitted great comments and recommendations for how to make the most out of 21 hours of travel and even to those who offered constructive criticism. As PaxView Jeff tweeted me “Hard to convey emotion or the emotion of a carefully cocked eyebrow in black and white text. No harm no foul, play on”.   Despite some seat assignment shenanigans and some long-haul flights in somewhat cramped quarters, this was still a great trip, and a reminder of just what a wonderful life that I, and many of my fellow points enthusiasts and readers, get to lead, so I hope to catch up with many of you on the road soon, and in the meantime, happy travels!

This experience has allowed me to think about what is really important about traveling, so stay tuned for a lucrative contest later today all about what makes you inspired to travel!

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • Casey

    I love how you handled this situation. I thought your posts on flying economy were great and I’ve always really had great luck with Premium economy seats! Glad you made it without too much headache :)

  • Ben Price

    Glad you survived. Flying economy is uncomfortable, whether you’re used to it or not. The moral of the story: mind over matter.

  • Donnie Law

    I love your attitude about all this stuff. You come across grateful for your travel opportunities. I think that’s important.

  • zila

    actually, IMO, 12 hours in Cairo could be enough to see the pyramids and the sphinx, which just all about there is to see there. The same applies to Frankfurt, a quick trip to the small part of the city that did not get razed to the ground in WWII…

  • thepointsguy

    For sure but it would have meant one less night in Cape Town and I only had 5 to begin with

  • Jerry

    omg, the seat looks so old and cheap, it’s really time for KLM to invest into new seats

    btw, congrats for your survival :)

  • Chris

    This reminds me of the Seinfeld episode where Jerry and Elaine have to chose who flies first and who flies coach. The deciding factor is that since Elaine has never flown first class so she won’t know what she’s missing. Coach isn’t a bad product, TPG just knows what he’s missing.

  • BigRedBears

    Your posts are whiny

  • C Archer

    Read your post everyday for tips! My husband and I used award tkts in economy thru AA on Quantas in March to fly to Sydney to reunite with neice who lives there and her parents, who live in Kauai. Couldn’t upgrade on Quantas, so as apprehensive as we were, we forged onward for the trip from NY to LAX, laying over for the day, then 14 hrs to Australia. We are used to flying to Hi on coach from JFK at least once a year, so we weren’t virgins with the experience. Of course, we got the newer plane going to LA and then a much older one for the longer haul. Must say that the service on Quantas was great, providing much entertainment and continuous snacks, water bottles, etc. Half way thru, I felt like I might need knee surgery when I landed, but we survived. We were lucky enough to have some empty seats on the plane, so we were able to scatter. Coming back, we were not so lucky. Can’t say that we wouldn’t have preferred to be in business or first class, but we got to see a beautiful country using our miles and we are planning to do the same in two yrs! Meanwhile, off to award tkts to Dusseldorf on Sunday! Thanks for all of your appreciated info! Happy Travels!

  • A.J.

    South African Sauvignon Blanc is one of my favorite wines!!! Glad you made it there SAFELY now go have some fun. And thanks for all the great ideas, updates, and advice you and the other contributors doll out each day!

  • Caroline

    You weren’t flying in coach, you were flying in “economy comfort”! There is quite a difference.

  • thepointsguy

    It’s 100% a coach seat- just some more recline which really isn’t that noticeable. And my ticket said coach, so coach it is :-)

  • A.J.

    One day i’ll even learn how to type… ** dole out each day. :)

  • Blake Baxter

    I fly coach all the time and long haul as well, every once in awhile I am able to cash in an award ticket for a premium class like our first class ticket to italy ORD-LHR-FCO thanks to your helpful posts. However I am 6’5 and sympathize with your concerns you had in your previous post. I don’t think you sounded whiney at all. Glad you had a great trip, however I would like to know…HOW WERE YOU ABLE TO GET THE BULKHEAD??? Now that helpful hint could come in handy!

  • Jay

    They have cookies!!!

  • thepointsguy

    The KLM twitter team got it for me!

  • Ben Brooks

    Nice post TPG! Having flown both Economy and up front many times around the world it is a big difference, but with enough leg room, recline, ambien and IFE the flight isn’t so bad. I’d rather spend/splurge on a hotel where I’ll spend many nights and many magnitudes more hours during the trip vs. the flight. Even a 15 hour flight is only two nights in a hotel room and I can get a VERY nice hotel for the delta btw coach and biz class on the plane.

  • Jennifer

    Looking forward to more details about your flight and what you did in SA. I agree, I love it there!

  • DavidYoung2

    Logic would indicate that KLM would be a good choice for tall people. The Dutch are, on average, some of the tallest people on earth so you would expect their flagship carrier to have a bit more leg room than Lilliput Airways.

  • Prof. Irwin Corey

    you sir are THE True America Hero, and will be curing cancer soon, indubitably

  • joeypore

    haha… layover in Cairo… right now? Probably not the best idea…

  • John gillespie

    Hey Brian,

    Thanks so much for this post! As United 1K the flies most of my Mausen economy, it’s great to hear your great attitude! I too love the aspirational miles rewards that I often get to take, but I’m also thankful that I get travel the world for what I do for a living, even though most of it is an economy! I agree that the destination is really important thing! If I get to sit up front on the way there that’s An extra blessing, but it really is a privilege, not right! Thanks so much for this great post! I love reading your blog and will continue to do so!


  • Connie Marble

    “I was a little anxious about flying over 9,000 miles in coach in one shot … but you have to admit this is not the norm!”

    WOW. Just WOW. Thousands and thousands do it every single day.

  • Connie Marble

    Actually, you’re right. Being a little anxious about flying across oceans in coach IS NOT the norm.

  • Kony

    He probably molested countless young boys. It’s really sick.

  • Irene Hickman

    I have never had the means to fly anything but economy for all my transatlantic flights my entire flying life, I take it always as one big adventure, and I have met some pretty amazing people who sat next to me. One day I will experience business class or first class, but that is a ways down the road. I am glad you enjoyed KLM premium economy I also enjoyed the bulkhead seating very much. As for myself, being a Delta Silver Medallion for 3 years running, it does indeed pay off for those inter continental flights.

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