The Kama Sutra of Sleeping in Coach

I flew 2 overnights last week – I used a systemwide upgrade on my flight down to Brazil and slept pretty well in the United 767-400 BusinessFirst seat. On the way back I slummed it with the smelly masses back in coach (well, I slummed it in Economy Plus, to be honest). I was on a 2-seat side, and I had no one sitting next to me. I was originally sitting next to someone, but as we were finishing boarding I eyed an empty row 3 rows ahead of me. Let me take this time to send a brief message to the guy who was sitting across the aisle from me:

Oh, hello there. I see you. I see you eyeing that empty row. You just stay. in. your. seat. That row is mine, my friend. Oh, what was that look? You don’t LIKE that I slithered 3 rows ahead and slipped into that cozy seat and put my laptop, ipad, ipod, magazine, book, ipad charger, laptop charger, magazine charger, apple core, loaf of bread, and whatever else in the seat next to me so as to say to you, ‘don’t even think about it.’ Oh, I know you were thinking about it. I assume that’s why you were staring at me when they announced that the boarding door was now closed. You know you lost. Enjoy 9 hours next to somebody, sucker!

OK, I’m back. On a daytime flight an Economy Plus seat with no one next to you is basically business class without the champagne. You have a ton of legroom and more seat width than you’d have in business class. No, the recline still stinks, but you can angle yourself against the wall and stretch your feet all the way out. Delightful.

But on an overnight, well – not so much. I struggled for 9 hours to find a position that was comfortable. Given my problems, I thought I would share some of the lessons I learned in The OTR Kama Sutra of Sleeping in Coach ™.

Position 1: The Erect Businessman
Pretend someone is sitting next to you. Or, if it’s easier, have someone sit next to you. Do not recline because you are stuck in row 20 on a United 757-200. At least you’re in an exit row and have some legroom. Stretch your legs out fully while sitting fully erect. Nod off. Every ten minutes awaken when your head slams down into your chest. Alternate with being awakened when you find yourself drooling on your seatmate.

Position 2: The Sideways Z
Find yourself an aircraft configured with 2 seats together. Ensure nobody is next to you. Lean on the window with your body while you curl your legs up on to the seat next to you, so as to form a ‘z’. Awaken when your legs are asleep, approximately 7 minutes after entering the Sideways Z.

Position 3: The Well-Hung Traveler
This will work in a 2- or 3-seat configuration, but the 2 seater will work better. Lie down with your head toward the window and extend your legs over 2nd seat so that they are hung in the aisle. Feel the sensation of lying down in a cozy bed. Then enjoy having no sensation at all when your leg falls asleep. Alternatively, feel the sensation of a catering cart nearly cutting your legs off at the knees.

Position 4: The Mile High Club
Sort of a reverse Well-Hung Traveler. Place your feet by the window and stack up pillows on the aisle seat. Lie down with your head in the aisle seat and your feet by the window. Feel the catering cart as it clubs you in the head when it’s time for morning croissants.

Position 5: This Is a Song About Up and Down (Remix, feat. Cookie Monster)
The traveler places their head on the window seat and puts their legs down on the ground and angled into the aisle seat in front of them. Feel the rush of sleep come over you at 3:30am as you’ve been trying 5 different positions. Awaken 17 minutes later with your body on the floor, wondering how you got there.

Position 6: The Bottom Feeder
There are times not to be picky. Get off your seat and lie on the floor. Sleep.

Position 7: The Wet Lotus
A modified Erect Businessman. Fall asleep in upright position with legs extended forward. Prior to this, drink a bit of your drink but leave a near-full cup on your traytable. Fall asleep. Awake with a start and bang your legs into the tray table, spilling the drink onto your lap.

Position 8: The Headless Horseman
Place your head between your window seat and the window. Prop up 6 blankets, 7 pillows, 2 carry-ons, and 7 in-flight magazines in the gap between the window and the seat. Fall asleep. Awaken 8 minutes later when your jenga-like structure collapses, flinging debris into the row behind you and trapping your head in the gap between the window and your seat. Panic when it appears your head has been lopped off.

Position 9: The Sexy Librarian
Don’t try to sleep. Bring a bunch of books and read. Don’t fall asleep. Land. Go home. Pass out in bed.


  1. Great stuff. The well-hung traveler sounds extremely dangerous. I have done the headless horseman, and it is not fun at all.

  2. I’m sure you have seen this tray table pillow advertised in SkyMall many times. But I’ve never seen a fellow passenger use it. Have you?
    http://www.skymall.com/skyrest-travel-pillow/99010.html?start=1&catid=5442#prefn1=brand&prefv1=DAC%2BEnterprises%7C3D%2BExperience%7CMagellan's&start=1

  3. Dude. Hilarious. Miss ya!

  4. Yes. You should get this illustrated a la xkcd.com.

  5. Your second paragraph is one of the funniest things I’ve ever read. Probably because I can relate to it. A couple months ago, my wife and I were flying Virgin Atlantic to LHR in coach. 2-4-2 configuration. As you might expect we, as a couple, booked 2 seats along the window. But to our complete amazement, we saw a couple open middle rows a few aisles up from us as the boarding process was coming to a close. Anyone who flies long haul knows that a row of 4 seats to your self in coach on a night flight is better than any of those kama sutra positions — and about as probable as picking up a supermodel in a singles bar. So we slithered. Or, more accurately, pounced, before any of our neighbors had the guts to do it. Sorry guys. But somebody has to win!

  6. Grab 2 empty seats on a side of the plane. Sit in the reclined window seat. Leave the aisle seat unreclined. Rest your head in the gap between the 2 seats. Done.

  7. Shoulda saved on State Farm, then you could’ve upgraded to grill class

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