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Travel gear to make coach feel more like first class (pictures)

From fresh coffee to improved storage, give your coach-class seat an instant upgrade with these 10 pieces of affordable travel gear.

Michael Franco
Freelancer Michael Franco writes about the serious and silly sides of science and technology for CNET and other pixel and paper pubs. He's kept his fingers on the keyboard while owning a B&B in Amish country, managing an eco-resort in the Caribbean, sweating in Singapore, and rehydrating (with beer, of course) in Prague. E-mail Michael.
Michael Franco
1 of 10 Bose

The headphones

Traveling to exotic lands in far-flung corners of the world is a wonderful undertaking. Getting there by flying on an airplane in coach is...somewhat less than wonderful.

Fortunately, there are lots of nifty gadgets out there that can make your hours spent in a cramped coach seat feel a little more luxurious. While they won't get your seat to recline to a flat position or deliver a welcome glass of champagne to your hands, they can help you feel a little more civilized as you settle into seat 37A.

One of the most instantaneous ways to upgrade your coach experience is to slip a pair of high-end noise-canceling headphones over your ears. CNET ranked the Bose QuietComfort 25 as our top pick of noise-canceling headphones for 2015, and putting them on is like sending your ears to a sonic spa. Instantly, the dull roar of the air vents, that crying baby three rows up and the endless announcements from the flight crew fade away leaving you in a peaceful cocoon. Put some tinkling new-age track on and you'll soon be in Bali -- in your mind, at least.

2 of 10 Wacaco

The coffee

Few things say "civilized" like a proper cup of a espresso. While you won't be served one of those by the flight attendants in coach, you should be able to get a cup of hot water from them. But you're not going to dunk a sad little tea bag in that water. No. You packed the Minipresso, so you're going to use that water to brew up your own little cup of yummy espresso on your tray table.

Wacaco makes two versions of the Minipresso. One grinds up the beans you use to make your cuppa, while the other can take pods made by Caffitaly System or Tchibo Cafissimo. In both cases, you simply pour in a little hot water, pump a few times to infuse the coffee, then pump some more to deliver the black gold into your cup. Just be prepared for some dirty looks from your fellow seatmates as that rich aroma fills the cabin.

3 of 10 Baubax

The gadget jacket

For proof that people are desperate for anything to make the grind of air travel a little more pleasant, look no further than the Baubax travel jacket's Kickstarter campaign. The makers of this multipocketed marvel sought to raise $20,000 on the crowdfunding site. There is currently more than a month left in the campaign, and the group has raked in nearly $2.7 million.

The Baubax jackets are available either as a sweatshirt, windbreaker, bomber or blazer. All of them have 15 features including lots of pockets (there's even one that holds a drink can), a built-in travel pillow and an eye shade that descends from the hood. You might not have a cushy, enveloping airline seat around in you coach, but you can surround yourself with this jacket and stay comfy and organized throughout the flight.

4 of 10 Genius Pack

The organizer

Here's a way to use your tray table to make your flight a little more pleasant. It's the High Altitude Flight Bag from Genius Pack. In the airport, it slips over the handle of your carry-on luggage and holds your electronics and other items you'd like to have handy.

Once you get to your seat, put the tray table down, strap the bag to it and put the table up again. Just like that you've vastly increased the storage space you have at your seat -- something the high flyers up front always have access to.

With the bag strapped to your seat, you'll have easy access to your electronics, pens, reading material and passport. It frees up the floor space and also eliminates the need to have to fish around at your feet to find out where your bag has slid to after takeoff. A pocket for a mobile charger sits right next to the phone pocket so you can easily charge while you fly.

5 of 10 Airhook

The hook

While it's meant to be a convenience, the tray table in coach-class seats can often feel like anything but. When it's in the down position, you can't reach your bag at your feet, nor can you get out of your seat. Yet if you want to watch a movie on your tablet, there's really been no other option -- until now.

The Airhook, which has just wrapped up its successful Kickstarter campaign, slides into the closed tray table in front of you and provides a cup holder and an adjustable clamp that can hold your tablet or smartphone. With that taken care of, you can leave your tray table in the upright position to feel a little less trapped. Plus, the gadget puts your screen at head height, so you won't get a pain in your neck from staring down at the screen throughout the flight.

6 of 10 Zendure

The charger

Speaking of charging, business and first-class seats on planes tend to have easily accessible power ports. Coach-class seats may have them on some flights, but you usually need contortionist skills to reach them.

Bring your own portable power pack on board and you'll be able to take advantage of another feature usually reserved for the expensive seats.

We recommend the Zendure A5 Portable Charger for its high capacity and light weight.

The carry-on bag
The carry-on bag
7 of 10 Bluesmart

The carry-on bag

Even if you're traveling coach, wheeling the the Bluesmart carry-on bag through the airport will make you feel like a first-class traveler. And because it's the right size, it'll slide smoothly into the cramped overhead bins in coach when you get to your seat.

The suitcase is full of smart tech that'll help your travels go more smoothly. It's got a lock that's controlled by your smartphone, a proximity sensor that will warn you when you get too far away from it, an on-board battery that can charge your iPhone six times over, and a built-in scale that sends the weight of the bag to your phone so that you'll know before you get to the counter if it's overweight. Plus, it's got a cool blue light that beams out from the front just to let everyone know that your bag is a cut above.

8 of 10 Aylio

The cushion

Business and first-class seats are designed to provide their occupants with support and comfort so they can arrive at their destination feeling relaxed and refreshed. Coach seats are designed so that the highest number of passengers can be crammed onto the plane in the least amount of space, so comfort's not a major part of their design.

That's OK, because by now you're getting the hang of this "upgrade your seat" thing and you've packed along a cushion that'll make the cardboard-like seat in coach feel a lot cushier.

One option is the Aylio Coccyx Orthopedic Comfort Foam Seat Cushion, which claims to ease the pain of sitting still for a long time by reducing pressure on your coccyx, tailbone and hip bones. Although we haven't reviewed this one ourselves, the reviews on Amazon certainly seem to back up the claims, with the cushion garnering an overall 4.5 stars from over 5,700 reviews.

9 of 10 Studio Banana Things

The pillow

OK, if you wore this pillow while sitting in your first- or business-class seat, you'd likely be ostracized by your fellow travelers. But this is coach, and anything goes -- including this Ostrich Light Pillow. It's the second incarnation of the strange sleeping hood, but it works in much the same way, by surrounding your head in quiet darkness so you can sleep. It's filled with silicon-coated micro-beads which are supposed to help cut down on ambient sounds, so with some earplugs in and this thing on your head, you'll likely get some decent peace and quiet.

The ostrich pillow would be best suited for a window seat because once you put it on your head and cinch it to the right size, you'll want to lean against something to nap. If you don't have a window seat, you can always put this thing on and start ranting about how you need one. Someone will move.

10 of 10 Archos

The beany

You know how some airlines make you power down your devices entirely before takeoff while others let you use them? Well, if you find yourself on the former kind of airline, this beany from Archos might come in handy. It lets you beam music from that device you've secretly left on in your pocket directly to your ears with no visible wires (the speakers are embedded in the rim of the hat and the tag is used for control). That means no one will know that you're jamming out to Radiohead instead of listening to that safety briefing you've heard hundreds of times.

Of course, we don't recommend doing this…just saying.

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