Not all business travel takes place in business class.
A large number of professionals shuttle back and forth through the skies wedged into economy where they rub shoulders with holidaymakers, students, backpackers, young families and grandparents.
In fact, many corporate travel budgets that were pruned back during the GFC never bounced back to the heady days when business class was the norm for the business traveller.
Company policy, limited project budgets and tight clients all play a role in pushing business travellers towards the back of the bus.
'Economy only' has become a common corporate mantra on shorter international trips, such as the eight-hour hauls to Singapore or Hong Kong. Many even have to make do with economy on regular trips all the way to the US or, worse still, London.
At least regular travellers can use their frequent flyer status to soften the blow with lounge access and a better chance of those unexpected last-minute upgrades.
There's no magic spell to transform a cramped economy seat into a spacious lie-flat business class bed, but here are a few ways to close the gap.
Get an empty seat next to you
Several airlines do their best to ensure the seat next to a top-tier frequent flyer travelling in economy remains empty. In the argot of frequent flyers, this is called a 'shadow'.
It's one of the perks of holding Platinum status with Qantas and Virgin Australia, for example.
You can place your carry-on bag under the seat next to you to keep your own legroom free. The empty seat's meal tray can hold your drinks or snacks while your own tray is utilised for your work materials.
And you can use the empty seat to spread out your inflight work a little more.
Don't leave all this to chance: request it at the check-in desk. Even if you're a Gold rather than Platinum frequent flyer it's worth asking nicely, explaining that you've got quite a bit of work to get through and would appreciate the extra elbow room.
You may need to agree to sit further down the plane, but for a long international flight it can be worth it.
Choose your seat with care
Speaking of seating: use SeatGuru to identify the 'best' seat for your flight and request that online.
Those seats are typically ones with a bit of extra legroom, away from the baby bassinet positions at bulkheads, and not too close to the loo or the galley.
Even if the good seats are all gone, you can at least avoid booking yourself into a bad seat that will expose you to any or all of the above.
Bulkhead rows – the ones behind the cabin divider walls – are a mixed bag. In some aircraft they've got an extra few inches of legroom, in others it's a fairly tight fit and you'd be better off being able to stretch your feet out under the seat in front of you.
Use priority boarding
The best business class seats have ample space in the overhead bins for your carry-on gear. In economy it can be a bit of a bunfight.
So leave the lounge a little earlier and be at the departure gate when boarding begins.
Your frequent flyer status will let you skip the economy line and board in the business class lane, so you get first dibs on overhead luggage space.
Toss the inflight magazine, duty-free catalogue and everything bar the safety card into the overhead bin to free up space in the seat pocket for your tablet, reading glasses, headphones and anything else you'll want to keep close at hand.
Order a 'special' meal
Something I love about flying in business class is that I can pretty much dine at my leisure, to suit my own personal timetable.
Not so in economy, where the meals are served en masse and the empty dishes aren't taken away until maybe 30-45 minutes after you've finished.
My workaround is to order a 'special' meal before I fly.
Vegetarian, kosher, diabetic, gluten-free – there's plenty to choose from, and these meals are all served ahead of the rest of the economy cabin.
If you're a bit of a fast eater as I am, there's every chance you can finish your meal and press the Call Attendant button to have your tray taken away before everybody else is served.
That way you can get straight back to working, watching a video or getting a head-start on a kip. As a bonus, you'll also enjoy a refreshingly different and probably healthier meal than the usual 'beef or chicken?' choice.
BYO inflight entertainment
Most international airlines offer the same choice of inflight entertainment to every passenger. How's that for a dash of democracy?
But in economy you get a smaller, cheaper screen and a pair of crappy headphones where the volume needs to be turned up to full distortion-mode volume to actually hear what's going on.
Step 1: Buy a pair of noise-cancelling headphones. I'm a fan of the Bose QuietComfort series, although there are plenty of good value alternatives from Audio-Technica, Sony and Sennheiser. (Stay away from Beats unless you want a high price tag matched to bottom-heavy bass: they're good for the doof-doof but not much else).
However, with so little room around your seat for keeping carry-on kit close at hand, you might want to look into compact earbuds like Bose QuietComfort 20s. They'll take up much less space than larger over-the-ear cans.
Step 2: Load up your tablet or laptop with hours of movies or TV shows you'll really enjoy watching.
This gives you something special to look forward to – an indulgently uninterrupted video binge-fest – and helps take your mind away from where you're sitting.
I have fond memories of being glued to a whole season of SportsNight – Aaron Sorkin's unfortunately short-lived pre-West Wing 'comedy-drama' – sitting in economy on one of the last Qantas flights from Sydney to San Francisco.
Of course, if you've already discovered a grippingly addictive or just plain enjoyable TV show it's not easy to resist indulging in a weekly dose as each episode airs, rather than settle for the delayed gratification of a mini-marathon at 40,000 feet.
(I tried that with Downton Abbey and failed miserably.)
Apply for an upgrade
If none of that makes you less downcast at the thought of spending a dozen bum-numbing hours sitting in economy, use your frequent flyer points to apply for an upgrade to premium economy or business class.
The trick is that not all economy tickets are eligible for an upgrade.
In the case of Qantas you won't get an upgrade if you're travelling on the cheapest economy ticket sold as a Sale fare. Saver, Semi Flex and Flex fares all qualify for an upgrade.
What are your tips for making life easier when flying in economy?
David Flynn is a business travel expert and editor of Australian Business Traveller.