Free Things You Might Not Realize You Can Get From Airlines, Even In Economy

One of the little perks of traveling (besides discovering new places and immersing yourself in foreign cultures, of course) is snagging the free toiletries and coffee packets stocked in your hotel room. But did you know that your flight also has some hidden freebies? And nope, you don't have to pay for first class seats to get these upgrades.

Airlines are prepared with a range of items and services to keep passengers comfortable throughout their flights — even if these amenities aren't advertised. For instance, you might have access to complimentary in-flight Wi-Fi in the economy cabin, depending on your airline and which plane you're booked on. Having a credit card tied to an airline rewards program could also help you access free Wi-Fi.

Otherwise, you may find that your flight allows you to at least send free text messages, an often hidden perk that comes in handy if you need to keep in touch with family and friends, although note that you'll need to have a messaging app downloaded before you board. And one last option that sometimes (though, admittedly, rarely) works: Check the airlines' internet network on your phone once the plane gets cruising and see if you can connect without entering your payment details. If you're lucky, the connection is sometimes made available to all passengers (this happened to us once), even if the flight attendants don't mention it.

Free refills and full-sized drinks

Friendly reminder: You should drink lots of water while flying, thanks to those dry plane cabins that make it easy to get dehydrated. But if you're wondering how to do that when the flight attendants only offer those little plastic cups every few hours, there's a little hack that makes it easy to get extra fluids. And, best of all, you won't have to pay a cent.

All you have to do is ask for a bigger drink when the beverage cart comes around. For water, ask if you can have the entire bottle. If the plane has enough in stock, they might honor your request, no questions asked. The same goes for cans of soda. Instead of the flight attendant filling your fizzy drink to the top of the cup and giving the rest to another flier, they may be able to give you the entire can for free.

Still thirsty? Try pushing the call button at your seat to request a drink between service times. If the cabin crew aren't busy and you ask nicely, they'll likely give you a refill of your favorite drink.

Extra food to hold you over on long flights

Besides beverages, you may also be able to snag some free food on your next economy flight. To help you survive a long-haul flight, most airlines will provide free meals for lengthy journeys. A complimentary snack is also the norm when traveling with most non-budget airlines (ultra-low-cost carriers, on the other hand, typically require you to pay extra for any meals or snacks).

To take things one step further — particularly if you have a big appetite — you might get extra food simply by asking the flight attendant. If extra meals or snacks are available after everyone's been served, the airline worker may be able to offer you a second round for free. Alternatively, ask the crew if there's a snack bar available in the economy cabin. Self-serve treats are becoming more common on flights and are already offered by carriers, including United and JetBlue.

Finally, be aware of your rights when it comes to flight delays. Most U.S. airlines offer food or meal vouchers to passengers left waiting due to long delays or flight cancellations. If your travel plans are delayed by three hours or more, see an agent at the gate or airline counter to collect your free meal.

Amenity kits and toiletries

Amenity kits — little pouches filled with mini toiletries and other in-flight goodies — are often associated with upgraded classes. However, some airlines (typically international companies) offer amenity kits to economy travelers, too. For instance, Australian carrier Qantas supplies each economy seat with a dental kit, an eye mask, and earplugs inside a convenient felt pouch. Premium economy travelers get a few additional items, such as socks. Similarly, Emirates gives its long-haul economy travelers a kit with socks, an eye mask, dental items, and a bookmark.

If you don't find an amenity kit already sitting at your seat when you board the plane, it doesn't hurt to ask a flight attendant if an extra one from business or first class is available. Or, to avoid looking too greedy, see if the attendant has a specific item on hand, such as a toothbrush for freshening up after dinner. On second thought, you might want to avoid brushing your teeth in plane bathrooms.

First-aid essentials and medicine

An aspirin or bandage probably isn't the type of flight freebie travelers will get excited about. Nonetheless, these (and other first-aid items) are often available on planes in case of an emergency — or even for a headache from those worrying airplane noises and fussy babies. Gauze, antiseptic wipes, and other essentials are kept in all commercial planes, so you're covered if you suffer a cut or other minor injury.

As for headache relief, basic painkillers such as aspirin or ibuprofen are commonly stashed in the aircraft for whenever a passenger or flight attendant needs them. Over-the-counter stomach medicines may also be available on request if you suffer from plane bloat or other tummy troubles. However, just because they're free doesn't mean you should rely on these remedies. Melanie Glessing, an American Airlines flight attendant, told Business Insider, "I wouldn't trust [the medicine] ... It sits on the plane for who knows how long." Keep a few tablets in your carry-on bag and, to be safe, only ask for a free dose from a flight attendant if you run out.

Toys and entertainment for children

If you're flying with children, you know the travel expenses can quickly add up. To make the situation a little sweeter and give you more bang for your buck, some airlines offer free entertainment for children on board. And no, we don't just mean the kid-friendly movies found on the seat-back screens.

Depending on which carrier you're flying with, you may be able to nab a free activity book to keep your little one busy at 30,000 feet. American Airlines, for example, gives children aged 5 to 10 (traveling from certain airports) a kit filled with puzzles, activities, and extra snacks. United also offers a kids' pack with an activity book, crayons, a puzzle, and, upon request, a sensory calming strip to help young explorers overcome flying anxiety.

Some airlines even hand out free toys to tots on board. Emirates offers free packs containing stuffed animals and other fun items, while ANA offers its own branded toys for children. If your kiddo is enamored with all things plane-related, you can also request a free meet and greet with the captain. If you're lucky, they may even let your child tour the cockpit.