With its old-school glamour, year-round sunshine and beautiful beaches, it's no wonder Prince Harry has whisked his fiancee off to the French Riviera.

But the royal couple's romantic New Year break began in a rather less chic fashion – on an economy flight with seats next to the toilets.

Sources say the prince and Meghan Markle flew out of Heathrow on New Year's Eve on a scheduled British Airways flight to Nice.

In an attempt to remain incognito, the pair boarded their 9.55am flight before any other passengers and headed straight to the back of the plane, next to the rear toilets.

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They also took up three rows of economy seats, either side of the aisle, even though there were only themselves and three "edgy and nervous" bodyguards in their party.

Harry, 33, apparently slumped down next to the window dressed in jeans, a jacket and with a baseball cap pulled over his face.

It is understood that the couple flew out to celebrate the New Year with friends and plan to stay several days at a private residence in the Riviera region.

Bride-to-be Markle, 36, was sitting next to him in a black beanie hat and minimal make-up.

According to one fellow traveller, the aircraft took off several minutes early, much to the surprise of other passengers, and shaved 20 minutes off its two-hour flight time.

And if anyone hadn't spotted the group by that point, they couldn't mistake the two heavily armed officers from the French border police waiting for the party as they disembarked, ready to whisk them out through the VIP area.

Other sources told the Daily Mail that several members of France's elite Service de la Protection – the police unit responsible for the protection of foreign dignitaries – have flown down from Paris to guard the couple during their stay.

Asked if Kensington Palace had requested them, they said: "No, it would have been offered and would have been non-negotiable.
"After what happened to his mother in this country and the issue of terrorism, it would be insisted on even for a private trip such as this."
All officers in the force are armed with a Beretta M9, and at least one would also have a machine gun.

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By flying frugally, Harry is following in his brother's footsteps. In 2014, Prince William delighted passengers when he shunned first class on a flight from New York to Washington DC, where he had met President Obama at the White House.

Earlier the same year, he flew from Memphis to Dallas in "coach class" as he returned from his friend Guy Pelly's wedding.

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle holidayed on the French Riviera, famous for its beaches. Photo / File
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle holidayed on the French Riviera, famous for its beaches. Photo / File

The trip to the South of France may well be a welcome break for Harry and Markle before wedding preparations begin in earnest.

One decision that has already been made is the catering firm they will use for their May nuptials.

Royal household staff will cater the main event – which will be paid for by the Queen and Prince Charles privately – but the couple have also employed society favourite Table Talk, most probably for the evening reception.

The firm was used by Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge for their 2011 wedding and by Kate's sister, Pippa Middleton, when she married last year. Kensington Palace declined to comment last night.