Flying business or first class is a dream scenario for many business travelers. For a variety of reasons that cushy seat just isn’t in the cards. But what if there was a way to get said ticket economically or even free?
Over 30 airlines offer travelers the option to bid for a better seat. Knowing how these systems work, following their rules, and not getting caught up in the emotion of bidding (think eBay) will help you figure out if there’s a way to make an upgrade possible. U.S. News and World Report offered these suggestions on how to play the upgrade game.
First, do your homework. There are numerous online forums where you can educate yourself about how to go about this. Once you understand the process and know what you’re willing to spend, go directly to your airline’s site and investigate whether upgrades are available. All that’s necessary is to list what you’re willing to pay, supply your credit card information, and wait to hear. The window for this opportunity varies from airline to airline, but for most it’s open 24 to 72 hours before the flight.
For some, it’s the middle seat. For others, it’s any seat anywhere near the lavatory. For others, it’s aisle seats or the seats in front of the exit row.
Which seats should you try to avoid, or which ones should you try to get? SmarterTravel.com gave a few pointers on how to identify some of the least-desirable seats on every plane.
Let’s start with one area of seating that most passengers seem to covet: the bulkhead rows. While these do offer more legroom, you’re missing an important storage area: under the seat in front of you. That means you must stow your personal items in the overhead bin. If you board early enough, that’s not a problem. But if the bin space above your seat is already full, your carry-on could end up in a completely different section of the plane.
Seats that don’t recline are hard to identify on the online chart, but here are a few general rules about their possible location:
- The row in front of the exit row
- The row in front of the bathroom
- The row in front of the galley
- The last row of any section
In addition to not reclining, there’s also a lot of passenger and crew traffic around these seats, especially by the lavatory.
Airline seats are notorious for their ability to make us feel confined and constrained, not to mention uncomfortable. Seats are narrow and there’s not a lot of space between them, so plane rides aren’t always very comfortable.
In the 1960s, when seat dimensions were first prescribed by the Federal Aviation Administration, the seat width was 17 inches and the weight of the average customer was estimated to be 140 for females and 166 for males.
Today, the average seat width is 16.5 inches, while the average weights have increased by 25 and 30 pounds respectively. These incremental changes have functioned on the premise that “one size fits all.” Clearly, this is no longer the case for a growing number of passengers, and airlines are being forced into uncomfortable situations with overweight customers, seemingly without a viable remedy.
While air travel used to be a luxurious experience, today planes are the buses of the sky — some seats are comfortable, but many are, well, not. With a little bit of strategizing, though, you can get a better seat for your next trip. It takes some pre-planning, and maybe a fee or two, but you can avoid sitting in an uncomfortable seat way in the back.
Don’t believe everything you read. If an airline’s website says “only premium economy seats are available,” pick up the phone and make your reservation with a live human being who can assign you a seat. They can see and do things the website can’t.
Ask and it may be yours. You can always check with the gate agent when you arrive before your departure to see if there’s space on the upgrade list. Sometimes, a long-distance flight in coach can turn into a business class upgrade for much less than the original ticket price, and, bingo, you’re flying in comfort.
Airline travel is a necessity for me, but as a taller-than-average guy, I think more about the two inches of extra space some airlines offer, than most people do. Two inches doesn’t seem like much, until your knees are jammed into the seatback in front of you, and you’re wedged in for three to four hours.
According to a survey conducted by Conde Nast Traveler (and reported on Huffington Post), the three airlines that provide the most legroom on US domestic flights include Jet Blue, with 33 inches; Virgin America, with 32 inches; and Southwest, with 32 inches. The bottom two are no surprise: Frontier and Spirit, each with 28 inches (although Spirit offers no recline). Twenty-eight inches is just a non-starter for me.
It’s somewhat surprising to me that the “big three” U.S. carriers — Delta, American, and United — all average 31 inches. It goes to show that utilizing a smaller airline might actually prove to be a better choice, not just for a lower price, but because there can be an extra two inches of legroom.
With the airlines making record profits — a projected $36 million that’s double the number from 2014 — those who work for and observe the airline industry are hoping to see a trend to decrease the “less” mentality that has typified economy class.
International Air Transport Association Director General and CEO Tony Tyler sees this as a time when “passengers are benefiting from greater value than ever — with competitive airfares and product investments,” according to a Future Travel Experience article.
But Devin Liddell, principal brand strategist for Teague design group, thinks there’s really a “race to the bottom” occurring. “It’s all about what can we take away,” he says. He thinks customers are going to reach a point where they say, “Enough! This is becoming ridiculous.”
No, sleeping and being on a plane are not diametrically opposed. You can do it if you know a few simple tricks. We learned a few of them in an Entrepreneur.com article on airport survival.
First, choose your side of the plane. I know this sounds a bit strange, but according to Heather Poole, a veteran flight attendant and author of the book, Attitude: Tales of Crashpads, Crew Drama, and Crazy Passengers at 35,000 Feet, it’s based on simple logic. “Get a window seat for night flights. If you sleep on your right side at home go for the right side of the plane,” Poole told Entrepreneur.
Next, dress comfortably. You can carry on your suit or whatever you’re wearing to your meeting in a garment bag and change into it when you arrive. Don’t even think about attempting to change into something more comfortable while in your seat. According to Poole, she has seen it all, including passengers arriving on the plane in adult footed pajamas. Talk about the walk of shame!
If a genie in a bottle granted you three wishes that could only be applied to your airline experience, what would they be?
Funny you should ask. Teague, a Seattle design firm that has designed the interiors of all Boeing’s planes since 1946, took a swing at that question and came up with some innovative suggestions. They may not be your top three, but with time you might come around to see the merits of their questioning of the industry’s status quo.
Would you ever consider checking all your luggage, even if it was only a carry-on, if it would be free to do so? What if you would be charged for your carry-on? According to Teague’s own blog post, the airlines are drunk on baggage fees. They’re a boon to the business, but perceived as a fine to the traveler. So, if you eliminate carry-ons (other than a briefcase or purse) and only allow checked bags, what benefit would that be for the consumer?
After the busy holiday travel season, you may have felt like many of your fellow travelers, that you were bleeding money. But before you blame the airline for gouging you, you may be surprised to learn that Congress and the FAA are the real Scrooges in this Dickensian scenario.
When the IRS ruled in 2009 that ticket fares were subject to corporate taxation, but add-on fees weren’t, airlines found their loophole for profitability. As we consumers know, the government can regulate all it wants, but businesses will still find a way to pass the costs created by those policies on to us to achieve the ROI that their shareholders demand.
Ever feel like a heard of cattle being herded to market instead of a human being when you board your airplane? The aisle is narrow and your head almost grazes the ceiling. But that’s not the worst part of the experience. Things really begin to feel confining after you have found your seat.
There’s a new movement that’s gaining momentum among travelers: aviation civil rights. Leading this fight for more space are Travelers United and FlyersRights, two advocacy groups seeking the government’s regulation of airline seating. Chris Elliott, who has written articles on Travelpro luggage in the past, wrote an editorial for the Washington Post about the subject. He believes that just as there is legislation that determines safety for steerage passengers on boats and passengers in automobiles, similar laws should guarantee certain travel conditions for passengers.
In his editorial, Elliott cites seating changes — the decrease in legroom from 35″ to 31″ and the reduction in seat width from 18″ to 16 1/2″ — as not only an emotional violation of personal space, but a safety issue. Space designated for animals is regulated, so why are airlines being allowed to change how it transports its passengers without oversight?
The fight comes down to politics and the free market. The airlines believe that if you want or need more space, you can pay for it, and that further involvement from the government would not only result in price increases for the consumer, but a stifling of competition within the market.
But Elliott and others counter that, just as the government saw the need to regulate automobiles for safety by requiring seat belts, passengers need laws that will govern their safety while traveling in airplanes.
Decreased legroom and smaller aisles have been cited as potential hazards for evacuation “in the event of an emergency,” and regulation that benefits travelers’ basic human rights was successfully enacted after passengers spent inordinate hours on the tarmac without food, water, or access to bathrooms.
The Department of Transportation’s Advisory Committee for Aviation Consumer Protection has just announced it will not make a recommendation on minimum seat sizes. Some believe it will take a tragedy to see change. Until then, it appears consumers will have to either put up or shut up.
Where do you stand (or sit)? Should the government regulate airline seating sizes, or should they let the market dictate? Do you pay for the extra room in economy plus or business class? Or do you suffer in silence in the smaller seats? Leave a comment below or
on our Facebook page.
- ‘Side-Slip’: new airline seating (pprune.org)
- Cramped Airplane Seats: Are Airlines Violating Our Human Rights? (yahoo.com)
- A human-rights fight for bigger airplane seats (seattletimes.com)