How to get a better airline seat without paying extra
It seems fees are everywhere, but it may not cost you much -- or anything at all -- to get a seat where you'll be more comfortable.
Everyone knows the seats in first class are roomier than in coach, but did you know that not every seat in coach is created equal?
Seats may be narrower in the back of the plane, and some seats may have more “pitch” — the space between your seat and the seat in front of you – than others. Get the wrong seat, and you’ll have less legroom, more fights for the armrest with the guy next to you, and possibly a worse flight than someone sitting in one of the choice coach spots.
To make matters worse, most airlines now set aside seats for elite customers and for those who are willing to pay more up front for a seat with more space and priority boarding.
If you’re a nervous flier – or just tired of being shoehorned into increasingly cramped airline seats – there are ways to get more space without upgrading to first class or paying more for the better seats in coach.
The best seats
What separates a good seat from a bad seat? Here are some guidelines:
- The best seats are the window or aisle seats toward the front of the plane. Avoid the middle seat, where you could be sandwiched between two oversized folks. This is particularly true if you’re traveling alone.
- If you’re a nervous flier, The Independent Traveler says those sitting over the wing feel less turbulence.
- Emergency exit rows generally have more legroom than a regular seat. However, keep in mind that no one under the age of 15 can ride in the exit row. So if you’re traveling with kids and you want them sitting next to you, this is not an option.
- You may also get more legroom if you take a seat in the first row, directly behind the separating wall. As an added bonus, no one will be able to lean back into your laptop or turn around and talk to you during your in-flight nap.
Compare planes and seats online. To increase revenue, some airlines have added seats to their planes, so a cheaper flight may be more cramped than a flight aboard the same plane flown by another airline. How can you tell before you buy and board? Use sites like SeatGuru, SeatExpert or SeatPlans.com, which rate seats on the planes of each airline for roominess, features and drawbacks.
Join the frequent-flier program. Many airlines set aside their best coach seats for their premium or elite members. If you frequently travel on the same airline, sign up for the frequent-flier program, then enter your number when you buy tickets. Once you’ve earned premium status, you’ll have free access to better seats.
Book early. That will give you more selection to choose from among the seats not set aside for the elite customers and those willing to pay more.
Use a travel agent. Travel agents may have access to better seats than people who book their own flights online. You’ll have to pay to use a travel agent, but the price is often only $20 to $30. Bonus: Consider the time you’ll save by not having to search for and book the flight yourself.
Get a better seat later. If you end up booking a middle seat, sign up for a site like ExpertFlyer.com. If a better seat opens up, the site will notify you immediately, and you may be able to change your seat selection. However, check with the airline before you do to make sure you won’t be charged for the change.
Plan ahead with travel buddies. If you’re flying as a couple, book the window seat and the aisle seat. Since the middle seats are unpopular, perhaps no one will book that seat. But don’t count on it. When was the last time you flew on a plane that wasn’t full?
Suck it up and pay the price. If all else fails, you can always pay for a better seat in coach. Expect to pay anywhere from $10 to more than $100 depending on the airline.
If you’re down to the wire and facing a cramped middle seat for a long cross-country flight, you may still be able to turn things around. When check-in starts, any unreserved seats go up for grabs, so you can log on to the airline’s website and perhaps select a better, unclaimed seat. Typically, check-in starts 24 hours before departure, but you’ll have to act fast – seats go quickly.
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Wow, it was great to be up front, else I would have missed my connect. However it was still a center seat, with less than accommodating seat mates. 5 1/2 hr flight totally uncomfortable, red eye & no sleep..
As a person that travels a lot for business, I know the ins & outs as written here. But sometimes it appears no matter your strategy, the customer service has gone out of the airlines, & we the consumer are at their mercy.
United used to be my preferred, but Hawaiian does have ALOHA...I will rethink my next mainland flight. ( many other issues with United not shared here )
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