American Airlines is the latest airline to shrink legroom on some planes
Getting your seat to fit in an airplane seat just got a lot harder.
From shrinking the amount of legroom to making seats less padded with skinnier armrests to creating seats that don’t recline at all, airlines are making flying more uncomfortable than ever. But here are six secrets to scoring a (more) comfortable airline seat:
Choose an airline that has more legroom.
Every inch counts: Though you’re not likely to get a ton of extra legroom without paying extra, some airlines do tend to give an extra inch or two in economy. JetBlue is on the more generous side (about 32 inches on average), while Spirit and Frontier are less so (about 28 to 29 inches), says George Hobica, the founder of AirfareWatchdog.com. Use SeatGuru.com to look up how much legroom specific jets on specific airlines have, as well as things like seats that don’t recline or a misaligned window, recommends Christine Sarkis, a senior editor at SmarterTravel.
Try this seat selection trick.
Just because an airplane seat map doesn’t show desirable seats at the time you book, doesn’t mean your preferred seats are taken, says Gabe Saglie, a senior editor at Travelzoo. “When you book, especially when you book early, an airline will release a select group of seats — the ones they’re trying to fill first, which often means a lot of available middle seats,” he explains. “This is also a way to encourage flyers to pay more on the spot for an aisle or upgraded seat.”
Saglie says that this is why flyers should check back in often: “As your flight date approaches, the airline is likely to release/open up more seats for online selection,” he says. “Check three days before, 24 hours before, when you arrive at the counter and even when you arrive at the gate (since a no-show aisle seat passenger may mean it goes to you, instead).” If new seats are available, you can sometimes — but not always — switch at no cost, though if it’s a better seat or one closer to the front you may have to pay a bit, he says.
It can pay to consistently fly with one airline or one alliance of airlines (like Star Alliance or One World, which have multiple airlines as members), says Travelzoo’s Saglie. “These days, flyers with status gets dibs on the best seats, and at no cost: This applies to something like United’s Economy Plus seats, with 6 inches of extra legroom, or preferred seats, like bulkhead, emergency row and aisle seats.” He adds that “loyal flyers also get to select these seats at time of bookings usually, versus hoping for the best at the gate.”
Beware of non-reclining seats.
It’s not just legroom that matters — at least for people who don’t want to sit upright for the entire flight. A number of seats on Spirit and Allegiant don’t recline, and other airlines may have rows with similar issues. Check SeatGuru.com to figure this out before you pick a seat.
“Check in exactly 24 hours before your flight,” says Travelzoo’s Saglie. “As soon as that check-in window opens, new available seats are often displayed.”
Pay for it.
Sometimes throwing money at the problem is worth it, especially for a tall passenger on a long haul flight. But “even a one-hour flight isn’t one hour,” says Hobica, when you consider the runway taxiing and deplaning. So it may be worth it to pay, even on a short flight, especially since you can sometimes get extra legroom for as little as $10.
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