It’s been awhile since I’ve done a travel advice article, so now seemed the right time after my recent experience going to India and back. I had the (mis)fortune of having to do this
trip in coach, as without the benefit of an expense account, dropping 10 grand on a pair of airplane tickets isn’t exactly practical. As you can see from the photo above, flying in
steerage, as many frequent fliers derisively refer to the back of the plane, isn’t the most comfortable experience. However, you can make the experience a little more tolerable with some
advance planning. Check out my tips after the jump.
A couple of things to remember
airlines offer outstanding in-flight entertainment systems, but at the expense of cramming tighter, narrower seats in coach. Others offer more room, but perhaps you just really can’t do
without movies for 10 hours. Perhaps you need to get some work done on the way, and need a power port for your laptop. Or maybe you just don’t care about any of that since it’s a
short flight. Decide on that first, as you’ll know where to start your research.
at the airlines’ website, and user review sites like Skytrax. Skytrax reviews in particular provides useful information about the overall experience
you’ll face on an airline, including the level of service provided by gate agents and flight attendants. You may find that it’s worth paying a couple of hundred extra dollars for a
Check SeatGuru for seating options
its seating charts, but they also provide information on amenities such as in-flight entertainment and power port availability. Now, when you head over to the website, you might be
wondering, how do I figure out what kind of plane I’ll be flying on? This might seem especially daunting if an airline operates several configurations of the same airplane, such as a
Boeing 777. However, it isn’t as hard to figure out as you might think. Airline websites, as well as most online travel agents and metasearch sites like Kayak, will tell you the
type of equipment that is scheduled to operate your flight. Once that’s figured out, the airline websites, and sometimes even other sites like Kayak, will allow you to view available
seats on a particular flight. You can then match the seating configuration to what’s in SeatGuru.
lavatories, lack of windows in particular rows, seats with extra legroom or no recline, etc.
So what seat should I choose?
seats in advance, or at least for what they deem to be “preferred” seats (usually aisles and windows near the front of the coach cabin and/or bulkheads and exit rows).
common example of this is the new trend of putting 10 seats per row in a 777, instead of the recommended configuration of 9 seats. The extra seat results in both constricted seat width
and narrower aisles. If you have no choice but to fly on an airplane in this configuration, beware of aisle seats. The likelihood of getting repeatedly bumped into by drink carts
or woozy passengers is much higher due to the narrow aisles. I willingly pay extra to avoid airlines that configure their seats in this manner, though unfortunately, this is becoming
increasingly difficult as more and more airlines want the extra revenue from the extra seat in each row.
you with half a seat worth of legroom. This can be especially problematic if you’re tall, or if you are on an overnight flight where you’re trying to sleep. SeatGuru is usually
pretty good at identifying which seats have the offending boxes.
bulkhead have no seats behind, so you can recline to your heart’s content without disturbing anybody. Seats behind a bulkhead usually have extra legroom, since there’s not another row
of seats in front. Exit rows typically have more legroom.
of view. Ditto for seats behind a bulkhead, and these have the added disadvantage of having no underseat storage, meaning all of your carry-ons have to go in an overhead bin for takeoff
and landing (one reason I don’t like these seats). Plus, these rows usually house the bassinets, and therefore attract passengers traveling with infants, which may or not be a problem
for some. And while exit row seats have more legroom, they sometimes have limited or no recline. Sitting bolt upright for 12 hours might not be your idea of a good time.
On a large, fully loaded airplane like a 747 or A380, the waiting time in line at immigration can easily be 30 minutes more at the back of the plane compared to the front.
service with dedicated check-in and special meals, such as on Air France or British Airways, or just a plain coach seat with extra legroom and maybe more width, such as American’s Main Cabin
Extra or United’s Economy Plus. Either way, these seats typically provide 4-6 inches of extra legroom compared to a regular coach seat. British Airways World Traveler Plus can run
an extra $500-1,500 per seat round trip compared to regular World Traveler, whereas AA’s Main Cabin Extra can run anywhere from $19 to a few hundred extra each way depending on flight length
(note that U.S. carriers typically waive fees for these seats for “elite” members of their frequent flier programs). It can get expensive for sure, but it’s still considerably cheaper
than business class.
goalposts to claim awards, so if you’ve got a big trip coming, use them up to either book a business class seat in the first place (for example, AA charges 67,500 miles for a one-way business
class seat to India), or pay for a cheap coach ticket and upgrade to business or first. If you do this, you’ll typically have to use the miles and pay a fee, usually $300-500 per seat
each way, and there’s no guarantee that the upgrade will actually clear, so beware.
sometimes offer you an upgrade for a relatively small fee; AA for example once offered me an upgrade on a flight from Dublin to Chicago for $500. It never hurts to ask the agent when