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Five New Ways to Score Better Airplane Seats for Holiday Travel

October 27, 2010 at 11:45 AM | by | Comment (1)

The holiday travel season is just around the corner, so if you haven’t made those reservations to visit the family, now’s the time to do so. The fun doesn’t stop there, as once you pay a premium for flying the Wednesday before Thanksgiving you have to select a seat. We went over some of our favorite tips last year, but here’s five more that might help you survive this year’s season:

· Watch Those Seating Maps:
If your worst nightmare is being stuck in a middle seat in the very last row, then you need to know about your airline’s frequent flyer policies even if you aren’t one yourself. Most major carriers start bumping their favorite flyers up to the front days in advance—sometimes up to five days before takeoff—so you need to start checking the available seats when these upgrades are processed. If an aisle seat opens up near the front thanks to an upgrade for someone else, it can become yours. Persistence is key here, so remember to check early and often. It worked for us last week!

More tips and hints after the break...

· Don’t Pick A Seat:
We’ve booked plenty of flights where we get that dreaded message about our seat being assigned at the airport. However, it might not necessarily be a bad thing. Even if there are open seats available when you look online be sure to resist the urge to pick out one that isn’t up to your standards. Often the bulkhead rows—or other halfway decent seats—are only assigned by the agent working at the gate. This means that instead of selecting something sub-par in advance, there’s a chance that infinite legroom can become yours thanks to a little bit of seat gambling.

· Check With The Kiosk:
Plenty of airlines have kiosks within the terminal, and some of them are even located right near the gate. Be sure to take another look following check-in to see if any new seats have become available. You don’t have to deal with the sometimes-surly gate agent to do so, and you can check as often as you want without aggravating anyone but yourself. We’ve done this on a Delta flight before, and someone must have relocated since we initially checked in at the ticket counter. Even if it’s just an aisle seat, it can feel like an upgrade when you’re expecting a non-reclining middle seat for a transcontinental flight.

· Bring Your Credit Card:
Airlines like United have been charging a fee for their Economy Plus seating for quite some time, but in the past year other airlines have begun to only assign the better seats once you’re willing to part with a little more cash. American Airlines offers seats towards the front of the economy cabin for an extra fee, and these “Express Seats” might be an option if you need a little extra room to mentally prepare yourself for an extended visit with your family. Continental also started charging for exit row seating this year, so that’s another option if don’t mind spending a little bit extra.

· Ask For The Bump:
You have to be a little flexible with this option, so request a late check-in on the sleeper sofa at Grandma’s house. With flights packed from the seats to the overhead bins there might be a chance to score a bump onto a later flight. Get to the gate early—like when the agent first gets there—and volunteer that you’re flexible with your plans. You’ve got a decent shot of scoring some travel vouchers for the future, a possible upgrade to first class for your new flight, or at least a better seat than the one you currently have. Kindness goes a long way here—be sure to approach the counter with a smile—and know what you’re looking for in advance.

If you have your own seating secrets, be sure to share them in the comments below. We promise we won't tell.

[Photos: caribb & WexDub]

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What worked for me

Flew jetblue from Portland to Long Beach, after my LASIK surgery. I was flying with my mom, and when checking in online the night before, there were no seats together, so it randomly assigned us separate seats. Upon arrival at the airport, I asked the agent, "I just had LASIK surgery, and I'd like my mom to be able to help me with my salve (holds up bag with goggles, drops, and cream) but we're not assigned together, is there any way you can help us sit together?" She cheerfully upgraded us to the EML (Even More LegRoom, if I recall) seats at the front of the plane, which were the only ones with any consecutive, empty seats. Normally they cost $35 each to upgrade. I don't see why you couldn't fake it if you bring a ziploc baggie with some individual-use eyedrop vials in it, and some sunglasses. Other than it being a sort of dick move.

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