The Savvy Flyer

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Earlier today, in the midst of my 7 am flight from New York to Los Angeles, a Delta attendant complimented me. We were talking, and I told her how this was my third-straight long trek with a row of three seats to myself.

“You’re savvy,” she said.

The truth is, I’m not savvy. I’m largely clueless. However, there is one thing—over the past two decades—I’ve sorta mastered. Namely, the art of landing a good seat on a long flight.

Is it always possible? No. In fact, it’s often impossible. If a flight is overbooked, you’re pretty much stuck wherever you’re stuck. If it’s 95 percent full, you’re also relying on a lot of luck. Otherwise, there are some pretty easy steps to take …

1. As soon as you arrive at the airport, check in at the kiosk. Never, ever, ever check in with a human being.

2. The kiosk has a tiny box that says, CHANGE SEAT. Always click on this. Always. It doesn’t mean you have to change your seat. It just means, well, you wanna examine your options.

3. The next screen will show you a map of the plane, and your assigned seat will either be red or blue. The empty seats will be white. It’ll give you the option of switching to a different seat, as long as it’s open.

4. Because people like to leave the plane as quickly as possible post-landing, a solid 80 percent of travelers make certain to sit near the front. It’s a goal and, for business travelers, a (viewed) necessity. There’s a meeting to attend, a car to rent, a taxi to catch. Rush, rush, rush! But here’s the thing—it makes little time difference. At most, the occupants of the last row on a plane get off five minutes after first class passengers. It’s not a big deal.

5. Hence, you want to look toward the rear of the plane, where the best empties usually exist. The first thing you should look to are rows. But not just any rows—the last few rows (but never the last row on the plane. Oftentimes the flight attendants will take those as their own, and then you’re SOL). If there are any empty rows in the back, move your seat immediately. Without question. ASAP. But—and this is a big but—you have a choice to make …

6. If you’re feeling lucky and gutsy, take the middle seat of the row, and sit there. In an ideal world, nobody wants to sit next to a stranger, and people will see you planted and look elsewhere. The risk, however, is that there are more passengers than you anticipated, and suddenly you’re stuck in a middle seat next to these two guys.

7. The better choice (I think) is to take one of the aisle seats of the row, then—when you arrive—sit in the middle. Absolute worst-case scenario, you respond to, “I think you’re in my seat,” with, “Oh, my bad” and slide over to a fairly comfortable aisle. Best case, everyone thinks it’s your proper spot, and they leave you alone.

This works. Trust me. If, however, it fails, you can always tell the flight attendant you pee 100 times per hour and need an aisle …

Which, for me, is sadly true.

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