Special to USA TODAY
Published 12:54 PM EST Nov 23, 2019
If you haven’t experienced a plane squeeze yet, just board a flight during the holidays. You’ll get compressed on the aircraft along with everyone else. The experience will leave you clamoring for more room when you fly.
Space is in short supply in the main cabin, no question about it. Since deregulation, airlines have shrunk your legroom from a generous 36 inches of seat pitch to, in some cases, just 28 inches. Add the bulk of your winter coat and you’ll feel wedged tight in your seat.
In fact, the worst part of flying is seat comfort, according to the latest American Customer Satisfaction Index. Air travelers rated overall seat comfort a 69 out of a possible 100.
I’m glad they didn’t ask me. I would have given the seats a failing grade. Maybe air travel isn’t my thing, but I miss the good old days when all the flight attendants were friendly and I could fit in my seat.
Instead of complaining, let me propose a few simple fixes. You can reclaim some of that lost space now. And next year, things could get better.
Holiday travel basics for infrequent flyers: 6 things to know if you haven’t flown lately
These gadgets can make more room when you fly
A few ingenious devices will help you do more with the room you have. The Knee Defender is a standout. It’s a small plastic device that attaches on each arm of your lowered tray table. That prevents the seat in front of you from reclining. (Some airlines do not allow it, so check before bringing one onboard.)
Controversial? Sure, but it also protects your knees, your laptop computer, or your in-flight meal. It’s well worth the $21.95.
You can also find more room by using a gadget like Airhook 2.0 ($27.95). It’s a drink holder and a secure mount for an electronic device like an iPad. The Airhook latches onto a tray table in its vertical and locked position as an anchor.
It’s far more efficient than trying to use your phone or tablet to watch a movie on your open tray table. Plus, it keeps the device at eye level, minimizing your neck strain.
Here are a few strategies for getting more room on the plane
My favorite trick for creating more space is dead simple. If you’re sitting next to someone you know, lift the armrest. There’s a release button under the armrest. Armrests take up a lot of room. Plus, passengers fight over who gets to use them. So if you’re sitting next to a family member or a close friend, just get rid of the armrest and – voilà! – more space.
There are also a few unorthodox ways of making room. If you don’t mind annoying your fellow passenger, you can do what Seth Beckerman does.
“Mix gorgonzola and blue cheese with tuna fish and start to eat this mixture as soon as you sit down,” says Beckerman, a writer and editor from Pittsburgh. “It does not provide any more legroom, but may provide an adjacent empty seat.”
I’ve also heard from air travelers who feigned a cold to persuade their fellow passenger to move to another empty seat. This can be highly effective, but I would use it only if you are, indeed, feeling under the weather. Screaming babies and small dogs can achieve the same result, but it’s a zero-sum game. You will still share a seat with your apoplectic infant or yapping lapdog.
Plan ahead to avoid getting squeezed on a plane
Perhaps the best way to create more space is to avoid an uncomfortable situation. It’s possible. Some seats don’t recline at all. Others have extra legroom.
“Book the emergency exit seats,” advises Chris Choi CEO at VIP Travel, a tour operator specializing in Korea trips. The seats often come with up to 36 inches of seat pitch, which allows for faster egress during an evacuation.
But airlines now charge extra for the emergency exit rows. Often, the seats near the emergency exit rows are a great option, too. Why? The seats in front of them can’t recline. So you never have to worry about someone invading your personal space.
Also, pay attention to the aircraft type. Regional jets and turboprops typically have the least amount of personal space. There are practically no roomy seats on those planes. Wide body planes used on international routes tend to have more space, but it’s usually reserved for first-class passengers.
“Your travel consultants can check the aircraft and routing to determine the personal space in a given seat,” says Michael Steiner, executive vice president of Ovation Travel Group, a corporate travel agency.
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A solution is on the horizon: Congress has mandated minimum seat size requirements. Until then, there’s only one way you can have more room when you fly, guaranteed. You can pay for it.
Government gets involved: Senate approves bill that would regulate airline seat sizes
Mistakes to avoid when trying to create more room when you fly
Not packing your manners. When you’re negotiating more space – say, for the use of the armrest – don’t forget your “pleases” and “thank yous.” You’re far less likely to get the space you desire by demanding it.
Being territorial. Airline passengers talk about “personal” space a lot. The truth is, air travel is mass transport. The space between passengers is shared. Don’t stake a claim and defend it with brute force.
Making threats. You might feel like punching the guy who reclined into your open laptop computer, but if you do, you’ll get kicked off the flight. Instead of making a threat, call a crew member. Let the flight attendant figure out a solution.
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