To avoid a sardine-like experience on your next airline flight, take this advice for finding a roomier ride during the peak holiday travel season:
- Pick your seat. Confirm your seat assignment when making your reservation. If you let a computer or a busy gate agent do the choosing for you, you'll likely end up with a dud seat. Dud seats include aisle seats near lavatories, seats too close to the movie screen, "window" seats next to a wall with no windows, seats that don't recline, or middle seats at the back of the plane.
- Go for the exit row. Exit-row seats, typically in the middle of the coach cabin over the wings, offer more legroom than any other type. However, these spacious seats are usually not available for booking until you arrive at the airport and can prove that you speak English and are physically able to open the emergency door. (Some airlines allow frequent fliers to reserve them ahead of time.) When checking in, always ask if an exit-row seat is available.
- Book online. Most airlines and online travel sites allow you to choose your seat on an interactive seat map so you can see exactly where you'll be sitting. This is a far better option than having a reservationist tell you that he or she has reserved seat 23F for you. Who knows where that could be? For more advice on seat maps, check out www.seatguru.com.
- Know your ride. Ask what type of airplane you'll be flying on. Many airlines are deploying smaller, 50- to 75-seat regional jets on routes where they used to fly big jets. With smaller seats, narrower aisles, less space in the overhead bins and fewer lavatories, these planes are fine for short hops but too cramped for flights lasting more than 90 minutes.
Christopher McGinnis, travel correspondent for CNN Headline News, is author of The Unofficial Business Travelers' Pocket Guide.