Your Guide to the Sky: Part 1

“Enjoy” and “Flight” are two words you’ll scarcely find together in a sentence these days. But it wasn’t always like that. In the golden age of travel (the 1940s-70s), plane rides were always glamorous, exciting occurrences. But today, the romance has been maligned into tiny cramped seats, rude passengers, inedible food, long lines, and a whole lot of hassle. This once enchanting experience has turned into something that basically everybody hates. But there are mystical ways that you can make your flying experience not only bearable, but actually enjoyable.

My goal, for this series of posts, is to give you (you as in to the void into which I submit these digital displays of sorrow) tips that will help you avoid spontaneous combustion 2 hours into your flight. So, let’s get started!

Plan to the ends of the Earth.

The most important thing you can do to ensure a better flight is to research what the best options for your route are. Now this can make the price a bit higher, so those with a super tight budget might not make use of some of these services.

One of my favorite websites that provides this service is called Routehappy. Instead of focusing on price, Routehappy finds you the happiest flights available. They take into account various “happiness factors” to rate the flight on a scale of 1 to 10. How does one go about using Routehappy? Simply put in your route, dates, and desired class of travel. Once the results pop up, keep in mind that the first flight might not be (and often isn’t) the cheapest available. Sometimes, the cheapest flight available for a route might not even show up on Routehappy. If you are pretty price conscious, make sure to click the “Happy & Cheap” button, which eliminates all the super expensive flights on your route. Between 7 and 8 is where the majority of flights on US airlines fall on the happiness scale, and international flights (depending on airline) generally tend to score a point or two higher.

Once you pick a flight, pay attention to the icons that delineate the plane, seats, in-flight entertainment, plugs, and wifi. Blue icons are above average, grey icons are average, and red icons are things to avoid. Once you’ve selected a flight, you can access reviews of the airline’s various characteristics as well as airports involved in the routes, from a growing community of online reviewers.

Once you’ve found your happy flight, head over to SeatGuru and figure out which are the best seats on the plane. Make sure to watch out for the following:

  • Seat Pitch (legroom): Don’t settle for any airline that gives you less than 31 inches of legroom. 34 inches is the most for economy class- you can tell that the nicest airlines in the world always give even their economy passengers more legroom than others.
  • Seat Width: Anything less than 17.5 inches is going to feel tight unless you’re a twig. 18.5 inches is the most for economy class. Also pay attention to which armrests are moveable and immovable on SeatGuru, so you can stretch out if you’ve got an empty seat.
  • Layout: On single-aisle aircraft, the layout is usually 3-3 (three seats on each side of the aisle), which is ok for short-haul routes. On twin-aisle widebody aircraft, 3-3-3 is the usual layout. 3-4-3 can feel crowded depending on what kind of aircraft you’re on. 2-3-2 feels the least crowded. Essentially, the best layouts have the least number of middle seats as possible.
  • Aircraft: The newer, the quieter, the less economy seats, the better. Real picks include the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, Airbus A380, Boeing 767, Airbus A330, Airbus A320, and Embraer 190 and 175. Every airline is different, however, so an A330 on one airline might be happier than an A330 on a different airline. Just listen to Routehappy.
  • Exit Rows: “Exit Row” seats often include the row in front of as well as the row behind the exit row itself, meaning that the former has a limited recline (but no one behind) and that the latter has oodles of legroom.
  • Bulkhead Seats: At the front and back of every cabin section. Front bulkhead seats sometimes have extra legroom, back bulkhead seats often have limited recline.

SeatGuru will let you know if a certain seat has some bad characteristics: seats in yellow have things you might want to watch out for, red seats are ones you need to avoid at all costs, and green seats have some nice extra perks (and consequently are often charged extra for by the airlines).

Stay tuned for the next installment of “Your Guide to the Sky,” focusing on what to do while you’re at the airport.

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