When getting ready for take-off of any flight, we can take our seat promptly upon boarding the plane, stow our gear, be courteous to our fellow travelers and use electronic devices until instructed to power them down. Those activities are all just fine. On the other hand, smoking in the lavatory, joking about bombs or otherwise disrupting operation of the aircraft are serious matters that can get us kicked off the plane. But what other actions taken on board a commercial airliner can get us in trouble?
Checking in with Law.com‘s legal blog watch, the list is long.
Stripping naked or saying the F-word can get you escorted off the plane.
Get into a fist fight with the passenger in front of you who reclines their seat in the air and the pilot may turn the plane around and return to the airport, escorted by a pair of F-16 fighter jets
Pretending to be a soldier to get a complimentary upgrade to first class can not only get you kicked off the plane, but result in being arrested. The charge: second-degree impersonation.
Inhaling from an electronic cigarette or throwing bags of snacks at flight attendants can result in a charge of “interference with the flight crew,” a federal offense that will cause the FBI to greet you when the plane lands.
Take a photo of the name tag of a less-than-helpful flight crew member can get you on the No-Fly list, if not arrested.
Breastfeeding and children can be a problem. Breastfeeding without being covered up can result in public humiliation and threats of removal from the plane. In the same folder we find that children must behave. Throwing a fit on the plane may result in a return to the gate and the child’s entire family being removed from the plane for the safety of all customers and crew members on board.
Be careful what you watch on electronic devices. Passengers are not allowed to view what might be deemed “horrific” child pornography on their laptop during the flight. Do so and be apprehended by police upon landing and charged with possession of child pornography.
“You might think that after (21 volumes) of Things You Can’t Do on a Plane, that we’d have exhausted the list of things you can’t do on a plane,” says Legal Blog Watch. “Nope! The list grows daily.”
Last week on a flight from New York to Fort Lauderdale, a coworker had to ask a 10-year-old boy to turn off the erotica and to fasten his seatbelt. On either side of him sat his younger brother and sister. Across the aisle were his parents who had no idea what was going on until we informed them why he may have been holding the computer screen so close to his face. On a different flight another passenger was caught reading a Playboy Magazine. Next to him sat his young son. What gave this man away was the opened centerfold he was eyeing up and down. When a flight attendant politely asked him to put it away, he yelled at her for embarrassing him.
How common is it to see someone watching something rather risqué on a laptop, iPad, tablet or even the in-flight entertainment system in the air? I can only think of a few instances I’ve seen something that might raise a few eyebrows. When this happens, I’ll gently inform the passenger that there are children on board and remind them that other passengers seated nearby might find what they’re viewing distasteful. Nine times out of ten they’ll either fast forward through the scene or turn it off – end of story.Do passengers ever complain about the content of something that a different passenger is watching? I’ve never had anyone rat someone out for watching pornography in flight. But I do get a lot of complaints about kids watching movies or playing video games that are too loud. Most parents forget to bring headphones for their little ones. I always hate having to tell a nice family to turn it down, but rules are rules and they apply to everyone, even those under 2 feet tall.
Is there a firm policy on how to handle passengers who are watching adult content openly? Pornography is not allowed on the airplane. If a flight attendant does come across it, we’ll discreetly ask the passenger to put it away. If that doesn’t work, we might issue a written warning. The warning informs the passenger what will happen if they choose not to comply. Refusing to obey crew instruction is a federal offense. [Photo courtesy: Bekathwia]
Tom Stuker took the term “frequent flyer” to new heights this year, logging just over 1,000,000 miles in 2012 all on United, all in first class. The 59-year-old Chicago native and New Jersey resident says he’s flown a total of 13 million miles, much of that in his capacity as an independent consultant and sales trainer for automobile dealerships around the world.
This year, Stuker says that about half of his trips were for pleasure, but how much fun it is it to fly 20,000 miles per week and did he actually see anything or did he spend the entire year in transit simply to break this milestone?
I caught up with Tom via Skype from Lombok, Indonesia, on Friday to find out.
So we have just a few days left in 2012, how many miles will you have logged for the year?
I’m going to finish the year just over 1,050,000.
Did you fly mostly for business or pleasure- what was the point of all this travel?
Once I realized I had a truckload of miles, I thought, ‘I may as well try to get to a million.’ I didn’t want to end up with 938,000 when 1 million is such a sexy number, so towards the end of the year, I planned it out and made it there.
It was about 50/50 business and pleasure. I took a lot of the year off just to travel. I flew with my wife more than 200,000 miles just on long weekend trips, so that consumed a lot.
How many miles did you fly last year?
About 825,000, most of that was business, that’s why this year I decided to take more time off.
Why are you so loyal to United?
I’m very brand loyal, they’ve been very good to me and I’m very good to them.
How much did you spend buying all these airline tickets this year?
A lot. I never disclose exactly how much I paid for my tickets. I have a contracted rate with United. I fly predominantly all first class and I give away a lot of my miles to close friends and relatives.
So does United give you a special Batline to use to book flights?
I have a special Batline. I book everything on the phone – I’m old school. It’s a hotline for Global Service people.
It’s very expensive to fly first class, are you paying for first class tickets or do you pay for coach and they upgrade you?
I pay a negotiated rate for first class travel. They know me by name when I call United.
You have so many miles, shouldn’t you be able to redeem all your miles and travel for free?
I have – I’ve taken plenty of free trips. I took two free trips last week. I make sure all my relatives get miles when they need them. And I spend miles on other things too.
People are going to read this and wonder how well off you are. Are we talking Bill Gates or Mitt Romney territory or just comfortable?
I have just enough money to afford a good life of travel. I have two homes. I have a pretty good business. I work to live but I don’t live to work. I get a lot of criticism for traveling so much.
People say I have no home life. It couldn’t be any further from the truth. My two boys are grown. My wife and I, we both love to travel. We do everything together and we spend a lot of quality time together.
In order to hit more than 1,000,000 miles in a year, you’d have to average almost 3,000 miles in the air every day. How is that logistically possible?
I don’t know how I did it myself. Between time on planes, connections, transfers, booking travel, it comes to about 80 hours per week. How did it happen? I don’t know, the year flew by – no pun intended.
How many flights did you take?
I never added it all up. I had some time off at the beginning of this year and I said, ‘I’m going to fly 12 days straight.’ On January 12, I passed 100,000 miles, so I got off to a really strong start.
I did a lot of work in Australia though, and just going back and forth there is 20,000 miles right there. I got to Hawaii 4-5 times per year and we’ll leave on Friday night and come back on Sunday. That’s 10,000 miles.
You visit Hawaii from New York just for the weekend?
Two or two and a half days, yes.
And you’d spend only 3-4 days in Australia?
I’d get in on a Tuesday morning and leave Friday morning, so that’s three days.
What’s the longest you ever stayed in one place this year? Did you stay a full week anywhere at all?
I don’t think I’ve been at home for a full week in about 18 years. I’ve been married and divorced twice but it had nothing to do with all the flying.
But why not travel and stay in these places a bit longer? Go to Hawaii and stay for a week or two, explore, get comfortable there?
First of all, I’m ADD. I can’t pay attention too much. I lose focus. I get what I want from a destination and move on. Relaxing to me is weird. I’m not a lay-by-the-pool person. I relax by planning trips and communicating with people from all over the world on Skype and doing other things.
Some would argue that you traveled a lot but didn’t see much. How do you respond to that charge?
I would say, ‘look at my photo albums.’ My wife and I have flown 2.5 million miles together. I’ve been everywhere and done everything. I’ve done desert safaris, I’ve been to the top of the Burj Khalifha, I’ve been on the pyramids, I’ve done a safari in Africa, elephant trekking in Thailand, I walked the China Wall. OK, so I’ve never been to Antartica! So shoot me!
Let me guess – you haven’t been to Antarctica because United doesn’t fly there?
That’s one reason plus I’m not a cold weather person. I’ve been to every state, every Canadian province. I did four days in Rio – that was enough for me. I’ve been to every island in the Caribbean. All over South America. I did three or four days in Buenos Aires.
How do you pass the time on all these flights? Do you talk to neighbors, watch movies, work, read?
A combination of all those things. I’ve met so many amazing people flying in first class. I read magazines and newspapers until we get up in the air and then sometimes I try to get work done. I think my company was built on airplane cocktail napkins. I can’t watch movies because I’ve already seen every damn one of them.
I understand your going to be the star of a reality TV program?
It’s called “Car Lot Rescue.” It’s something like “Kitchen Nightmares” but at car dealerships. I go in there, find problems, address them like a bull in a china shop, get push back and solve their problems. That’s going to be on Spike and it debuts February 10.
What’s your least favorite destination?
I wasn’t too excited about Greece. The history is phenomenal but I found the people there to be a little on the rude side, which will offend all the Greeks who read this.
I’m surprised. Greece is one of my favorite places. Where were you?
Athens, Mykonos, Santorini. But there are rude people in New Jersey too, so New Jersey isn’t the friendliest place either. Australia and New Zealand are the friendliest places.
Speaking of rudeness, what kind of rude behavior have you seen on flights this year?
Even in first class, I’ve seen everything from people clipping their nails, polishing their nails, people who take their shoes and socks off. People who won’t put their seats up to let people get to the bathroom. People who will kick my chair because my seat is reclined.
What are your travel plans for 2013?
I’m going to London a couple times. Vegas. Phoenix. We’re taking a long weekend in Buenos Aires. And this is all just in January.
Why go all the way to Argentina just for the weekend?
I’ve been there before; I just want to revisit some places I haven’t been to. I want to go to a new tango place.
A British expat named Fred Finn claims to be the world’s most frequent flyer with 15 million lifetime miles. Do you want to take that title away from him?
He says he has 15 million miles and I’m not going to call him a liar. He gets paid for appearances as the world’s most frequent flier. I don’t mind being number two, with 13 million miles. I think he’s about 70, so he’s got a dozen years on me. God willing, if I live to 70, I’ll probably pass him but it’s not on my bucket list. I fly for one reason, to create memories, not miles.
Last week, I heard about a product called the Knee Defender, which, when attached to the tray table of an airline seat, restricts how far the person in front of you can recline, on an episode of NPR’s “This American Life.” Apparently, this product has been available for more than nine years, but this was the first I’d heard of it. In the intro to the episode, host Ira Glass talks to Ken Hegan, a 6’2″ travel writer who uses the Knee Defender on flights, about the etiquette of using this unique little product.
As a frequent flier who often feels cramped in coach, I was intrigued, but wondered if it was ethical to limit another traveler’s ability to recline. So I contacted Ira Goldman, the inventor, to ask him how it works and whether it’s kosher to keep fellow passengers erect, or semi-erect in their seats.
How does the Knee Defender work?
It’s like a paper clip. You put it on the arms of the tray table. The tray table arms and the seat rotate on the same axis, so when the tray table arms come back and the seat’s not reclined, it’s like the blades of scissors. If you put something between the blades of scissors when they’re open, you can’t close them. That’s the dynamic of the Knee Defender.
According to your site, the Knee Defender isn’t FAA approved, but they also haven’t outlawed it, correct?
Correct. They only approve the things they have jurisdiction over and they’ve judged that they don’t have jurisdiction over this, so they have no problem with it as long as you aren’t using it during takeoff, landing or taxiing, but that’s when you need to have your tray table up anyways, so you couldn’t use it then even if you wanted to.
Have any airlines banned it?
The FAA has said it’s fine, my customers who are using it say it’s fine and as far as I know, it’s fine. That’s the bottom line.
But is this ethical? Doesn’t the passenger in front of you have a right to recline his seat?
When I fly, my knees touch the seatback in front of me. I’m only 6’3″, and I would even take the magazines out so in other words, that person isn’t reclining, because my knees will stop them, with or without the Knee Defender. All the Knee Defender does is, instead of my knees stopping the seat, the Knee Defender stops the seat. So the ethical challenge is not really there as you pose it, because it’s not as if they’d otherwise be able to recline.
Every Knee Defender that’s ever been sold says, ‘Don’t hog space.’ You should only use it to the extent that you need it. A number of customers, for example, use it with their laptops. If someone reclines, you can’t use it on your tray table, and it can also catch onto the little lip of the seatback. It can break your laptop.
The Knee Defender is adjustable. You can adjust it so they can recline not really at all or some amount, so this is marketed to stop people from being hit in the knees by seatbacks.
If I’m in my seat, trying to recline and I can’t, I would probably hail a stewardess. If she notices the Knee Defender, how would the situation unfold?
On the Knee Defender tag it says, ‘always listen to the flight attendant.’ Customers tell me that sometimes the flight attendant will say ‘don’t do that’ and they’ll have to take it off, and other times, they’ll realize there’s no leg room, so it’s not going to make a difference, so the flight attendant shrugs to the passenger who complains.
So it’s up to the flight attendant?
Yes, and frankly if there is room for the person to recline without hitting the person who bought my product, then when someone wants to recline, they should remove it (the Knee Defender). The Knee Defender isn’t called the I-want-more-space defender or the anti-claustrophobia-defender. It’s there to stop people from actually being hit.
If someone is using it just because they want a little more space, that’s not what it’s for. And if the flight attendant says you can’t do it, you can’t do it.
In the story on “This American Life,” the passenger who used your product handed the person in front of them a card warning them that they wouldn’t be able to recline their seat more than 2 inches. Does the product come with those cards?
There are two cards on our website. One if you don’t want to buy our product. It’s a note you can hand to the person in front of you that says, ‘By the way, I’ve got long legs, and if you recline, you’re going to bang into me.’ And then one that comes with the product that says the same thing but also says, ‘I’m using the Knee Defender, and if you want to recline, I’ll see if I can adjust it so we can both be happy.’
So what is the best etiquette? To notify the person in front of you that you’re using a Knee Defender or not?
On our site, we have a page about airplane etiquette. It may be wrong, but that’s my point of view. When you go to the restroom, do you knock on the door first, or do you just walk in? It’s up to each person.
Do you recline your seat when you fly?
Even on a trans-Atlantic flight?
No. I get a window seat and lean against the wall.
Is it uncomfortable for a tall person to recline or you think it’s rude?
I don’t think it’s rude if you know what you’re reclining into. It’s like pulling out of your driveway. You look and then you pull out. If someone is coming, you don’t pull out.
So if the person behind you is using a laptop, eating, or is just tall or large, you shouldn’t recline?
I think so, but at the end of the day, there is no physical space for some people to recline into. My knees often hit the seat in front of me, in a normal situation. There are also lap babies. You can be sitting there bouncing a baby on your lap and the person in front of you reclines, and the baby gets smacked in the head.
Some would say that if you’re too tall or large, you should just buy a business class ticket, right?
That’s a question of space. I’m not talking about space; I’m talking about not being hit in the knees. If you have short legs, and you aren’t using a laptop, or have a lap baby, don’t buy our product.
I’m only 5’11″ and I thought about buying one. Does that make me a bad person?
There’s nothing to keep us from promoting this as ‘more legroom.’ But that’s just not me. I don’t have to say in the instructions how to use it appropriately, but we do.
Author’s Comment: I generally don’t mind people in front of me reclining, and if there was a situation where I didn’t want them to recline, I wouldn’t hesitate to communicate directly with that person. But I can see where some people are too shy to do that, and in that case, the Knee Defender might come in handy. Still, the airlines make seats that recline, so I suppose that means that people have a right to do it, even if you have long legs or happen to be eating, using a laptop, or holding a baby. What do you think?
Deciding when to book your flight to get the best price can be frustrating. Do you wait to try to get a last minute deal? Should you book in advance? How do you navigate expensive tickets around the holidays? With the help of Jeff Klee, CEO of CheapAir.com, Warren Chang, Vice President and General Manager of Fly.com and Anisha Sekar, Vice President of Credit and Debit Products for NerdWallet, we’ve created a guide to help travelers make the right choices when booking flights.
When is the best time to book?
While booking as early as possible is the general rule of thumb to getting great flight deals, this also depends on how far away your travel dates are. In general, if your trip is more than three months away, wait.
Explains Chang, “Airline sales tend to target travel dates that are two to three months out, most of the time, so flights beyond that window generally are priced at a higher level until the sales target those dates.”
Klee adds there are a few myths related to booking flights. One is that the further in advance you book, the better. The other is if you wait until the last minute, there will be unsold seats that the airlines will practically give away. Both of these are untrue in almost all cases.
The truth is, there is no hard and fast rule; however, there are some general trends to be aware of. Most airlines will open their flights for booking about 11 months in advance. Usually when a flight first opens for sale, fares are on the high side. The airline will keep them that way for a while to get a sense of the overall demand. As it gets closer to the flight date, you’ll begin to see sporadic sales. Then, depending on how heavily booked a flight is, you might start to see more frequent and aggressive discounting.“On average, six weeks in advance is the least expensive time to buy a domestic flight – but that does fluctuate quite a bit,” says Klee. “With popular markets on popular travel dates, it’s best to book even earlier. And always try to book at least 21 days in advance.”
This dynamic changes a bit during holidays, making it much more important to book early. The basic factor affecting a flight’s price is how full it is. In fact, airlines typically offer five to 15 different prices for the same flight, just at different times. Usually, airlines will sell the first 20 seats at their lowest fare and the next 20 at the next lowest fare, with the pattern continuing until the flight is sold out. In short, the fuller a plane is getting, the more expensive the seats will be.
What days of the week are cheapest/most expensive to fly?
Although there are always exceptions, Tuesdays and Wednesdays rank as the least popular days and are usually the least expensive to fly. Additionally, because it’s common for travelers to fly on Fridays and Sundays, they are the most expensive. According to Chang, Wednesday afternoons specifically are the best time to book.
“Tuesday and Wednesday are the days of the week when airlines release their sales,” he explains. “Once all the sales are released, other airlines may match some of the discounted fares, so waiting until Wednesday afternoon allows for these matching airlines to file their fares as well.”
Keep in mind, around the holidays the rules change. For example, during Thanksgiving week, Wednesday and Sunday are two of the busiest and most expensive travel days of the year. Additionally, the Tuesday before and the Monday after are also more expensive than usual.
“You can save a lot if you avoid those days,” explains Klee. “The best days to travel out are generally the Saturday or Monday before Thanksgiving and the best days to travel back are the Friday, Saturday or Tuesday after. Of course, if you can fly on Thanksgiving Day itself you can usually get a great deal, too.”
For Christmas and New Years, the day after is usually very expensive, as are the Fridays and Saturdays before and the Sundays after.
Tricks And Tactics
The main tactic to saving money on flights is to be as flexible with your dates as possible. If you are locked into exact travel dates, it will be more of a challenge to get a great deal. However, if you are willing to fly on multiple sets of dates, the odds of finding a good deal
get better. Moreover, being flexible with the times you travel is a big help.
Says Chang, “Flying late morning through afternoon is often a lot more expensive than catching a red eye or hopping on the first flight of the day.”
Alternate airports can help, too. “If there is more than one airport near your origin or destination city, check them both,” advises Klee. “The more options you have in terms of airports and travel dates, the more likely you will find what may be one of the last discount seats to where you are going.”
Knowing what you’re paying for before you book is also important. While a recent law set by the U.S. Transportation Department states airfares shown in advertisements must be “the entire price to be paid by the customer,” there are still other charges like baggage, entertainment and meal and beverage fees.
As long as you’re not wedded to a specific hotel, looking for a package deal can also help you save a bundle on flights. When doing this, you can sometimes get an almost-free hotel or car rental.
“Over the years we have seen some spectacular deals where, for as little as $2 more, you can also stay at a top-notch hotel,” says Chang.
Furthermore, it’s a good idea to start checking fares as soon as you know your potential travel dates and airports. If you don’t like what you find, and you have two months of more, make a point to check back every few days. As soon as you see a good deal, book it. Availability changes quickly around the holidays and what you see today will very possibly not still be available tomorrow.
When trying to find a deal, make use of the online tools available to you. CheapAir.com offers a “Price Drop Payback,” where they refund passengers the difference if a ticket they purchased drops in price. Furthermore, Bing Travel features a price predictor to help you decide if you should wait or buy now by showing if fares are rising or dropping. Kayak is also helpful, as it shows fare history charts to give you some foresight. If you have Twitter, Fly.com has an award-winning feed for flight deals, being nominated as one of the best by Time Magazine. Additionally, using aggregator sites like the ones mentioned above, as well as Skyscanner, Orbitz, cheapOair and Hotwire can help you compare airline prices.
Use Your Miles And Points
According to Sekar, the key to effectively using credit card miles and points to book flights is flexibility. Being willing to tweak your dates to get the best value is important. Additionally, timing your flights to coincide with higher ticket prices for the same rewards amount is beneficial.
Sekar also generally recommends using regular credit cards over airline-specific cards, unless there is one carrier you use all the time. Furthermore, using your miles to book holiday flights usually offers the worst redemption value.
So, what cards give you the best value? In terms of deals, the Chase Sapphire and Chase Ink Bold offer a 25% points boost when you use your Ultimate Rewards Points to book travel through Chase. Also, the Starwood American Express nominally pays out in Starpoints, but you can trade 20,000 Starpoints for 25,000 miles on many major airlines for a value of 1.25 cents per Starpoint earned.
“Both give two miles per $1 spent on all purchases, and allow you to redeem your miles against any travel expense, be it airfare, baggage fees, gas or meals in the hotel’s dining room,” explains Sekar. “Because you redeem your miles as a statement credit, you can be sure you’re getting the full one cent per point value.”
The Truth About Holiday Travel
If you’re traveling around the holidays, you’re going to need to be realistic. This is the time when flights are almost always going to be more expensive than other times of the year. Airlines understand on peak travel days, demand exceeds supply. In response, they increase prices, add surcharges and limit low fare options.
“If you went to Chicago last spring for $238 and now the fare is $320 over the holidays, don’t
assume that this is an aberration and it will come back down,” explains Klee. “Paying up to $100 more for a domestic flight during holiday time is, unfortunately, not uncommon. In fact, prices can go up even more than that if you don’t book far in advance.”