Airline Madness: Legroom vs. Inefficient boarding procedures

Airline Madness is Gadling’s tournament of airline annoyances. You can catch up on all of the previous tournament action here.

The first round of Airline Madness continues with #2 seed Legroom taking on #15 seed Inefficient boarding procedures. As most of us are usually flying in the economy cabin, we know just how cramped those seats are. If you’re 5 feet 9 inches or taller (the average American adult male is about just below 5 feet 10 inches tall), your knees are probably going to touch the seat in front of you. Meanwhile, before you even get on the plane, you need to wait for your seemingly arbitrary zone to be called and then stand in a line of people eager to board a metal tube full of recycled air.

Only one of these pet peeves will advance to the second round. Check out their full descriptions below and then vote for the one that’s the most infuriating.#2 Legroom
The average seat pitch in economy class is between 29 inches and 30 inches. That doesn’t allow for much legroom, no matter how much thinner they make the seat-backs. You don’t need to be freakishly tall to feel cramped once you fold yourself into your seat. Want more legroom? Well, now the airlines make you pay for exit row seats or “Premium Economy,” which is nothing more than an economy seat with the legroom that was offered to everyone a decade ago. These days, you might have more personal space in a dog crate in the luggage compartment.

#15 Inefficient boarding procedures
The gate agent has announced pre-boarding (which is a misnomer, because once anyone is boarding the plane, it’s just called boarding) and yet everyone with a ticket for the flight seems to have surged toward the counter. You’re seated one row away from your friend yet are separated by three boarding groups. The crowd of people near the gate resembles a Soviet-era bread line, only less organized and far more aggressive. When your group is called, you can’t get anywhere near the plane because of the wall of people in your way. Oh, and the flight is scheduled to takeoff in two minutes. Surely it will be on time.

Which airline pet peeve grinds your gears the most? Do you demand more legroom or have you had it with the chaos of boarding? Vote for the annoyance that most deserves to advance to the second round and share your thoughts in the comments!
First round voting ends at 11:59PM EDT on Friday, March 16.

More Airline Madness:
#1 Annoying passengers vs. #16 Disgusting bathrooms
#3 Lack of free food/prices for food vs. #14 Cold cabin/no blankets
#4 Baggage Fees vs. #13 Obese people who take up two seats
#5 Lack of overhead space vs. Inattentive parents of crying babies
#6 Change fees/no free standby vs. #11 Lack of personal entertainment/charging for entertainment
#7 Rude airline staff vs. #10 Having to turn off electronic devices during takeoff & landing
#8 People who recline their seats vs. #9 People who get mad at people who recline their seats
Hotel Madness: Gadling’s tournament of airline annoyances

Catch up on all the Airline Madness here.

Airline Madness: Gadling’s tournament of airline annoyances

It’s that time of year again! All around the country, people are filling out their brackets and arguing over match-ups. That’s right; it’s March Madness Airline Madness! Just like last year’s Hotel Madness, we’ve compiled a list of travel pet peeves. Only this time around the competition is for the title of Worst Airline Annoyance. Our selection committee vetted the pool of candidates and chose the 16 worst offenders. Now it’s time for you to vote. Over the next two days, all of the first round match-ups will be posted here on Gadling for you to weigh in. The winners will advance to the second round, then the Final Four and so on until we crown an Airline Madness champion.It’s going to be an exciting few weeks of debates, arguments and rants about cry babies, overhead space and baggage fees. We know you’ll have some opinions to share and we hope that you’ll speak up in the comments.

Below is a list of our first round match-ups that will be up for voting later today for the first four match-ups of the first round. The second half of the first round will be open for voting tomorrow, so keep checking back for all of the action! [Update: The first round has ended and voting is closed.]

#2 Legroom vs. #15 Inefficient boarding procedures

#3 Lack of free food/prices for food vs. #14 Cold cabin/no blankets

#4 Baggage fees vs. #13 Obese people who take up two seats

#5 Lack of overhead space vs. #12 Inattentive parents of crying babies

#6 Change fees/no free standby vs. #11 Lack of personal entertainment/charging for entertainment

#7 Rude airline staff vs. #10 Having to turn off electronic devices during takeoff & landing

#8 People who recline their seats vs. #9 People who get mad at people who recline their seats

Welcome to Airline Madness! It’s up to you to pick the champion (because everything’s amazing and nobody’s happy)!

Catch up on all the Airline Madness here.

Knocked up abroad: planning travel with a baby

Let’s get this out of the way: you can travel with a baby. Many new parents feel that once they have a child, their travel days are over, but many parents will tell you that the first six months are the easiest time to travel with a baby. Is it easy? Not exactly, but with enough planning and the right attitude, it’s not as hard as you might think. Is it selfish? Probably, but so is most travel. Again, planning, attitude and a good amount of luck factor in to ensuring that you and baby aren’t a nuisance to other passengers and that you and your child have a safe and healthy trip. My baby is too young to remember her early adventures, but she’s learning to be adaptable and sociable, and does well with travel, new people, and noise. Is it fun? Your carefree days of travel may be over, but you can still enjoy exploring new places, indulging in great food and wine (it might just be at a sidewalk cafe at 4pm instead of a trendy restaurant at 9pm), and engaging with locals more deeply than you ever did before baby. Given the patience, resourcefulness, and ingenuity that I’ve developed while traveling with a baby, I’d say it has made me a better traveler, maybe even a better person.

Living in a foreign country like Turkey puts me at an advantage: I deal with a language and cultural barrier every day and everything is much more complicated and difficult than it would be at home in New York. Because this is not our permanent home and imported items are expensive, we made it through the first few months with little more than a stroller, a baby wrap to carry her, and a portable changing pad, so we already travel light. I say it gives me an advantage because I’m already used to the challenges and unfamiliarity inherent in travel. What makes foreign travel daunting (even without a baby) is the foreignness of it all, which has become my normal (after nearly two years abroad, I can tell you that knowing what’s going on all the time is overrated). The skills I’ve honed as a traveler and an expat — problem-solving, thinking ten steps ahead, and planning an exit strategy — are the same I use as a parent; you can apply the same lessons with a child or on the road.Now with a few trips under my belt with baby both solo and with my husband (and more travel planned in the coming weeks and months), I’ve developed some guidelines to help with traveling with a baby. I’ll be posting some additional articles on how to cope with a baby on a plane and on the ground, travel gear recommendations, as well as some destination-specific info, but first: some tips on planning a trip with a baby.

Choose a baby-friendly destination. You may find that people everywhere are much more understanding and helpful to people traveling with babies than you imagine, but some places are more baby-friendly than others. In my experience, Mediterranean Europe is full of baby-lovers, even if the cobblestones, stairs, and ancient infrastructure presents a lot of challenges. Istanbul can be a nightmare to navigate with a stroller, but there are always friendly Turks willing to help. I’ve also heard babies in Latin America and Southeast Asia are treated like rock stars. Generally, countries with a high birth rate tend to be friendlier than others, though I’ve found the United States to be the most difficult in terms of other people’s attitudes.

-Prepare to pare down: There are a lot of great things about having a baby in the 21st century, but people managed quite well for generations without wipe warmers (really, this is a thing?!) and baby gyms. There are a few items I use at home every day such as a bouncy seat, a nursing pillow, and a folding bathtub, but I’ve done fine without them for weeks at a time while traveling. I know at some point down the line, I’ll need to pack a myriad of toys, snacks, and diversions for my child, but infants need very little. It may help to wean yourself off of baby gear in advance of your trip to see how well you can get along with less. Let the baby get used to a travel cot if you plan to use one, try getting around for a day with just a baby carrier, and introduce toys that can be easily attached to a stroller and then stashed in a pocket. Think about your destination: will a stroller be more of a hinderance than a help or can you get along with another mode of transport? Do you need a car seat or can you rent one? What can serve multiple purposes? I carry a thin Turkish towel that looks like a pashmina and I can use it as a burp cloth, nursing cover, baby blanket, and a scarf. The less you can pack, the better. Really all you can handle is baby in a stroller, one wheeled suitcase, and a purse and/or diaper bag. Anything more and you’ll regret it. Also, keep in mind that babies are born everywhere, and there are few places in the world where you can’t buy diapers, formula, clothes, or other gear. Pack enough in your carry-on to get through the first day and night in case you arrive at your destination after shops close.

-Schedule travel around baby: Babies are adaptable, but when it comes to travel, especially flying, make it as easy on yourself as possible. My baby generally wakes up early to eat, then goes back to sleep for a few hours, and sleeps through most of the night. Therefore, I’ve tried to book flights for early in the morning or overnight so she’s awake as little as possible. In the six flights we took to and from the US and domestically, the only one we had any trouble with was a 45-minute Boston to New York flight in the early evening, when she tends to be cranky. It’s hard to comfort a baby when you’re standing in line or getting ready to board a flight, so if your baby is already asleep at the airport, that’s half the battle. There used to be nothing I hated more than getting to the airport at the crack of dawn, but traveling with a sleeping, and more importantly, quiet baby is worth getting up early.

-Consider an apartment rental: With the popularity of websites such as AirBnB (even after the home trashing scandal), renting an apartment for even a short stay is an increasingly viable option when planning a trip. It not only gives you more space and a more home-like environment, it can also help you to get to know a place more through the neighborhood and markets when you buy food to cook on your trip. For a parent, an apartment has several key advantages over a hotel room. Having access to laundry while traveling can be a huge help and reduce your packing load significantly. Likewise, whether you are breastfeeding or using formula, having a kitchen with a fridge can be a necessity with a baby. If you’re set on a hotel stay (daily room-cleaning could be a big help too!), make sure your room has a minibar fridge to stash bottles inside and a bathtub if your baby is too big for the sink, and get info on the closest laundromat.

-Do your research: The last thing you want when traveling is to be standing on a subway platform with a crying baby, after hauling a heavy stroller up a flight of stairs, only to discover the train is bypassing your station. Before I travel next week to Slovenia and Italy, I’m looking up everything from how to cross the border by taxi, to what train stations have elevators, to public bathrooms in Venice with baby-changing stations (though I’ve managed many times on the top of a toilet seat lid and a changing pad). All the stuff about a destination you could wait to figure out until you arrived before you had a baby will help you a lot to plan in advance. Here’s some examples of things to research before you go, the more prepared you can be, the better.

Stay tuned for more tips on travel with a baby, in the air and on the ground plus destination guides for foreign travel with a baby. Waiting for baby to arrive? Check out past Knocked Up Abroad articles on traveling while pregnant and what to expect when you’re expecting in Turkey.

Galley Gossip: 5 reasons flight attendants don’t serve first class predeparture beverages

You’ve boarded a flight and you’re feeling pretty relaxed sitting in that big comfy first class seat. Sucka, you think to yourself as a couple of passengers check you out on their way to coach. Glancing at your watch, you wonder where the heck the flight attendant is because you’re dying of thirst and shouldn’t she be offering drinks right about now!

Predepartures. That’s what flight attendants call the drinks that are served before takeoff to passengers seated in business and first class. If there’s time flight attendants will walk through the aisle and take individual orders, but time is the keyword here. With so many full flights staffed with minimum crew, there’s usually not enough time to check the emergency equipment, set up the galley, hang all the coats, get passengers situated AND serve predeparture beverages. This is why flight attendants might choose to do a one shot service and offer passengers Champagne (if we have it), orange juice, and water- or nothing at all. Because it’s more important to get flights out on time than it is to serve drinks before takeoff.

What most passengers don’t realize is that it’s against FAA regulations for an agent to shut an aircraft door until all the overhead bins have been closed. If the agent can’t close the aircraft door on time, the flight will be delayed. If the flight is delayed (even by a few minutes) someone will have to take the blame. This means someone will get written up. If an airline employee is written up too many times for causing a delayed departure they might very well lose their job. On time departures are a big deal in the airline industry. So that gin and tonic the passenger in 3A is crying about is not a concern if passenger 23D refuses to sit down and passenger 14E can’t get her suitcase inside an overhead bin and the flight attendant working in the back is calling up front to let someone know there are seven bags on their way up that need to be checked.

Here are a few other reasons flight attendants might not serve you a drink before takeoff….

1. DELAYED BOARDING: Boarding is even more chaotic when a flight is delayed. If passengers are blocking the aisles waiting to get to their seats, flight attendants aren’t going to jump over them in order to serve drinks.

2. NO CATERING: Everyone is seated and the flight attendants don’t look very busy. Why aren’t they serving drinks? If the catering truck hasn’t come to swap out the carts they have nothing to serve.

3. THE GALLEY ISN’T SET UP: The catering carts do not come on board ready to go. Flight attendants have to organize them first. If we don’t do this during boarding, the service during the flight will be delayed. Besides organizing the carts, we also have to break up several bags of ice, count the meals, load the ovens, and make sure we have everything we might need for the service in flight. The one time I didn’t do this we took off without dinner plates and I had to serve first class passengers their entrees on cookie plates.

4. MINIMUM CREW: Nowadays most narrowbody aircraft (one aisle) are staffed with minimum crew. This means if we’re not greeting passengers at the door, we’re busy setting up a galley. In the past we used to have extra flight attendants on board to lend a hand to passengers who might need it during boarding and help serve food and drinks in first class. Not the case anymore.

5. DRY FLIGHTS: Some countries do not allow flight attendants to unlock the liquor carts until after takeoff. There are even a few cities in the U.S. where it’s against the law to serve an adult beverage on Sunday before noon.

Photo courtesy of Kevin H

Galley Gossip: Captain A-rod and the cat lady from hell!

I should have known it was going to be a weird flight when the captain introduced himself as A-rod. Short, round and graying, he stood in the galley massaging the shoulders of a tense looking flight attendant. When the agent walked on board with paperwork, the flight attendant quickly slid out of A-rod’s reach and eagerly asked. “Ready to board?”

Boarding, for a flight attendant, is the most hectic and difficult phase of flight, and would you believe we’re not even getting paid until the aircraft door is closed and the airplane backs away from the gate! It’s true. What makes it stressful is the pressure to get full flights staffed with minimum crew out on time. No longer are there extra flight attendants floating around to help passengers the way there once was years ago. Either we’re setting up a galley or keeping an eye on our exit doors. And by the time a full load settles into their seats and flight attendants can finally move freely up and down the aisle, we’re usually just a few minutes away from taxiing out.

Enter the cat lady. I spotted her right away during the boarding process. Now I love cats. I even own a sixteen pound Maine Coon named Gatsby, so I’m a bit of a cat lady myself. What I don’t love are – not passengers who bring on board pets that don’t fit under the seat in front of them (it happens), but passengers who don’t tell us when their pets don’t fit under the seat until the last minute, like a woman did on a flight a few years ago! That cat wound up in the first class coat closet for take off. So when I spotted this newest cat lady with a large hard case carrier, I asked if it would fit under the seat in front of her.”It should,” she said matter of fact. “I went to the airline’s website to check the measurements under the seat.”

Sounded good to me.

Well not only did the carrier not fit under the seat, an aisle seat, nobody with a middle seat wanted to split from their traveling companion. Cat lady turned red. In the aisle she stood yelling at me because my airline had “lied” to her and now I needed to make things right! Honestly, I was trying, but she wasn’t making it easy screaming at me like that. To make matters worse, the agent started making a PA asking everyone – her – to take their seats. That’s when it seemed like just about everybody seated in a five row radius began claiming to have severe cat allergies.

Quickly I walked up the aisle to report what was going on to the captain and the frazzled agent, but along the way a passenger waved me down to ask if his dog had been boarded. He’d seen it sitting in its crate on the tarmac and was worried. I told him I’d be right back.

“If the guy with the dog is wearing a red baseball cap, I already told him his dog was on board,” said A-rod. “It’s a big brown dog, right?”

I had no idea what it looked like, and was just about to tell him so when the agent interrupted us and asked, “Are you going to take the delay Captain?”

A delay is bad news at an airline. And someone has to take the heat. This is why flight attendants and agents start making back to back PA’s asking passengers to step into the aisle when stowing their bags and to take their seats as quickly as possible for an on time departure. Otherwise fingers start pointing. Flight attendants, gate agents, mechanics, cabin cleaners, we’re all guilty of trying to place the blame on another department. Get docked with too many delays and one could very well lose their job. It’s that serious.

I didn’t wait to hear A-rod’s response, I quickly walked back to coach and asked the dog owner if his dog was big and brown. He just looked at me. Then he told me the breed, as if that meant something to me. I tried again. “Is that breed of dog normally big and brown?”

He smirked. “Yeah.”

“Your dog is on the plane.” One down, one more to go.

Only when I finally reached the cat lady, I couldn’t believe what I saw. Somehow, I don’t know how, the other flight attendants had moved passengers around in order to accomodate the cat under a middle seat. In doing so, the cat lady now had an entire row all to herself.

Just as I started to relax, a passenger tugged on my sleeve. “Excuse me, Miss, I want to know what that woman paid for her seat!”

I started to tell him I had no idea what she paid for her seat, or what anyone paid for that matter, when another passenger piped in with, “Did she buy one seat or three?”

Across the aisle a woman yelled, “I don’t think it’s fair that she gets her own row while the rest of us have to suffer!”

On the verge of a mutiny, I tried calming the passengers down. It wasn’t easy. Did I happen to mention we hadn’t even taken off yet? And that boarding sets the tone for the flight? Oh yeah. Welcome aboard. Now where the heck was A-rod when you really needed a massage?

Tips for traveling with pets on the plane:

1. Book flights early. Only a certain number of pets are allowed in the cabin at one time.

2. Check the airline’s website for pet policies and maximum dimensions for carriers. (21 inches long X 13 to 16 inches wide X 9 inches high seems to be the standard)

3. Purchase a flexible pet carrier or “bag” as these tend to fit better under seats than hard case carriers. (If checking a pet in cargo, only hard case carriers are accepted.)

4. Choose a middle or window seat, as the space under aisle seats tend to be narrower.

5. Pets are required to stay inside their carriers throughout the flight. Make sure it’s ventilated on both sides.

6. Line the carrier with an absorbent material like “puppy pads” in case of an accident.

7. Make sure your pet is wearing an identification tag.

8. Personalize your pet. Put a sign on the carrier that reads, “Hi, I’m a cat and my name is____ . This is my first flight.”

Photos courtesy of Erica.Hargreave