Galley Gossip: Switching seats, exit row safety & asking for upgrades

Recently on a flight a passenger took the empty seat beside me. He had an assigned seat that he left behind. If by luck of the draw I had an empty seat (true not paid for), then it seems to me that as a beneficiary of said luck that I have inherited certain rights. If the other guy had stayed in his OWN seat, I would have had the enjoyment of more space. His moving AFFECTED me. The only reason I point this out is because while my situation was benign, I know that sometimes these little irritations or frictions on flights escalate into real on board conflicts (fights), and while I am describing out a pretty subtle point here, I think that it is better for the flight crew to mediate between passengers using preventive practices (etiquette, courtesies, “rules” etc.) rather than letting passengers resolve them themselves, in those cases where we are dealing with seat assignments at least. – Trevor

I’m going to tell you what 90% of the flight attendants I know would say. You paid for a seat. One seat. Not two seats. Not an entire row. Just a single seat. So if a passenger wants to switch seats, that’s okay. The passenger is allowed to sit in “your” row. While at my airline passengers are free to move to any open seat available in their ticketed cabin, other airlines (regional carriers dealing with weight and balance issues and airlines who charge extra for certain seats in the same cabin), require passengers to ask a flight attendant before swapping seats. If the flight attendant says it’s okay, it’s okay, the passenger can move.

Just because you were lucky enough to to score an entire row to yourself does not mean you have “inherited certain rights.” Oh sure it’s annoying when someone who already has a seat invades your space, but imagine you are the one stuck in an undesirable seat and there are two open seats in the row behind you, wouldn’t you move? Should a passenger have to suffer just because someone else is the “beneficiary of said luck” when there is plenty of room for both passengers to stretch out and relax?

In the future, if you’d rather not sit next to anyone, try making your row a little less appealing. The most popular seat on the airplane is the aisle seat. Take it! Otherwise someone will plop down beside you. Then, after takeoff, spread out. Pull the tray table down and place something on top of it. Put a bag, coat, or book in the seat beside you. Pretend to sleep. Not many people are ballsy enough to wake a sleeping passenger. Try traveling with a packet of Kleenex. No one wants to sit next to the sick guy. Or better yet, travel with a child. Works for me. Passengers avoid kids like the plague. That said, if someone still wants to sit in your row, they can. So be prepared to move your things out of the way.Airlines are charging for exit row seats and I have been on two flights where they have remained empty and flight attendants required payment from passengers who requested to switch to them. My question is what happens in case of an emergency landing? Do you think it is safer to have an able bodied person willing to open the door sitting there? I can visualize pandemonium as people rush to the door. I think gate agents or flight attendants should be able to offer these seats to qualified passengers! – Laura

While it makes sense to have willing and able bodied passengers who meet the exit row criteria seated in an exit row in case of an emergency evacuation opposed to leaving those seats vacant, FAA does not deem it necessary. I could tell you why I think this is, but it doesn’t matter what I think, or what you think for that matter. It is what it is. My question to you is, if flight attendants and agents working for an airline charging an extra fee for the exit row could move passengers to the vacant seats for free, how would they determine which lucky passengers to choose without creating the same type of pandemonium? With all that leg room, the exit row is the most sought after row on the airplane! That said, I understand why some airlines, mostly discount carriers, are charging the extra fee. They have to stay in business somehow!

At my airline we do not charge a fee for the exit row, but our ticket prices are higher than most discount carriers and the exit row is often blocked just for frequent fliers. Nine times out of ten the most elite frequent fliers occupy the exit row and bulkhead seats. So while my airline isn’t charging a fee for the row, they are asking for something even more – passenger loyalty. It comes in the form of miles. So what’s worse, an airline charging a small price to anyone willing to pay for the extra space, or an airline who only rewards a select few? Wouldn’t you rather be able to purchase the seat than not even have a shot at it?

This summer my husband and I will be traveling internationally. (New York to Warsaw) We have never asked for an upgrade to first class. If the agent says there are seats available, is there a charge? Or just willingness to fill a few seats? Additionally, what is the “polite” way to request an upgrade? – Lecia

While it never hurts to ask, it’s highly unlikely you will get an upgrade to first class free of charge. Not with airlines losing money the way they are these days. Because so many people travel often, it’s unfair to upgrade one group of passengers over another without going through the proper procedures. Trust me, passengers are keeping tabs. If an agent were to upgrade a passenger for free, rest assured that agent would hear about it in the form of a complaint letter from another passenger who also wanted an upgrade. For an airline employee, upgrading passengers for free is not worth losing a job over. Remember passengers are miserable, flights are full, and agents are under a lot of pressure to get airplanes out on time, so if you decide to give it a shot, be polite, friendly, and honest about what you want. Agents have heard it all, every story in the book, from pregnancy to bad backs. An honest approach will only work to your advantage. Whatever you do, do not hover over an agent. That will only work against you. Simply wait until the agent has a free moment to ask your question, and then, after your request has been made, step away from the desk. The last thing an agent needs is added stress.

Photos courtesy of Matt Sidesinger and Rnair

Why bulkhead and exit row seats are not always the best pick

Ask anyone what they think the best seat is on the plane, and most will respond with “the exit row”. And in many cases, the exit row or bulkhead seats are indeed the most cherished row of seats on the plane.

But don’t be tricked into picking the exit row or bulkhead seat without doing a little homework – not all good seats are going to provide any extra comfort, and in some cases, the most desirable seats may actually be the worst on the plane.

Finding the right seat

It isn’t hard to pick the right seat – you just need to have the right tools. My personal favorite is, the granddaddy of seat map sites. On Seatguru, you can pick your seatmap by plane type, or by flight number. When you see a seatmap presented on the airline site, all seats look the same – and the airlines obviously won’t tell you in advance that a specific seat will be really uncomfortable. If you need instant (mobile) access to Seat maps, you can use the SeatGuru mobile site.

Why some airline seat choices are bad choices

All exit row and bulkhead seats are good right? Wrong. On the SeatGuru seat map, you can see exactly which seats are the most desirable – and in some cases, the exit row seats may indeed be quite a lot better than the others. However, there is more to a good seat than a lot of legroom. Legroom is useless when you are stuck in a seat that doesn’t recline, doesn’t have any room under the seat for bags and has over an inch less width.

The non-reclining seat

Non-reclining seats are usually the seats right in front of the exit row seats. These seats are locked in place to prevent them from being reclined into the exit row. Not everyone likes to recline their seat, but on a long flight, being forced to sit upright can be a real pain.

The tray-table width dillema

Because exit row seats have a lot of leg room in front of them, the tray table had to be moved into the armrest. This shaves an inch or more off the width of your seat, making it quite uncomfortable. Sure, you may have legroom, but that may not make up for the tight squeeze of your seat.

No space for bags

In a “normal” seat, you’ll have room for your bags under the seat in front of you. Having quick access to your bag means you can reach for your MP3 player, bottle of water or laptop. Without this space, you’ll need to store your bag in an overhead bin – which may not always be right above you. If you boarded late, your bag may be 20 rows behind you.

No seat pocket storage

Not only do you lose space under the seat in front of you, you also lose the seatback pocket. For most people, this is where you stash your headphones, magazines and books and a bottle of water. Without this, you’ll once again have to rely on keeping stuff in your bag(s).

Leg room with a price

Even though the row in front of you is pretty far away, there are other objects that may impact your legroom – the window seat may be obstructed by the large slide cover on the emergency door – which is of course something else not mentioned in the airline seat map. In some cases, this large obstruction may even decrease the amount of leg room offered when compared to a normal seat.

Climate control (or lack of)

Being so close to the exit door can often mean you are going to be freezing during your flight. Climate control on planes is bad enough, but on an international flight, the exit row can become especially cold. And since you can’t ask the crew to turn the heat up just for you, you may need to embark on a mission to find a couple of blankets just to stay warm.

Continental Airlines newest money making scheme: paid exit row seating

The accountants at Continental airlines just announced their latest diabolical plan to squeeze more money out of us – paid exit row seating.

On March 17th, passengers in coach can add 7 inches of legroom by purchasing an exit row seat up to 24 hours before their flight. Elite program members and passengers traveling with them will get access to the seats for free.

Prices for a little extra legroom are pretty steep – USA Today quotes a $59 fee for a flight from Newark to Houston. A little math shows that Continental could be banking as much as $750,000 per day in “legroom fees”.

Of course, as with any airline, Continental spins the fee around, claiming “Our customers want more choices”. Brilliant.

Continental is not the first (nor will it be the last) to introduce these fees – JetBlue, Airtran, US Airways and Virgin America all have some form of seat upgrade program in place. British Airways even went so far as to announce a fee just for being able to select a seat.

Now the airlines have discovered how easy it is to grab a little extra cash, expect even more “innovations” in the fee department.

JetBlue flight attendant assaults elderly woman or vice versa? One of them is to pay fines

Imagine your grandmother (or mother) being grabbed by the arm and moved down a plane aisle by a flight attendant. Is the flight attendant being gentle and understanding? Respectful? Particularly since your grandmother is from another culture and has been in route for 30-hours. In the case of Talat Taharia, a woman from Pakistan, the Jet Blue flight attendant forcibly moved her from the exit aisle and made her sit next to someone she doesn’t know. Taharia, however is looking at a planeload of fines. Here’s why.

According to the flight attendant, she had Taharia move from the exit row 15 times and Taharia “yanked her down the aisle.” Taharia is countering with that’s impossible. After all, look at her.

From this article’s description, it seems that Taharia wasn’t just in the exit row seat, but stretched out in the exit row floor trying to catch some shut eye. Poor thing, she’d been traveling for 30 hours, after all. She was pooped and saw some space. Maybe she’s not that big, a bitty person actually, not even her big toe would get in the way of the drink cart, and figured what’s the harm?

Also, according to the flight attendant, When the flight attendant asked her to move, it was Taharia who became crabby and grabby. She actually assaulted the flight attendant. The flight attendant said she could have been arrested even.

Who is right? Who pushed and who pulled? How many times did Taharia lay her head on the plane’s floor looking for some peace and quiet? The FAA has just thrown a book of fines, to the tune of $6,000, at Taharia.

Here’s what I envision happening. A misunderstanding where both people were not patient enough. To Taharia, the exit seat was open, and so was the floor, therefore up for grabs. One can sleep wherever there’s a space on trains. Why not planes? I’m also wondering how well she understands English, particularly when rattled. Also, considering that she just left family in Pakistan, and it’s not the most stable place on the planet, her emotions may have already been on edge.

The flight attendant, doing her job, saw safety first, and may not have known a darned thing about elderly women originally from Pakistan which may have heightened the problem. Only people who can handle the job of being in an exit row in case there’s a disaster are supposed to sit in one of those seats. The elderly woman was showing she couldn’t take directions all that well. Still, why not take the time out to help the woman find a solution to wanting to get some sleep? Supposedly the flight from Pakistan to the U.S. wasn’t full. Offer a suggestion about laying down across seats if there is an empty row, and whatever you do, don’t put an older woman next to a person she doesn’t know.

Here’s a truth about human behavior, when pushed negatively, people respond–negatively. From what I read, these two needed a mediator. That day back in November was not good for either one of them. []

Delta passenger busts open exit door at JFK

Every passenger stuck on the ground fantasizes about busting open the door and liberating people on the plane. For me, it usually involves the battle cry, “I GRANT YOU FREEDOM!!!” Of course, I’m no Robert McDonald. He acted on these urges during a delay at John F. Kennedy International Airport (yep, no surprise there).

The Glasgow, Scotland resident was charged with reckless and endangerment and criminal tampering for his shenanigans, which involved opening the emergency exit hatch. The cabin crew stopped McDonald before he could open the door enough to activate the emergency chute.

Delta Flight 149, which had just come from Rome and was to finish in Las Vegas, was stuck on the tarmac for close to three hours when the angry Scot had had enough. Local District Attorney Richard Brown offered a “no shit” explanation that highlights the benefits of a top legal education: “Apparently, the defendant wanted to get off the plane,” District Attorney Richard Brown said, “so he opened the emergency exit door.”

Ultimately, McDonald’s act of defiance ruined the evening for the 146 passengers on Flight 149. McDonald, who is 60 years old, risks spending the next one in prison if he’s convicted.