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American Airlines seat chartWhen checking in for an American Airlines flight last week, I noticed that I hadn’t been given a seat assignment, and all that remained were for-fee options, the least expensive of which would have set me back $27. I was confirmed on the flight and knew that if I held off until the day of departure, I’d likely be given the more expensive seat for no charge.

That was exactly what happened, but what didn’t escape my notice during the online check-in process was the description of what, exactly, one would receive for his or her extra $27:

“Easy access to overhead bins.” Golly, that’s just swell, but what does it mean? Do I get to stow my carry-on before the other passengers, thereby eliminating the need for me to gate-check my bag? Do I have access to a special stepstool to help me reach the overhead bin? Or, better yet, am I entitled to the services of a baggage butler who will load my stuff into the bin for me? I mean, seriously, is this really giving me any sort of advantage?

“A seat with standard legroom.” Uh … did you say standard? Heck, who wouldn’t be impressed by something as compelling as “standard.” So, what you’re telling me is that I’m getting the same amount of legroom as everyone else who didn’t pay $27? Forgive me if my expectation of more for, well, more is presumptuous, but something doesn’t quite add up here.

How to Score the Best Airplane Seat

“A streamlined experience at the airport.” I’m sorry, but unless this means I get to arrive a half hour before takeoff and bypass security, it’s not a streamlined experience.


“Moveable armrest.” Ok, this just seals the deal. Who knew armrests could move? Mind. Blown.

I thought perhaps I was misunderstanding something about how great these upcharge seats really are. An attempt to contact the airline for an explanation of the aforementioned “perks” was met with a lovely 20-minute wait on hold, after which I hung up.

Do you pay extra for “special” seats when you fly? Have you found them to actually be “special”? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

– written by Ashley Kosciolek

living roomWhenever I’ve got a long-haul flight coming up, I console myself by vowing to sleep for several hours … or at least try to. I don’t know who I’m kidding, though; I have a difficult time sleeping upright while crammed next to complete strangers. What if I snore or drool? What if my head ends up on someone’s shoulder? Or — gasp — what if I miss beverage service?

If you’ve got a long flight and $21,000 extra dollars to spend (each way, according to Mashable), you can test out Etihad Airways’ multi-room suite, dubbed “The Residence.”

Sleeping on Planes

Found only on the upper level of A380 planes, The Residence offers accommodations that include a private living room, bedroom and bathroom. Oh, and did I mention there’s also a butler? To top it off, passengers also have access to more than 750 hours of TV programming (to use with their complimentary noise-canceling headphones) and full mobile and Wi-Fi services while in the air.

A second grade of private cabins on the A380′s upper level is the “First Apartments” class, which features reclining seats, beds and stocked minibars.

Although Etihad isn’t the first airline to offer beds, it’s the first to offer entire private suites.

With all of these uncommon in-flight amenities, you’ll never have to worry about snoring or missing the dinner trolley again.

How Flying Coach Could Save Your Life

If you had an extra $21,000, would you spend it on a one-way flight? Share your thoughts below.

–written by Ashley Kosciolek

airlines behaving badlyThis post is part of our “Airlines Behaving Badly” series, which chronicles the oft-wicked ways of the air travel industry.

Regional carrier Frontier Airlines plans to lower its fares by adding a slew of new charges for things that used to come standard for economy-class passengers — like carry-on bags.

In a statement, the airline refers to the change as “unbundling” and says it’s “enabling customers to choose and pay for only the products they want to truly customize their flight.”

Gee, thanks for the favor.

Not only has the line compressed its former fare structure into just two types — Economy and Classic Plus — it has also introduced a discount club called Discount Den, which will allow passengers to access special savings (for a fee, of course — which has yet to be revealed).

“You can choose an all-in fare by purchasing Classic Plus, or only pay for what items matter to you with our Economy tickets,” the airline’s Facebook page optimistically chirps. “When you purchase our Economy fare, you start with our lowest fares and then add on the items that you want such as carry-on bags, advanced seat assignments, and onboard beverages.”

Many customers aren’t buying that argument, though: “Haha! I just read your email – $25 for a carry-on?” says Andrea Lee on Facebook. “$3 starting price for the ability to choose a seat to sit in? I had to check out your Facebook page to see if this was a joke….”

“Are the ‘new low fares’ not loaded yet?” asks Christine Malinconico Rhodes. “I am not seeing any competitive fares for the places I go!”

“#neveragain,” adds Jayson Vonfreizer.

How to Hack Your Way to a Cheaper Airfare

In its FAQs about the changes, which went into effect on April 28, Frontier boasts that the unbundling has decreased Economy base fares by more than 10 percent. Although Frontier answered some of our other questions, its reps still won’t say what the percentage increase in Economy fares will be if passengers choose to add all of the amenities that are now a la carte.

If you want to bring a carry-on bag, you’ll be shelling out anywhere from $20 to $50 for the privilege, depending on when you make the payment. (It’s cheapest if you pay when you book, most expensive if you pay at the gate.) Oh, and in case you were wondering, you’ll still have to pony up for checked bags too, but you’ll pay less for a checked bag than a carry-on. Frontier spokesperson Kate O’Malley says fewer carry-ons equal a more streamlined boarding process.

Don’t worry, though. You won’t have to pay anything extra for toting a purse, backpack or laptop bag. What a deal!

Those of us who prefer to be treated like people, rather than cattle, can always purchase the more expensive Classic Plus fares, which are fully refundable and include one checked bag, one carry-on bag, pre-assigned seating and extra legroom. In the few sample fares we scoped out between a handful of randomly chosen destinations, we saw differences of nearly $200 roundtrip between some Economy and Classic Plus fares. Oof.

7 Mistakes to Avoid When Booking a Flight

Allegiant and Spirit Airlines pulled something similar not too long ago, and we’ve still got a bitter taste in our mouths. The only question remains: Which airline will be next?

– written by Ashley Kosciolek

zodiac aerospace face to face seatsWoe to the flier who’s stuck anywhere near a screaming infant, a guy who snores or a woman who’s unaware of a little something called deodorant. It’s bad enough when you’re wedged next to an undesirable flight companion, but imagine sitting face to face with one (or all) of them.

As reported by Runway Girl Network, a new airplane concept developed by seat manufacturer Zodiac Aerospace would have the window and aisle passengers facing forward and the middle passenger facing backward. Although studies have shown that backward-facing seats are actually safer in the event of an emergency, this would add a whole new level to our loathing of the middle seat and likely create an additional way for airlines to charge for the privilege of sitting near the window or aisle.

Facing your fellow travelers would make it that much harder to politely ignore them if all you want to do is catch a catnap or read that book you’ve been dying to start. Quick! Avert your eyes, lest the overly chatty woman across from you decide to strike up a conversation about her horrible layover, dislike of cats or recent bunion surgery. And imagine trying to eat your airline-provided peanuts in peace without feeling like you’re sitting at a family dinner. Talk about awkward.

10 Annoying Habits of Our Fellow Travelers

There are also some concerns among fliers about whether the seats’ design would impede the exit of passengers during an evacuation. Some argue it could be a hazard, but others think the design’s fold-up construction (much like a theater seat) might actually help to speed things up by offering extra room while entering and exiting each row.

For now, this arrangement is still in its conceptual stage, and it’s only being proposed for short-haul flights. And there’s a silver lining; since the seats would alternate with regard to the direction they’re facing, passengers would no longer have to worry about fighting for room on armrests or tray tables — a minor victory when personal space is at a premium.

Face-to-face flying: Love it or hate it? Share your opinion in the comments below.

– written by Ashley Kosciolek

airport plane gateThe customer is always right, right? Wrong. Last week the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled in favor of Northwest Airlines’ right to revoke loyalty program privileges to a passenger who complained too often, according to ABC News.

The passenger, Rabbi S. Binyomin Ginsberg, filed a class action suit in 2009 after he was removed from WorldPerks, the airline’s frequent flier program. He claimed the measure was to remove high-mileage passengers in the face of a pending merger with Delta Air Lines, and sought $5 million plus a restored WorldPerks status and prohibition of any future revocations of his status, according to Consumerist.

Northwest refuted the claim, pointing to a provision of the mileage program’s terms that gives the airline the right to cancel members’ accounts for abuse. The airline reported that Ginsberg complained 24 times in a seven-month period, including nine instances of delayed luggage arrival. All told, Northwest paid Ginsberg $1,925 in travel credit vouchers, 78,500 bonus miles, a voucher for his son and $491 in cash reimbursements, before pulling the plug on his account.

7 Mistakes to Avoid When Booking a Flight

Justice Samuel Alito ruled based upon the Airline Deregulation Act, which prohibits parties from bringing forward state-level claims dealing with the price, route or service of an air carrier. Justice Alito noted that travelers can still take their complaints to the U.S. Department of Transportation or choose a different frequent flier program if they’re unhappy with an airline’s treatment.

“We think [the ruling] harms consumers by giving airlines greater freedom to act in bad faith in performing their contracts with consumers,” said Ginsberg’s attorney Adina Rosenbaum of the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen.

We don’t often side with the airlines here at IndependentTraveler.com, but in this case I think the ruling is fair. A line needs to be drawn for any rewards program because there are always going to be people who take advantage of a generous offer. Holding an airline accountable to high standards is one thing, but ultimately it’s a business that needs to act in its own best interests.

Does Your Flight Attendant Hate You?

What’s your take? Would you side with the airlines’ right to protect themselves against excessive claims for compensation, or does this ruling give them too much power?

written by Brittany Chrusciel

airplane seatsWhether we acknowledge it or not, most of us have rituals when we fly. Some people pack their carry-ons the same way each time, while others know exactly where to buy that perfect airport breakfast sandwich — and how much time they’ll need to get it before boarding.

My own rituals center around one goal: scoring an exit row aisle seat every time (preferably without paying some sort of extra fee). When I’m sitting in “my seat” — 9C or 9D, depending on the airline and type of plane — all is well in my world. Any annoyances incurred before this point fall away and I’m ready for wheels up.

My husband has an even stronger attachment to the exit aisles. At 6-foot-5, he feels that the extra legroom isn’t a comfort; it’s a necessity — and he too will do everything he can to make sure it’s his. Being an elite flier helps, but he’s not above asking the gate agent to take pity on him to avoid an extra charge (usually after one look at his tall frame, they are happy to oblige).

Exit rows aren’t the only desirable seats, of course. My sister doesn’t care if she’s in an aisle or window, as long as she’s near the front of the plane when it lands (a cross-country flight stuck in what’s generally regarded as the worst seat on the plane — the non-reclining row in front of the bathroom — scarred her for life). And some editors here at Independent Traveler insist on a window seat so they can get the first glimpse of their destination upon arriving.

How to Get the Best Airplane Seat

How do you find “your” seat if you aren’t a frequent flier? I’m a big fan of SeatGuru.com (owned by our parent company, TripAdvisor), which shows you exactly which seats on a particular airline or plane are considered “best.” It’s an essential resource, particularly if you’re flying long-haul on an airline that’s unfamiliar to you.

At the risk of sounding obvious, it’s also important to choose your seat when you book. Not all airlines require you to do this, so it’s important to take your time during booking and not rush the process. Don’t forget to enter your frequent flier number, even if you’re a long way from elite! Loyalty can get you noticed.

But if you’re stuck in a bad seat at booking, don’t despair. You still have several chances to change your luck. The first one comes when you check in online; be one of the first (most flights open for check-in 24 hours in advance) and you might grab a prime location that hasn’t been snatched up by an elite.

Finally, when you’re at the airport, you can ask for changes in two different spots: at the counter when you check in and at the gate. Remember to stay polite and respectful with your requests; good manners go a long way these days.

Surviving the Middle Seat

Once you’re on the plane, you can still make your experience better, even if your seat isn’t the best. While few flight attendants have the power to upgrade you, they can make your life a little easier — and I’ve received free drinks just for being understanding and amenable.

– written by Chris Gray Faust

Editor’s Note: IndependentTraveler.com is published by The Independent Traveler, Inc., a subsidiary of TripAdvisor, Inc., which also owns SeatGuru.com.

airport baggage claimYou’re a lucky traveler if you’ve never experienced an air travel glitch. Whether you’ve been bumped from an overbooked flight, had a bag lost or experienced a delay, airline hiccups are a fact of life. A lesser-known fact, however, is that the law might entitle you to compensation if your flight doesn’t go as planned — and we don’t mean just in the form of a better seat or a credit for a future booking. But the airlines’ convoluted policies make it intimidating for most travelers to pursue claims.

Cue AirHelp. Popular in Europe, the company officially brought its services to the U.S. market earlier this month, helping displaced air travelers to seek retribution. As we note in our story on bumping and overbooking, you could be eligible for a refund of up to $1,300 if you’re bumped from an overbooked flight. But who has time to research, file and follow up on claims?

AirHelp does. While we haven’t gone through the entire claim reporting process, it seems easy enough. The initial five-step system asks you to 1) choose whether you were delayed, canceled or bumped; 2) list your departure and arrival cities; 3) tell AirHelp whether your flight was direct or had connections; 4) enter the flight number and the date of the flight; and 5) provide information like your name, email address, reservation number, total time of delay and reason given by the airline.

Airport Delays: 6 Ways to Cope

After you submit your claim, AirHelp will determine whether you’re entitled to some sort of refund and, if so, follow up with the airline on your behalf (for which you give your permission by signing a power of attorney document).

The upside? If you’re not paid, you owe nothing for AirHelp’s services. If they score you some cash, they keep 25 percent. It seems like a lot at first, but without AirHelp’s assistance, it’s unlikely you’d be seeing anything at all.

The downside? If the service catches on, there’s no telling whether already struggling airlines might reflect their losses in the form of higher ticket prices. (AirHelp claims that 98 percent of eligible passengers don’t currently apply for compensation.)

What are your thoughts? Would you try AirHelp?

– written by Ashley Kosciolek

hotel front deskA San Francisco-based frequent flier is fed up with reclining passengers and, quite frankly, so am I. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been unable to use my laptop or read a book without having to hold it up to my face because the person in front of me had pushed his or her seat back as far as it would go.

But although an October 2013 poll by flight search website Skyscanner found that just under 50 percent of fliers would like reclining seats to be removed from all airlines, IndependentTraveler.com readers are not so inclined.

The Etiquette of Seat Backs and Elbow Room

In fact, when we recently asked our Facebook followers their thoughts on the subject, the majority of respondents reported that they always recline their seats, though most said they do so as politely as they can.

Wynne Gavin wrote, “I have a bad back and need to be slightly reclined. Since I am cognizant of the person behind me, I do so very slowly, carefully and just enough to be comfortable. I’ve never had it fully reclined.”

Ron Buckles and Trisha Hynes agreed. Recline slowly and just enough to be comfortable.

Clyde Roberts said he always reclines on long flights “for a while,” but never during refreshment service — and he eyes the person behind him first. “I check to see if the traveler behind me has reclined and if so I think he/she must be ok with me doing the same.”

And Randi Weiner said that although she understands there are issues with reclining seats “in this day and age when airlines are building planes with more and more seats jammed together,” she believes that if she paid for the seat and it has the ability to recline, then she will do so.

But even reclining passengers have had issues with other recliners.

“On a flight to JFK from Europe, the girl in [front] of me did a fast, full recline and I screamed, ‘Ouch!!’ when the [seat] hit my body,” Wynne Gavin wrote. “I simply pushed the seat forward a bit so I had some more room. She said, ‘I want to be comfortable.’ I said, ‘So do I.’ She had no choice but to compromise, as each time she reclined fully, I simply pushed it back up.”

10 Annoying Habits of Our Fellow Travelers

But Gavin added she does not think banning reclined seats is the answer. “Airlines removing a few rows and creating more space is.”

Since that won’t be happening any time soon, I’d like the airlines to take a look at Sue Armstrong’s response.

“How about a reclining section on the plane — spaced to accommodate it and part of seat selection and priced accordingly.”

What’s your preference — to recline or not to recline?

– written by Dori Saltzman

airport plane woman gate suitcase United Airlines generated a collective groan from travelers over the weekend by saying it will be strictly enforcing its carry-on baggage requirements, which limit each passenger to one personal item (like a purse, laptop or briefcase) and one carry-on bag with a maximum size of 9 x 14 x 22 inches.

The issue, however, isn’t with the size of the carry-on luggage allowed; other major carriers, including Delta and American Airlines/US Airways, have the same dimension restrictions. Instead, what’s upsetting is that United will now be charging checked-bag fees for any carry-ons that must be gate-checked due to noncompliance — even if passengers have used their carry-ons for years with no trouble fitting them in the overhead bins.

Of course it’s annoying when you see fellow flyers waddling onboard under the weight of a purse, a backpack, a computer bag and a carry-on that you can just tell exceeds regulation. But instead of making the boarding more efficient, charging for gate-checked bags is certain to slow down the process.

The Carry-On Challenge: How to Pack Light Every Time

United also charges for the first checked bag for each passenger, so it’s understandable that many would attempt to bring slightly larger carry-ons to avoid baggage fees. (Meanwhile, two popular U.S.-based airlines — JetBlue and Southwest Airlines — allow each passenger to check at least one checked bag at no charge. To boot, the carry-on dimensions for both lines exceed those of United and the other major carriers at 10 x 16 x 24 inches.)

Ultimately, United’s decision to charge for the gate-checking of carry-ons reminds us quite a bit of the policy of ultra-discounter Spirit Airlines: one personal item can be brought for free, but passengers are charged as much as $100 per bag — each way! — for the privilege of boarding with a carry-on that won’t fit under the seat in front of them.

At this point, it wouldn’t surprise us one bit if United eventually starts charging for things like bathroom privileges (don’t laugh — this was proposed a few years ago by European discounter Ryanair) and oxygen.

4 Signs You Have a Packing Problem

– written by Ashley Kosciolek

cartoon man in pillory I’m fed up. Sick of it. And I haven’t even experienced the worst of it. But I’ve had enough of self-important air travelers believing they’re above the rules and then becoming incensed and unruly when a flight attendant, or worse yet, another passenger, points out they are in the wrong.

In the latest incident of “unruly” airplane behavior, an American Airlines flight actually had to make an unscheduled stop to boot a guy off the plane. While the airline did not give specific details about the man’s behavior, Fox News reports he refused to listen to the crew’s instructions and had to be handed over to authorities in Canada.

Flying is frustrating enough without our fellow passengers making things worse for us. And yet, such incidents are becoming more commonplace. While Alec Baldwin famously refused to turn off a game of Words with Friends on his cell phone, he’s far from alone in such disruptive behavior. More recently, the niece of fashion designer Ralph Lauren was kicked off a plane after she had too much to drink and began threatening and verbally abusing the crew.

The Real Reason Fliers Hate the Airlines

According to CBS News, the reports of passenger misconduct skyrocketed from 500 in 2007 to more than 6,000 in 2011 on international flights. And while I don’t hold the airlines completely blameless for the frustrations that often drive these angry passengers to lash out, I do believe it’s time to do something about such behavior.

In March 2014, CBS reports, the International Air Transport Association will propose changes to global laws against unruly passengers to bring them more in line with the stricter laws that apply to domestic flights. (In the U.S., passengers are subject to fines and even jail time for acting out in the air.)

In the meantime, I believe it’s time to bring back the pillory as a form of punishment. I propose every plane be outfitted with an onboard pillory. Passengers who carry on too much luggage, refuse to turn off their cell phones, yell at flight attendants or in any other way disrupt the travel of the majority of people on the plane should be placed in the pillory and forced to stand in front of everyone until it’s time for the plane to land.

But, because I’m a nice person and don’t want anyone to suffer unnecessarily, unruly passengers should have the option of getting out of the pillory by instead personally apologizing to everyone else on the plane for their bad behavior.

The Etiquette of Seat Backs and Elbow Room

Have you been on a plane disrupted by an angry passenger? How would you like to see unruly passengers punished?

– written by Dori Saltzman