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airplane seatsTwo United Airlines passengers got one heck of a time-out on Sunday when an argument over a few inches of space escalated, leading to the rerouting of their plane.

According to the Associated Press, the fight began when an unnamed male passenger attached a Knee Defender — an apparatus that clips onto your tray table to prevent the person in front of you from reclining — to his seat so he could use his laptop uninterrupted. Although United Airlines has banned the gadget on its flights, the passenger refused to put it away when asked by members of the cabin crew, prompting the unnamed woman in front of him to throw a cup of water in his direction.

At that point, the Denver-bound flight, which departed from Newark earlier that day, was only halfway to its destination when the pilot made an unscheduled landing at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport to have both passengers removed.

Although police met the plane when it landed and questioned both passengers, it was deemed to be a customer service issue, and no arrests were made.

The kicker here, though, is that both passengers were sitting in the plane’s Economy Plus section, which already offers more legroom than standard economy seats to begin with.

The Etiquette of Seat Backs and Elbow Room

So what do our readers think about space and whether fliers are entitled to it?

“As tight as seats are getting, they should not recline,” says Julie Reiss Justice on Facebook. “I have had my iPad smashed from a seat reclining quickly … I personally will not recline.”

Tom Vertrees agrees that space is limited, but comes to the opposite conclusion: “Airlines shouldn’t squeeze seats so close together in the first place. If the seat reclines then it should be allowed.”

And Joshua Senzer wonders why the situation escalated so far in the first place: “The device is banned by United, the carrier in question. The fact that the individual failed to comply with [flight attendant] requests to remove it is telling in regards to those who would rather use something like this than simply attempt communication with another human … just my .02.”

10 Annoying Habits of Our Fellow Travelers

What do you think? Is it rude for passengers to recline their seats? Should the use of devices like Knee Defender be allowed? Leave your comments below.

– written by Ashley Kosciolek

puppies and kittens are relaxing to nervous fliersPills, booze, loud music, deep breathing — these are some of the desperate methods employed by the nervous flier to get through takeoff, landing and every bump in between. But one airline is encouraging a remedy that is a tad more … wholesome: puppies and kittens.

Starting this September, British Airways will air “Paws and Relax,” an in-flight channel available on long-haul flights that showcases cute and cuddly domestic animals. As reported by the Telegraph, the programs will include “Simon’s Cat” — an animated series about a man and his cat; “The Secret Life of Cats,” a popular BBC documentary about cat cams; and “America’s Cutest Dog” (think Animal Planet’s “Too Cute! Puppies”).

9 Up-Close Animal Encounters

The channel also features cameos from residents of Battersea Dogs & Cats Home, the U.K.’s oldest home for dogs and cats, located in London.

British Airways believes the new pet programming will “enhance the wellbeing of customers,” in addition to being just plain endearing. If viral cat videos on the Internet have taught us anything, it’s that people love watching them.

If, somehow, animals aren’t your thing (or you’ve seen every episode on repeat), then switch over to the “Slow TV” channel, which features footage from a continuous, seven-hour train ride from Oslo to Bergen. (Potentially a better sleep aid than Xanax.)

Which in-flight channel do you hope they have on your next flight?

How to Cope with Fear of Flying

– written by Brittany Chrusciel

airport baggage claimBy next year, there may only be one airline in the U.S. that lets fliers check a bag for free.

While both JetBlue and Southwest currently allow travelers to bring aboard a complimentary checked bag (Southwest even lets you have two!), Bloomberg reports that JetBlue is looking into overhauling its ticket pricing structure, which will likely lead to a few extra fees for those who pay the cheapest possible fare.

According to Bloomberg, the airline plans to create multiple fare classes, some of which would include a free bag and/or other services. Fliers could pay a higher rate for a more inclusive fare, or pony up for their checked bag if they elect the cheapest available fare. The changes are expected to take effect within the first six months of 2015.

This sort of bundling isn’t new. Frontier Airlines and Air Canada are among the carriers that currently offer multiple fare options when booking. Frontier’s Classic Plus fares are fully refundable and include a free checked bag, extra legroom and a beverage, while its bare-bones Economy fares are cheaper and include none of the above. Air Canada offers Tango, Flex and Latitude fares, each of which comes with different benefits (or lack thereof) such as waived change fees, priority check-in and standby privileges. (Worth noting: In all three of Air Canada’s fare classes you’ll have to pay for checked bags.)

How to Hack Your Way to a Cheaper Airfare

Naturally, JetBlue’s proposed changes are all about money; Bloomberg reports that the airline’s profits trail those of its competitors. I know airlines aren’t charities and they need to make a buck, but it’s still a bummer for those of us who appreciate companies that don’t try to nickel and dime us.

Will you still fly JetBlue if these changes go into effect?

– written by Sarah Schlichter

complaintsSpirit Airlines’ wacky new marketing campaign encourages you to hate on them. The ironic thing is that I never had an issue with Spirit until I tested out their Hate Thousand Miles campaign.

Log onto HateThousandMiles.com and you’re greeted by an assaulting yellow screen and an intimidating blonde woman hurling expletives into a cartoon cloud. The video is something you would see on a comedy site like Funny or Die — a man strums a guitar while the blonde woman explains the campaign and encourages one and all to hate on any airline of their choice. They then go on to share some laughable tweet-length complaints about Spirit in the “spirit” of fun and humility. All you have to do is complain, and you will receive 8,000 FREE SPIRIT frequent flier miles within 10 days. You start to think, “Hey, what’s the catch?”

I don’t have much experience with Spirit, but inspired by my recent carry-on conundrum I took the bait of a potentially free flight and vented about the now-uselessness of my carry-on in 140 characters. The first catch is the required fields — the very first of which takes your email, home address and phone number for a free account with Spirit. There’s already enough information about me floating in the Internet ether, so fair enough.

Now equipped with a member number, I submitted the grievance and was greeted by a few expected pages of terms and conditions. Spirit can modify or terminate the program at any time, flight cancellations won’t be credited, I can unsubscribe thusly, yadda yadda. I accepted my fate, still holding out hope for a flight to anywhere (okay, somewhere). Spirit congratulated me for getting my beef with an airline off my chest, and ensured that within 10 days I would receive an email with my miles.

10 Ways Air Travel Has Gone Downhill

I started dreaming about all the places 8,000 miles could bring me from New Jersey. After much investigation I found a chart that explains which destinations I’d be eligible for. Standard flights are out to any region — those start at 10,000 miles. But an array of “off-peak” journeys in regions one through three (up to 24,999 physical miles) came in at 2,500, 5,000 and 7,500 FREE SPIRIT miles. Perfect!

Perfect until I realized I had no idea exactly what qualifies as “off-peak”… and still haven’t had any luck finding it (if you do, let me know). In theory, the nearby Philadelphia airport could whisk me to all but two locations on the chart during off-peak times. I headed back to the terms and conditions for any semblance of sense and I came across an unwelcome surprise: “For members redeeming Off-Peak awards, the Award Redemption Fee must be paid with a Spirit MasterCard.”

Wait, what redemption fee? I don’t even have a MasterCard.

“Members will need a credit card at time of booking and are responsible for paying any and all applicable taxes and fees (including, but not limited to: Customs, inspection, immigration, security, agriculture, facility and departure/arrival charges, any administrative fees and the September 11th U.S. Security Fee of up to $10 USD roundtrip).” Okay, I can handle $10, but how much is all that other stuff? I couldn’t pay it anyway because I don’t have the right card.

In the end, I giggled at the crude comments in the video, I submitted my complaint, I bought into the hype — but if your campaign is to be transparent about what your airline is offering customers, perhaps the same standard should also apply to your campaign.

5 Things You Shouldn’t Wear on a Plane

– written by Brittany Chrusciel

Remember being a kid and wearing those mood rings that changed color based on how you were feeling? British Airways is taking that concept to the next level with its new “happiness blanket,” which uses neurosensors and fiber optics to read and display a wearer’s mood.

CNN reports that the blanket, which is currently being tested in first class on select flights, turns blue when the wearer is relaxed and red if the wearer is tense. You can see it in action below:


Why does an airline need to know your mood? Per CNN, British Airways hopes that keeping track of fliers’ emotional states can help the airline optimize different aspects of the in-flight experience such as the brightness of the cabin lighting and the timing of meals. A laudable goal, but I’d argue that these aspects of a flight are the least of the airlines’ customer service issues these days. What about adding more legroom, cutting baggage fees or letting us change our tickets without paying a fortune?

Personally, I’m glad this is just a test for data collection; I’d rather not have my emotional state on display for all my fellow passengers to see. Here’s hoping that one of these days an airline comes out with a magical blanket that actually brings happiness instead of just measuring it — that would be something we could all smile about.

The IndependentTraveler.com Airport Scavenger Hunt
10 Ways to Survive a Long-Haul Flight

– written by Sarah Schlichter

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.