Airline Travel Musings

I recently spent close to $200 on United Airlines’ economy plus seating when we fly to Portugal later this summer. In case you’re not familiar with it, economy plus seating offers fliers five extra inches of leg room (because the standard leg room allotment in economy is so “generous” to begin with) that passengers can purchase if they want. The cost for economy plus seating varies depending on the length of the flight; economy plus seating for an hour long flight is going to cost considerably less than for an eight hour flight. But the extra leg room is the only thing you’re going to get with additional spent money, there are no other niceties. I bought economy plus seating last year for our flight to San Francisco; it was just over a five hour flight so the extra leg room was extremely nice. For short flights I would never pay extra for this feature, but for long ones, when flying in economy is already unpleasant enough, not having your knees rammed up against the seat in front of you is always a plus. I didn’t hesitate in purchasing it for our flight to Lisbon since it is an overnight flight and I wanted to be as comfortable as I could to try to sleep.

However, I was dismayed to discover that unlike the economy plus seating last year I purchased last year, aisle and window seats (i.e. the “preferred” ones) cost $10 more than the middle seat now. I purchased one economy plus middle seat for $89 and an economy plus window seat for $99. I realize that airlines are desperate to squeeze out every last cent they can from fliers and yet going so low as to capitalize even further on a service you are already charging extra for? When I heard this month that some American airlines were going to start charging extra for window and aisle seats in the general cabin I was pleased to read that United Airlines was not listed. This is the airline I’m trying desperate to remain loyal to simply because of my extremely large amount of frequent flier miles that I don’t want to squander away. However, I didn’t know until now that United had already started doing this in another section of their aircraft.

There was a poll recently that asked people which they preferred-extra leg room or in-flight entertainment. I voted extra leg room, not understanding how one could be more concerned with mindless television and music offerings than being physically comfortable on a flight. I’m a big fan of the personal televisions on flights, the ones that are on the back of the seat in front of you. While some airlines only have this service for their “elite” passengers, those flying business and first class, others have it for all classes. Nothing is worse than trying to watch a movie on an airplane’s antiquated television (those that either recede down from the ceiling or are permanently affixed from the ceiling every couple of rows). I had read prior to going to Hawaii that a lot of airlines used their older aircraft for flights between the mainland and Hawaii. I couldn’t quite understand this since it seemed this would be an extremely popular route and should have more modern offerings and updates. Yet it was a flight circa 1990 with worn seats and dirty marks throughout the plane to match. Needless to say I didn’t give myself a neck cramp just so I could watch I movie that I still wouldn’t be able to make out too clearly. I’m an adult and I know how to amuse myself for lengthy periods of time. I’m also not a child’s height  so being comfortable when flying is key to me. It’s a lot easier to bring my own entertainment-book, movie rentals I’ve downloaded onto my ipad to watch-than for me to personally change space allocations.

As I’m forever planning trips far into the future, I often go onto United’s website to plug in hypothetical travel dates. As I’ve accrued enough frequent flyer miles, there are many foreign destinations I could redeem them for. However, I’ve now come to fully understand the depths of frequent fliers’ frustration in the past on just how difficult it is sometimes to use. I’ve always wanted to go to Peru and as plane tickets to Lima are extremely expensive, being able to redeem a ticket for free would be perfect. So with my hypothetical dates entered, I find flights from Pittsburgh to Lima with only one connection which is ideal. When I go to search for flights on the same date, this time it being the ticket I would pay for out of pocket, only flights with two connections come back in the results. For me this is maddening. Or sometimes I find 10 different flight options for redeeming my miles on the flight to a destination, but then there are zero flights available for the return. I see now that this is how airlines don’t have to worry about giving away free tickets-it’s almost impossible to book one sometimes.

I’m the first to admit that I turn from happy to grumpy in a span of seconds while at the airport or on the plane and something unpleasant occurs-you board the plane only to be told by the pilot that you need to get off as there is no flight attendant (this happened on a recent flight from Chicago to Pittsburgh), or you’re sitting pleasantly enough and when even before the plane has reached cruising altitude, an obnoxious jerk in front of you fully reclines his seat back and after ramming your knee into the seat for extra emphasis to get your annoyed point across he turns around and asks “is this okay?” to which you sarcastically respond with “sure.” When I get like this, D has to make fun of me by saying, “but you love to travel” to which I respond, “yes I like to travel, to see and experience new places and things. I just abhor the getting there part anymore.”


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