Some people hate to fly. I know who those people are. They’re the ones cramped in the dreaded middle seat or next to the bathroom, and in between flights they’re wasting away hours in dingy public areas, trying to pass the time. 

If I were them, I would hate it too.

On a recent trip to Panama City I employed a few lesser-known tactics for making the journey a little less horrific. (One obviously tactic is to leave the kids at home, which I did on this trip. If you want to know what the differences are, read 10 Things I Noticed About Traveling WITHOUT Kids which I wrote in the Continental President’s Club at the Tocumen Airport in Panama City, quietly sipping a latte, uninterrupted, while awaiting my flight home. Note: This does not happen when you fly with kids.)

Here are my tips:

1. Seat assignments are not chiseled in granite. Here’s what I do to get the best seats:

Pick out your seats online at the time of ticket purchase if that option is available to you. If you aren’t happy with the seats on your first try, wait until the day before the flight and log-on again. New seats usually open closer to the flight.

If you still aren’t happy with your seats, get to the airport early and talk to the staff at the gate – not the staff at the main desk in front. Smile, ask he/she how they’re doing, smile again while looking them in the eye, and then say a variation of the following: “I was wondering if you could help me with my seats. I have young children/get sick easily/need to catch a close connection/am separated from my friends or family/don’t feel comfortable in this particular seat/have a back problem/have post traumatic stress syndrome from the last time I sat in the middle seat/etc. and was hoping you could check to see if there’s a seat on the aisle/next to a window/without the middle seat taken/closer to the front/with more leg room/next to my travel companions/anywhere else but the hellish seat to which I’ve been condemned through no fault of my own/etc.?”

You’d be amazed what they can do for you. I’ve been able to sit pretty much where I want using equal parts friendliness and assertiveness. (Actually it’s really closer to 95 percent friendliness and 5 percent asking for what you want.) You might even hit the jackpot and get moved to First Class. (Note: Don’t ask to be moved to First Class. If you do, they’ll see right through you and just laugh about you later to their coworkers as just “another coach rat trying to wriggle his way into First Class.”)

Okay, so let’s say you still end up with a seat you don’t like. Go ahead and board and as soon as you get to your seat, politely ask the flight attendant if you could move to the exit row/those empty seats in the back/that empty aisle seat/etc. Or, if you’re seated away from your party, mention it (with a healthy dose of kindness!) to the flight attendant and he or she will most likely facilitate a trade with someone else to keep you together.

2. The “Middle Seat Strategy”

If you’re alone, then sit wherever you want. I prefer aisle, but the seat everyone usually seeks out is one in the emergency exit row with all that decadent leg room. Just make sure you get the second row next to the emergency door since the first one has seats that do not recline for safety reasons.

If you’re a party of two, your concern is sharing that third seat with a stranger. Here’s a strategy that works about 75% of the time: don’t be tempted to pick seats next to each other. Instead, pick the aisle and window seat leaving the middle seat open. The farther back in the plane you are, the higher the chance no one will want that middle seat. If it does get taken, mention to your new seatmate that he or she might be able to find a better seat once everyone is seated. They will usually jump at the chance to have an aisle or window seat elsewhere, leaving you and your travel companion swimming in space. Worst case, you could always offer the window or aisle seat to the stranger (who will eager comply) if you don’t want to be separated from your companion.

If you’re a large party, employ this same strategy when you’re left with a pair of travelers after filling up the sets of three.

(I also recommend that you focus on getting seats lined up across the aisle rather than one row in front of the other. You will have more privacy and it will be easier to see each other.)

3. Carry-on Luggage

Airlines are cracking down on checked luggage by charging more fees, so in return flyers are increasingly bringing carry-ons… which means airlines will often force you to check your bags for free if there’s no space available on board. (I didn’t say it was logical.) If it’s important that you have your carry-on with you, do the following:

Try and get a seat at the back of the plane where you’re likely to board first. Overhead space is a first-come, first-served basis.

Otherwise, do not wait until you get to your seat to store your bag. Put it in the first available space, even it it’s in First Class (they’ve already stored their bags by this time). That way you won’t be caught in the middle of the plane with no space to store your luggage. An added bonus to this strategy: you’ll have an easier time exiting the plane without that awkward reach for your luggage while everyone is slammed up against you. Just easily grab your bag as you skip down the aisle toward the exit door! (Or you could walk instead of skip. It’s your choice.)

4. Take Advantage of Airline Membership Lounges:

Smart flyers don’t hang out in the aluminum chairs or sit on stained carpeting. They sneak off to plush lounges hidden in the nooks and crannies of almost all major airports.

Hangin’ in a lounge rather than outside in the airport jungle is unbelievably relaxing. Inside you can use the free high-speed WiFi, eat some yummy snacks (and toss a few in your bag for the flight), relax in a comfortable environment in overstuffed chairs, watch movies, drink alcohol, read the latest newspapers and magazines, and utilize the assistance of the airline staff (who can change tickets and seats for you). Some nicer clubs even have separate play rooms for kids. Others have showers and beds.

There are always deals on passes to airline lounges online. Just look online (some credit cards give them away as benefits, too). If you travel a lot, you might consider getting one.

If you don’t want a membership, you can still cheat your way to some fringe benefits:

Typically members can bring in one extra guest for free. Hang out at the door and politely ask the next person that comes by if you can accompany them into the lounge. If that doesn’t work and you’re desperate to use WiFi, you can often get a signal right outside the door. (I’ve seen many a flyer seated right outside the door tapping away at his laptop.)

So, those are some of my lesser-known tips for flying. If you have any particularly good ones to add to the list, pass ‘em on!


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I’m a West Coast girl. I grew up with the Sierras and Rockies, Redwoods and Sequoias.

My husband is an East Coast boy. He had the Appalachians and the Pines.

We met in Texas where there are few trees and fewer mountains. (As in zero.) So it has taken some traveling for us to realize that our ideas of big trees and mountains were miles apart.

Our trip to the Poconos in Pennsylvania was one such experience that shed light on the relativity of size.

We made plans to stay in an RV smack-dab in the middle of the Pocono Mountains. Driving there, I kept asking, where are the mountains? My husband, who grew up on the East coast pointed to some hills and said, “those are the mountains!”

When we were a half mile away, I thought wow, this must be wrong. This can’t be the Poconos. I mean, people ski here. There’s gotta be a mountain peak around here.

Really, I just saw hills. But they were lovely hills.

It turns out the highest peak is under 3,000 feet. That’s almost a valley where I come from.

(Just for reference, we drove almost 15,000 feet in elevation when we passed the Rockies in Colorado.)

When we reached the quaint little town of Stroudsburg, I really wanted to see a welcome sign that read, “The Poconos: Where making mountains out of molehills is a good thing!”

Have you skied the Poconos and the Rockies or Sierra Nevada? I’m curious to know how the two experiences compared.

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