It’s like business class, without the champagne…

It’s almost fair to say that flying economy has become some sort of cruel social experiment. Some people are forced to board last, illustrating they bought the cheapest tickets. Some people get snacks, while others don’t – and virtually everyone gets completely screwed with legroom. But every day planes take off, where someone, maybe even a few people scored an entire row, allowing them to lay down on a bed – almost as comfortable as business class. At these prices, you can buy your own champagne…

Caveats First

This strategy is most efficient by boarding late. If you need overhead bin space, especially on smaller regional jets where it’s limited, this may not be for you. If you’re on a large, wide body plane going somewhere far with lots of overhead bin space, or you’re a clever packer who’s got everything in something that fits under the seat in front of you – this is your best bet. There’s also no guarantees here. Some flights are full, while others are far from it. To maximize your chances, you’re going to want to pick empty flights. We’ll show you how.

Empty Flights

The simplest way to find empty flights is to look at airline seat maps during the booking process. Before actually buying a ticket, most airlines allow you to see a map of available seats. If they don’t you can look for free on ExpertFlyer.com. Try to take a quick mental snapshot for each flight option of which flight looks the most empty. The less seats sold, the better your chances at a flat bed in economy. If you want to do this like a pro, you can pay $10 to use the pro tools on ExpertFlyer.com. If you do, you’ll be able to see exactly how many tickets are still unsold in each cabin for each flight on any given airline each day.

Aim High

People go to great lengths and expense to secure a seat in the first few rows. This is handy for jetting off the plane quickly, but it just puts you in the middle of the crowd. Aiming for less ambitious seats toward the middle or rear of the cabin will instantly decrease the likelihood of having someone sit next to you. You can also set free ExpertFlyer seat alerts using their mobile app. These alerts can be set for multiple seats and you’ll be notified if someone has the audacity to book one of the seats next to you. If they do, you can move again after consulting the live seating chart. If your airline charges for seat assignments or seat changes, there are still some tricks left in the bag.

A Simple Request

Once everyone has checked in and gone through security, which for international flights is generally two hours before departure, seats pretty much stay the same. But since you’re an uber smart traveler, you’re going to be the exception to the rule. Either before boarding, or directly at the end of it – but NOT during – politely ask the gate agent if there are any seats without anyone next to them, or better yet, with an entire row empty. The agent can manually issue you a new boarding pass. This is particularly effective after boarding has completed, in case anyone has tried the same ploy!

Last Call

If despite your best efforts you find yourself on a flight with a loathsome seat mate, do a quick scan before take off for any rows which have gone out empty. It happens – very often, especially since you were clever enough to pick an empty flight from the get go. By scanning before take off, you’ll be poised to quickly undo your seatbelt at the sound of the ding when the aircraft levels off. Landing that empty row before someone else in a race, so be ready to move swiftly when you hear the ding. A flat bed in the sky is so worth it though!

Have you managed to secure an entire row before?

Featured image courtesy of Air New Zealand.