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A Captain’s Guide To Planning the Perfect Flight As A Passenger

Advice from an experience aviation professional on traveling smartly.

Many decades ago, travel by air was considered amazing. And glamorous. Fast forward into the eleventh decade of passenger air travel and it is still amazing, but not quite so glamorous. That is unless you are riding first class on an Emirates A380 from Dubai to London. And if you can afford the price of the first class suite on that airplane, you aren’t wasting your time reading airline blogs on the Internet. You have more important things to do such as restructuring a corporation or perhaps closing an important arms deal.

For the rest of us, though, air travel has become annoying, mundane, irksome, and maddening. I know this because it’s my livelihood. But not only do I get to look back on the wretched refuse as that wonderful bulletproof carbon-kevlar cockpit door swings closed with a heartwarming thump, but as a commuter, I have the dubious honor of sampling the product myself at least several times weekly. And trust me, dear reader, when I say to you that I look forward with relish to the day that I will never again have to set foot as a passenger on a commercial airliner.

I exaggerate, but only slightly, for I believe that the average airline passenger will agree that the modern airline experience is something to be simply gotten through, as opposed to enjoyed as it was in times not too distantly removed. Luckily, though, there are things that airline victims er, customers can do to make their flight at least tolerable, if not actually enjoyable. The Captain is on the case and herewith presents his indispensible guide on how to survive your airline flight!

Before You Go, Choose Wisely

You’ve done your best to avoid going at all, but your boss wants you at that conference in Atlanta, or your spouse’s sister is getting married and there’s no face-saving way to decline the wedding invitation. So you’re going. Next, you’ll have to book your flight. This will be an exercise in contrast. You must contrast the amount of pain you’re willing to inflict upon your wallet versus the pain that you’re willing to inflict upon your soul by going cheap.

If you’ve got the scratch to go first or business class, then we’re probably done here. All the major US airlines are roughly equivalent in their first class service, and you’ll have a nice wide leather seat away from the hoi polloi. Remember, though, it’s bad form to show up to the meeting or rehearsal dinner drunk from airplane wine no matter how much it might be needed. Good luck.

If first class is too dear, your next best choice in class of service is a product called “Economy Plus” as United calls it. American calls their product “Premium Economy”, and Delta’s is Delta Comfort+. This class is pretty much what just plain old “economy” used to be called before the seat pitches were jammed together to force a few more sardines into the can. You’ll get an economy seat, but the seat pitch will be suitable for a normal human being for which of course you’ll pay extra for the privilege of being able to feel your toes after landing.

Your next cheaper option will be plain ‘ol economy and at this point you may want to consider letting price guide your decision with a few caveats. Make sure to check the airlines’ baggage policy to avoid unpleasant surprise charges on your arrival at the airport. Most airlines have “unbundled” their services and will stick you with bag charges if you’re not careful. They’ve done this to avoid paying excise taxes on this new “service” as those taxes are only levied on the ticket price itself. Smart for them, expensive for you. The Captain’s advice: choose carefully how you like your pain, financial or in dignity.

How Basic Can You Get?

There is still yet another class of service that has started to appear at the top of your Expedia listing known as Basic Economy, better described as “steerage” class. This will be a rock bottom fare for a rock bottom experience. You’ll board last, won’t get to have any choice in seat assignment, and even a bag in the overhead bin will cost extra. This service was introduced to counter the competitive threat from the new ultra low cost carriers (ULCCs) such as Spirit, Frontier and Allegiant.

How basic are they? Well, no one who has flown on Spirit has ever been known to book a second flight as the service is so abysmal. Their low fares, however, ensure that the airline will remain full until such time that all Americans have flown on them once, at which time they’ll declare bankruptcy, rename themselves, repaint the airplanes, and start again. The Captain’s advice: just don’t.

Read on…The Captain Has More Great Tips on The Next Page

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Rob Graves

Written by Rob Graves

Captain Rob Graves is a veteran airline pilot and retired Air Force officer. He currently flies a Boeing 737 for a major American airline where he has over 25 years of experience. His Air Force career included flying the T-37 primary trainer, the KC-135 Stratotanker, and the C-5 Galaxy cargo aircraft for worldwide operations. He is the author of This is Your Captain Speaking, an aviation blog. It can be found at We’re proud to have him on our team.

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