9 Legroom Hacks That Actually Work

by  Tommy Burson | May 2, 2014
Girl on plane
Girl on plane / undrey/iStock

Fitting our 40” legs into a 32” Delta seat is like trying to cram an extra day's worth of clothes into an already-stuffed suitcase. The result is an uncomfortable, jumbled mess, and something will inevitably be sticking out. However, due to our stubborn refusal to pay an extra $100 for Economy-Plus seating, we’ve had to learn the subtle art of airplane seat-hacking. Here are a few legroom hacks guaranteed to secure more space while you're cruising at high altitude:

Research your seat options. Did you know there’s an entire network that reviews airline seats? SeatGuru collects flight data and discusses the most comfortable and uncomfortable seats on an aircraft. Don’t sit here because the service tray will bump into your knees. Don’t sit there because there’s limited shoulder room. Once you reserve your flight, read over a few reviews before choosing your seat.

Time your check-in. Most airlines begin check-in procedures twenty-four hours before takeoff. The earlier you check-in, the more likely you can snag an exit row seat.

Seat alert! If you check-in late, you can always arrange an alert system that texts you when a better seat opens. Using ExpertFlyer, just input your flight information, create a set alert, and wait for a buzz. Once your phone notifies you there's a better seat available, head to your flight information and re-book immediately.

Upgrade using frequent flyer status. Loyal customer? Airlines will often hand the good seats to you. When you arrive at the airport for check-in, simply present your number to the gate, and, more times than not, you’re much more likely to be rewarded.

Sit at the back of the plane and bank on an empty row. People avoid the back for a few reasons: Noise level from the engines; you’re last off the plane; the bathroom.

Rush to the open seat. Every flight harbors a unicorn seat. It’s the empty first row or exit row seat. When you see it, take note of it. After take-off, sprint like Usain Bolt to your unicorn.

Two-for-one seat deal. Southwest, and a few others, offer a policy whereby “customers of size” must purchase two tickets. If the flight’s not full, they’ll refund you for that second ticket. You can do the same. It’ll reserve an empty seat next to you giving you plenty of room. Just hope the flight doesn't fill.

Be an angel to the gate agent and the flight staff. We asked a 20-year flight attendant veteran, Sandra White, how to score a better seat. Oftentimes, your seat fate’s in the hands of the gate agent if you’re looking to score a free upgrade, but, occasionally, a flight attendant will send you to the front if there’s a bit of space. Her advice, “You draw more bees with honey.” So be considerate, and they’ll consider you.

The water bottle trick. We don’t recommend this last resort, but if you’re desperate for a few inches of extra space and okay with frustrating -- or possibly really angering -- the person in front of you, wedge a water bottle between your tray table and the seat in front of you. This prevents the person from reclining. Maybe it violates airplane etiquette. Whatever your beliefs, the water bottle trick guarantees inches of much-needed room. (Edit: Another reason we don't recommend tricks as these? They may get you kicked off the flight.)

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