How to Get a More Comfortable Flight without Breaking the Bank

Find roomier seats, affordable upgrades and other useful tips.

ByABC News
September 9, 2013, 2:47 PM
A woman sleeps in an airplane.
A woman sleeps in an airplane.
Getty Images

Sept. 10, 2013— -- Let me ask you a question: How much would you pay for a more comfortable flight experience? You might be surprised how little it can cost or that some cool perks are free.

Traveling with children? Trained, in-flight nannies cost nothing on United Arab Emirates carrier Etihad. Of course its cheapest fall fare from New York to Abu Dhabi sets you back about $1,200 so it might not be an excursion for the kiddies.

But there are seven other ways to save on comfort, both in the air and at the airport, every time you fly.

For more travel news and insights view Rick's blog at

1. Play the odds for roomier seats

According to RouteHappy, "13 percent of U.S. flights have roomier seats in regular economy" that you don't pay extra for. As for the roomy factor, it's all about the seat pitch or number of inches between the back of the seat in front of you and the back of your seat. A standard pitch is 31 inches while roomy seats are 32 inches. Can a single inch make a difference? Absolutely.

No need to gamble if you fly JetBlue or Virgin America since all their economy seats on all their flights have at least a 32-inch pitch. Ultra-discount carrier Spirit, meanwhile, has some of the snuggest economy sections around with a seat pitch of 28 inches.

Must you sacrifice seat room for serious savings? No. A fall fare on Spirit from New York to Ft. Lauderdale costs $210 round-trip while JetBlue charges $227. But wait. Spirit charges for both checked-bags and carry-ons (both are free on JetBlue) so if you bring any luggage at all, JetBlue's roomier seats are cheaper. At least on this particular flight.

2. Pay a little for a better seat

Don't assume comfort is always costly. Couple of examples of upgraded seat fees:

• American Airlines' "preferred seats" start at just $4 • Delta Air Lines "economy comfort" seat is priced from $9

A little extra comfort for the price of an inflight cocktail or two? I'd do it.

3. Bargain for better seats

Last-minute, discreet bargaining for better seats does occur when business class seats go unfilled and here's your chance to put your miles status to good use, if only by mentioning. But first, start with your virtual gate agent, the kiosk, even if you already have your boarding pass (or it's on your smartphone). The kiosk may try to sell you better seats but if the offer isn't good enough, move along to the gate agent. Sometimes they'll negotiate, but if you don't like their price, walk away. Then come back closer to departure time when the agent may be desperate to dump seats. Go ahead and try this even if you don't have status. You've got nothing to lose.

4. Board early

Worst thing about flying? A surprising number of people cite the boarding process which is often tedious, usually messy and always way too long. Worst of all, there's the dreaded bin space shortage, and if you're among the last third to board, you might not get any. Which explains why more and more are sucking it up and shelling out for early boarding fees.

But you don't always have to pay: Earn status in a miles program and move to the head of the line. If you don't fly a lot, get an airline-branded credit card because many of these include priority boarding along with other perks like free checked-bags.

5. Join the club

Maybe you don't want to pay $500 for United's VIP lounge but would you pay $50 for a one-day pass? What if your flight was delayed for hours? The free snacks, free drinks (note: US Airways clubs do charge for alcohol) and free WiFi might seem more tempting during a delay but the real value is the airline rep inside the club. He or she can help you sort through your delay a heck of a lot faster than the crazed gate agent facing a long line of angry passengers. Tip: Look for specials on lounge day-passes; I've seen some for as little as $25.

6. Pack a DIY comfort kit

Turn a nightmare flight loaded with screaming kids into a restful nap with a do-it-yourself comfort kit. This can be part of your carry-on or just a small bag you toss under the seat in front of you. Suggested contents: Noise-canceling headphones (I can't fly without them), neck pillow (the inflatable kind don't take up much room), and a lunch from home (don't pay $9 for that tasteless turkey wrap).

Add any personal electronic devices to your kit, too. You'll need them for the number seven.

7. Be prepared for free entertainment

Nothing makes time fly faster than something fun to watch and Southwest now offers live TV but if you don't bring your own electronic device, you won't get to see it. JetBlue and Virgin America have had seatback screens all along and many of the channels they offer are free.

Or here's an idea: Hand your electronic device to the in-flight nanny so she can entertain the little ones with cartoons while you take a nice long nap.