Tips on scoring an exit row seat?
April 21, 2014 9:02 AM   Subscribe

I'm flying to Hawaii for work at the end of May (yay) and work booked my ticket for me. My four USAirways flights (Milwaukee to Phoenix and Phoenix to Hawaii and then reverse) have ZERO exit row seats available online. I even had to pay $89 for their "ChoiceSeat" on one flight because it was the *only* aisle seat available (which have no more legroom than a regular seat, just allows you to board before the rest of the passengers). At 6'6", this is troubling. I called USAirways today and was first told they had exit row seats for purchase (at roughly $90/flight) but that she was having trouble getting them to work on her system so she had to transfer me to their "online helpdesk". That person told me that there were no exit row seats available at all, full stop. I can't rebook to another flight because my arrival is being timed with other coworkers. So, are there any tips/tricks/secret handshakes I can use at the airport to try to get a seat with a little more room? I'm extremely grateful that I get to go to Hawaii on someone else's dime but am anticipating agony the whole way there and back.
posted by Twicketface to Travel & Transportation (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
This might be a time to start talking to your management/travel organizers/etc about upgrading to business class, at least for the long haul over the Pacific. Sure, you'll enjoy it too, but this is still a business trip and not for your own funsies - and if you're in pain the entire trip, you won't be able to arrive and do your best work.
posted by Tomorrowful at 9:05 AM on April 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

Most of those exit row seats are being taken by airline elite frequent fliers that get those seats for free when they book. This isn't helpful for you, but that's where they're going.

The best solution here is to have your employer pay for first class - I don't think it's at all unreasonable for someone who is 6'6". However, it would probably breed resentment with your other coworkers, unfortunately.

My suggestion is to do what someone who was similarly tall did to me once - simply walk up to the people in the exit row (as elite fliers, they tend to board early anyway), and offer them $100 for one of the seats. Afterward, he said that he's never had everyone in the row decline to do the swap. It's roughly the same price as what you're looking for, anyway.
posted by saeculorum at 9:08 AM on April 21, 2014 [6 favorites]

Frequent traveler here. Get to the airport well in advance (2.5 hours +) and make this exact request at the ticket counter.

If that doesn't work - make the same exact request at the boarding gate. You stand a better than decent chance between these 2 methods.

(Airlines release additional seats 24 hours before departure - that gives you a prime chance to nab one quickly)
posted by Kruger5 at 9:14 AM on April 21, 2014 [9 favorites]

Exit rows are now premium seats and they get booked up fast, especially on long haul flights.

You can always ask when you check in, I've scored there plenty of times, but if they're gone, they're gone.

Bulkhead seats are more comfy (I think) and are typically reserved for older folks, or folks with families.

Delta offers Economy Comfort seats, which have more leg room. Try for something similar on the airline you're on.

Good luck!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:15 AM on April 21, 2014

Keep in mind that with many airlines, you can also check in to your flight online up to 24 hours in advance, and that is an opportunity to change seats. Given most airlines' websites are more desktop/laptop-friendly, I would try to be in front of a computer 24 hours before departure to try to make your desired switch. (If that doesn't work out, then you've still got the at-the-counter fallbacks, but basically, you're gonna want to give yourself as many opportunities as possible to get these seats.)
posted by Pandora Kouti at 9:23 AM on April 21, 2014

First, go to SeatGuru and plug in your flight info, which will show you the seat map for your plane, with best/worst seat options. It will also tell you the seat pitch for the aircraft and you can hover over exit rows and bulkhead seats to see if they have more legroom. You might have to pay extra for a bulkhead, but that's where I'd start - they usually have more legroom than standard economy seats and are often comparable with exit rows for legroom.

If you can't secure a bulkhead or exit row, check again at the 24-hour mark and check in online shortly thereafter, as airlines process upgrades for their elite frequent flyers at that point and this can result in an exit row freeing up. However, you may have to pay extra for it. If there's still nothing at the 24-hour mark, do what Kruger5 suggests and get to the airport early, ask nicely at the check-in desk and then ask nicely again at the gate. If first class is not booked full, they will likely process upgrades at the gate, again potentially freeing up an exit row or bulkhead for you.
posted by bedhead at 9:23 AM on April 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

It looks like the USAirways flight is run by American. Good news, there are premium seats on those flights.

Call American, and ask them directly about the Main Cabin Extra options on your flight:

Main Cabin Extra

Looking for an affordable way to enhance your Main Cabin travel? Now on nearly all of our planes, Main Cabin Extra offers up to six inches of additional legroom and early boarding so you have plenty of time to stow your luggage. A little extra makes all the difference.

Doncha love mergers?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:24 AM on April 21, 2014

It's certainly worth a shot to ask your employer if they'll upgrade you to business class. A former employer of mine had a policy of allowing business class for international travel or flights where the total in-flight time (i.e. not including layovers) exceeded six hours. I believe my current employer has the same policy, but I don't travel much for this job.

However, the one time I thought I was able to exercise that policy, they wouldn't let me upgrade to business class. The reason the corporate travel office gave? Because my flight left on Sunday, which isn't a workday. Never mind that this was due to the fact that I had to take off from Boston on Sunday night in order to get to London and then Cambridge, so that I could be at a business-related conference starting at 9 AM GMT Monday morning. I'm still not sure why they disallowed the upgrade given those circumstances. So, know that your answer there might be no. (In hindsight, I might have said "well then let me fly on Friday," but then they probably wouldn't have paid for the extra hotel nights.)

If your employer says no to business class, I'd request an upgrade first at check-in and at the gate, as recommended by Kruger5.

I also recommend SeatGuru as suggested by bedhead.
posted by tckma at 9:48 AM on April 21, 2014

Ruthless Bunny, if the flight goes through Phoenix, it is on USAir metal.

Let me suggest an alternative: call up USAir and find out how much $ it would be just to buy into first. It may not be as much as you think. Right now, USAir is showing the difference between refundable coach tickets and refundable first tickets leaving on 21MAR and returning on 28MAR (the dummy dates I used) of ~$500.

That being said, if you decide to do so, do so with your eyes open. USAir has probably the least exciting first class product among the major operators - it is not much more than a wide seat with extra legroom. That seems to be what you are looking for, but there is no in-flight entertainment, nor really special hawaii themed meals that you might get on true American metal.
posted by scolbath at 10:22 AM on April 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Also, seconding the bulkhead row idea. Bulkheads tend to be blocked out by the airline until T-24 since they are frequently assigned at the airport for special needs passengers (wheelchair, etc), but you might be able to get them to force that through on the phone if you explain your situation. Depending on the bulkhead you wind up in, you may also be near the lavs.

Focus on your destination! Hawaii! It makes it all worthwhile :-)
posted by scolbath at 10:35 AM on April 21, 2014

Definitely aim to confirm just after T-24. I've gotten a better seats that way, occasionally.

Just by the way for the future, I haven't had much luck with asking for exit row seats on the big US legacy carriers, but I do have a fair bit of luck on Alaska (and I find their seat layout is ALMOST loose enough for this 6'6"er to be OK in a normal seat).

If you don't get an exit row, don't forget to make as much room for yourself as possible:
- the contents of the seatback pocket go into somebody else' seatback, on your seat (it's uncomfortable, but a little extra height can help), or into the overhead compartment.
- taking off your shoes is not nice, but it shortens your leg by at least half an inch, which can make the difference between bearable and miserable.
- Keep those legs in the upright, locked position any time the person in front of you is likely to want to recline their seat. If the seat doesn't budge (it probably won't, as long as you're careful) they probably won't keep trying to recline.
posted by wotsac at 2:51 PM on April 21, 2014

Thanks all for weighing in. I spoke with my boss and then I called the airline back today and explained my situation to a sympathetic representative. For $215, I'm getting Silver Status (four exit row seats with no seat in front of me (!!!) and my bags for free), which work is paying for.

The only other option was to cross my fingers to snag those same seats 24 hours before departure (to the tune of $407).
posted by Twicketface at 9:37 AM on April 22, 2014

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