Flight to Australia
March 21, 2006 10:32 AM   Subscribe

Help: Miserable middle seat to Australia

I have a evening flight from denver to LA (5PM) and then a 8:30PM flight to Sydney. I have a middle seat. Boo... Should I get up really early, drive to the airport and beg for an exit row on the LA-->Sydney flight? Can the people in Denver even place me there? It's a United flight. How early can I check in? I would leave and come back later for the flight.

Also, I'm planning on bringing books, books on tape on my ipod, jet lag pills, comfortable clothes, extra food, anyone have advice for me that might help?

thanks, -Ben
posted by hokie409 to Travel & Transportation around Australia (25 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
UA all the way ?
posted by johnny7 at 10:36 AM on March 21, 2006

Should I get up really early, drive to the airport and beg for an exit row on the LA-->Sydney flight? Can the people in Denver even place me there? It's a United flight

Obvious question: Have you tried calling United and seeing what they can do for you? They can handle the seat assignment/re-assignment for LA to Sydney over the phone - no problem. You dont have to wait until check-in to do that, unless I am missing something.


Also, I dont know about international flights but on many domestic flights they have a new "class" of service called Economy Plus which isnt Business class but does give you more leg-room. There's an upgrade fee but closer to being reasonable.
posted by vacapinta at 10:42 AM on March 21, 2006

Be super sweet to the flight attendants, in the hopes they'll allow you to stand in the bulkhead/kitchen area for hours at a time with a book. When I take intercontinental red-eyes, I try to do this to spend as little time as possible in my seat. (I'm tall, about 6'2"/~1.94m, and don't fit well in any seat, aisle, window or otherwise.) Sometimes this works, others not so much. It seems to depend on how kind the attendants are, and being friendly and polite seems to make them regard me with affection (big surprise, I know).

And yes, go early and beg.

Someday, when we're wealthy enough to fly biz/1st ... (yeah right).
posted by donpedro at 10:42 AM on March 21, 2006

Can you check in online? I'm not sure about UA, but AA lets you choose or change your seat when you check in online, and that's usually available 24 hours before departure.
posted by occhiblu at 10:42 AM on March 21, 2006

This is general advice, but besides requesting an exit row seat I find with some airlines that if you show up early enough before the flight, you can ask for and get a bulkhead seat, which is in the front row of the coach seats...they are not available until the day of flight on many airlines. You get a lot of legroom, but you might be sitting next to a baby. Or not, who knows. My advice is to call the airline and just ask about bulkhead seats, and just if they have any advice on how you could change your seat. Who knows how they'll be able to help.
posted by apple scruff at 10:42 AM on March 21, 2006

Also, check to see if there is a middle seat between two people with the same last name. Often couples will reserve the window and aisle seat hoping to get the whole row. When you show up for the middle seat, they will often give up either the window or aisle seat so they can sit next to each other.
posted by sexymofo at 10:54 AM on March 21, 2006

thanks for the comments and questions. This is a united flight all the way. There was flight assignment options online but there were ONLY middle seats left. It's been my understanding that the generally release exit row seats on the day of the flight. I have not made any calls yet to United.

Occhiblu mentioned checking in 24 hours before the departure. Can you do that for international flights? I'd certainly try to change the seat at that time.

So, sounds like I should call, should try checking in online, and maybe I should go there the morning of.....
posted by hokie409 at 10:55 AM on March 21, 2006

United has been offering one service class paid upgrades at the gate. Last time I flew ORD-HKG, it was $300 to go from a Q-fare economy ticket to a business class ticket. That's a one-way upgrade, btw, not roundtrip.

If you don't have status with United, you can purchase access to Economy Plus for $299. It's not an amazing deal, but it gets you a 35" pitch versus a 31" pitch in coach on United's 747.

If you don't have status and aren't willing to pay for Economy Plus or an upgrade, my advice is to call United's International reservations agents (who are all extremely nice, pleasant, and helpful) and ask to be switched to a window seat in 59-61. Because of the taper of the plane, those seats are only 2-4-2 instead of 3-4-3. You will lose the ability to slump against the bulkhead, and you're in the ass-end of the plane as far as boarding and deplaning goes, but it's going to be a hell of a lot better than sitting middle for 14 hours. (32-34 is also ok, but my experience it either turns into the "first time family fun" cabin or "drunken business traveller who works for a cheap company"-zone.)
posted by nathan_teske at 10:59 AM on March 21, 2006

And you can't check-in online for international flights.
posted by nathan_teske at 11:05 AM on March 21, 2006

Update: I called and was able to get an aisle. Seat 55D. Can't figure out what plane this is on though. I can't find seat 55D on seatguru.com under united flights....
posted by hokie409 at 11:13 AM on March 21, 2006

If none of the advice above works....AND your flight isn't completely full, here's what you do:

1. Wait until the very last moment to get on the plane. I mean the very last moment...as in they're telling you that they're leaving without you unless you get on the plane right now.

2. As you board, take a look around the plane and pick the best empty seat.

3. Sit down.

This works for two reasons. First, you already know that there's no one else behind you whose seat you might be taking. Second, most people will at least start off in their assigned seat before trying to move somewhere else. Thus, any seat that's empty when you get on the plane really is empty.

Obviously, this doesn't work on full flights, but it's a nice trick when it works. You can take it one step farther and spread all your crap out on adjacent seats right after take off. You can sometimes be stretched out across three seats by the time most other people are brave enough to start moving around the cabin.

Good luck.
posted by richmondparker at 11:15 AM on March 21, 2006

Hokie 747. Looks like aisle for you. (I'm almost positive United is flying 747s on that route. I don't think they have a 777 flying it.)
posted by nathan_teske at 11:16 AM on March 21, 2006

ahhh, 747. Well, I'll try again with nathan_teske's and the seatguru.com info later but I'm not in the middle anymore!
posted by hokie409 at 11:17 AM on March 21, 2006

This should be obvious, but avoid bringing any kind of food, or anything that even smells good. Apart from the bio/ecological concerns, they are extremely vigilant against drug trafficking: When I flew into Melbourne from LA, they have you walk by about a dozen (no exaggeration) sniffer dogs as you are exiting the plane and picking up your baggage. I wouldn't expect anyone to be stupid enough to actually bring drugs, but anything that can attract a dogs nose (i.e. any kind of food) is best left at home, just for convenience sake.
posted by patr1ck at 11:22 AM on March 21, 2006

I've taken that flight (LA-Sydney) and it is loooong. I highly recommend taking a sleeping pill to sleep through as much of the flight as possible.
posted by Gamblor at 12:45 PM on March 21, 2006

Seriously - take advantage of Bose offering a free trial if available where you are for a set of their Quietcomfort headphones. (As long as you're back in time to return them of course!) Alternatively, buy them anyway; they are truly worth their weight in gold.
posted by DrtyBlvd at 12:56 PM on March 21, 2006

Exit row seats are usually assigned at the airport only, since you have to be physically able to help during an evacuation. You have to actually present yourself at the counter to get these seats, in my experience. Since I'm quite tall, my SOP is to get to the airport well over an hour in advance and head to the ticket counter.
posted by MrMoonPie at 1:02 PM on March 21, 2006

How much are you willing to spend to get out of this jam? Bring a handful of twenties, just in case every other suggestion on this thread fails. You can always make cash deals with your neighbors to trade seats. I think you don't need to spend more than $100.
posted by frogan at 1:23 PM on March 21, 2006

Just for the record - you can often get an exit row seat anytime on the day of the flight, even over the phone. So you can call the airline at 2 AM and ask them to switch you. If you have any kind of elite status on an airline, you can often book exit row seats online months in advance.
posted by kdern at 2:11 PM on March 21, 2006

United won't let you request an exit row unless you have significant status with them.
posted by nathan_teske at 3:56 PM on March 21, 2006

When I arrived at Heathrow too late for an aisle seat on a London to Melbourne flight last year, I told the woman at check-in that I tended towoards swollen legs, and would need to get up to exercise every forty minutes. She referred me to customer service, and as soon as I said the words "swollen legs", they cheerfully changed my ticket without further comment. In my case, it's true about the legs, but I guess anyone could try that tactic.
posted by hot soup girl at 6:21 PM on March 21, 2006

Be super sweet to the flight attendants, in the hopes they'll allow you to stand in the bulkhead/kitchen area for hours at a time with a book.

Our crew did just that when we were flying from LA to Japan - we all moved around and hung out in the bulkhead chatting. Even got a shoutout from the pilot when we were landing.

The United Airlines cabin crew are the NICEST staff I've ever met on air (and I've met some really nice ones) so they should be OK with this.

I've noticed that listening to music really seems to shorten the flight time. Just put on some music - plane radio, MP3 player, whatever - and relax. Time zooms by.

Have fun on your flight!
posted by divabat at 7:05 PM on March 21, 2006

I'm 6'5" and much of that is in my legs so I move heaven and earth to get an exit-row seat -- I physically cannot fit into the seats of some cheaper airlines.

I've found that, if fate decides I can't arrive early, using the word "discrimination" in an angry tone of voice near the check-in clerk works remarkably well -- better, in fact, than dressing smartly, smiling sweetly and being pleasant.

(I am reminded, anecdotally, of an eight-hour American Airlines flight. I had been severely mugged four days earlier, my nose was broken and my face was badly bruised. I also had food poisoning. Apart from that I arrived two hours early and was one of the first people to check in, I was wearing a smart suit, and I was flying on a ticket from one of American's major corporate clients. I almost begged for an exit-row or extra-legroom seat, close to the toilets, and vegetarian food. The nice, helpful woman at the desk told me she could give me all three. Meanwhile she assigned me the middle seat in the middle section of the plane, and ignored my food request. If American was the only airline with transatlantic flights, I'd rather swim.)
posted by Hogshead at 7:36 PM on March 21, 2006

Update: I did call United the night before the flight. They said you had to be there in person so they can see that you are healthy. Also, they said that getting there at 9 AM would not work because you can't check in more than 4 hours before the flight. If true, that is too bad as anyone flying from the east coast would be able to snag the exit rows when they left. This makes me wonder if they can even give me an exit row on the LAX-->Sydney flight FROM Denver.

Also, from other comments- I do have sleeping pills in case they are needed.
And I purchased one of those Bose noide reduction headphones. $300! I double checked on the return policy, they are going back to the store unless they completely change my life.
posted by hokie409 at 12:24 AM on March 23, 2006

Ha, $79 got me a "Economy plus" upgrade. Got my own row!! I slept like a baby.
posted by hokie409 at 5:52 PM on April 5, 2006

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