Hey, you, in 22A! Pipe down, take a deep breath and relax _ only you can prevent flight misery

By Samantha Bomkamp, AP
Friday, August 13, 2010

Don’t jump! Ways to fly without wanting to scream

NEW YORK — OK, OK, we get it: It’s tough to be a flight attendant.

We get it even more now after Steven Slater’s now-famous “peace out” move. But a little sympathy, please: it’s tough to be a passenger these days, too. There have surely been plenty of travelers, stuffed in coach with crying babies, rolling eyes and empty wallets, who have wanted to make a quick exit down the emergency slide.

So are rude fellow passengers, unyielding fees and stressful delays just part of the deal? Maybe. But there are ways to soften the blow of all three.

Here’s a rundown of how to make your travel experience more Zen-like, from booking to landing (and how to complain if it isn’t):


There are a few steps you can take before you even get off the ground to make your trip less expletive-worthy. For starters, choose a flight early in the morning — they are less prone to delays. (Plus, you might find that the other passengers are too tired to get rowdy.)

If you make a mistake, like making a reservation on the wrong day, most airlines will give you 24 hours to change your ticket without fees. Deal with problems quickly and don’t worry.

Picking an airline

While you may pick an airline for its frequent flier program or variety of destinations, there are a few issues of comfort to keep in mind, too. There’s a big difference between carriers in seat width and seat pitch — the space between you and the seat in front of you. If you’re flying in coach, JetBlue Airways Corp. offers the most space for your legs. And the airline’s satellite TVs at every seat can ease stress during turbulence and keep kids occupied.

If you’re looking for the lowest fees, Southwest Airlines Co. is the best choice — you won’t pay for bags. For a full rundowns of fees, they’re shown in black-and-white on sites like Kayak.com.

The location of your seat will also make a big difference. Visit SeatGuru.com to examine the plane layouts for every major airline, detailing everything from foot space to proximity to the bathrooms.

Make sure you confirm your seat assignment 24 hours ahead of the flight to ensure you’ve got the one you wanted. This is also when airlines release their spacious emergency exit rows — so try to snatch one of those if a frequent flier hasn’t beat you to them.

Airport ease and avoiding fees

Although preparation is the biggest key to comfortable air travel, there are also a few simple things everyone can do to avoid hassles and fees. Most importantly, use the Web as much as possible. From booking to checking your bags, the Internet makes it possible to avoid virtually all interactions with airline staff.

If you have luggage that’s small enough to fit on the plane but big enough to steal a lot of space in the overhead compartment, consider checking it at the gate. You’ll avoid hoisting a large bag over a crowded plane of passengers — a time where most plane conflicts start. Plus, you won’t pay a dime. Airlines generally don’t charge you bag fees when you relinquish your luggage planeside.

The big picture

To modernize an old expression, “Only you can prevent air travel misery.” As passengers, we have to be willing to be sympathetic to other people’s feelings. Take into account that the flight attendant who’s rolling her eyes is probably overworked, and the passenger who barks at you might be dealing with some other stress at home.

If it’s a passenger who’s irking you, ask to be re-seated. If it’s an airline employee who’s troubling you, don’t get hotheaded. It’s best to take a couple deep breaths and try to let the problem roll off your shoulders.

Ultimately, if you think a formal complaint is warranted, deal with it when you’re emotions aren’t running high. Instead of searching for customer service numbers, send an e-mail complaint through the airline’s website. Airlines are required to respond to any complaints in writing. You can also gripe to the Department of Transportation on its website at airconsumer.ost.dot.gov/.

There’s also a 21st century way to complain: Facebook and Twitter. Whether you tweet or post a gripe to an airline’s Facebook account, it’s considered a formal written complaint and it is required to respond.

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