World Travel

An insider's guide to flying

Kris Madden
Avoid climbing out of your seat in economy
There's no doubt that the best seats on a plane are at the pointy end, but if you're not one of the lucky ones who can afford to fly first or business class, here are some tips on how to ensure you have a better flying experience further back in the plane.

Best economy seats

Anyone who has endured a cramped middle seat, crying baby or annoying toilet queue knows how much difference the right seat can make on a long flight.

Not everyone agrees on what the best seat is, but if you turn up at the airport the minimum time before boarding, you are pretty much guaranteed to only get what's left.

Ask your agent to pre-seat you at the time of booking or take advantage of the online Web check-in service now offered by most airlines. This allows you to select your seat from home in advance, thus avoiding check-in queues. Check with the airline as you may not be able to check in online if you have a special service request, such as special meals or mobility needs.

The golden rule is to be as far forward in the aircraft as possible — the further back you are, the noisier and bumpier it is and you are likely to be the last served with meals and drinks. You will also avoid people who want to lean on your seat as they wait for the rear toilets to become vacant. Forward seats mean you can disembark faster — and hopefully avoid long immigration queues. If you suffer from motion sickness, try for a seat over the wing, as this is the most stable point on the plane.

The dream location for economy seating is usually the emergency exit row where there are no seats in front of you, although you may find that this is where restless passengers come to stretch their legs. Exit rows cannot be reserved in advance, so you will need to ask at check-in.

A bulkhead seat has a wall in front of it and while you won't have another passenger reclining their seat back onto you, this is usually where families with young children are seated due to the baby cot attachments.

Window or aisle?

When it comes to window versus aisle seats, preferences are fairly evenly divided. With an aisle seat you can get up and down whenever you like and won't feel so trapped, however, if you want to sleep, a window seat might be better, as you have somewhere to rest your head and won't have people climbing over you during the flight.

If you're travelling with a companion, try to reserve the aisle and window seat of a three-seat row. Because middle seats are the last to be sold, you have a good chance of getting an extra seat.

Not every plane is configured the same way, so a good seat on one aircraft is not necessarily good on another. There are websites that show seating plans for almost every aircraft so that you can check in advance:

Can I get an upgrade?

Getting an upgrade these days has about the same odds as winning the lottery. Airline check-in staff have heard every request, complaint and far-fetched story possible and are not likely to be sympathetic. The best chance of getting an upgrade is to join a frequent-flyer program.

Premium economy

There is a currently a major push among international airlines to introduce ''premium'' economy classes. If you are travelling long-haul, it is well worth comparing this price with the standard economy fare for the extra facilities.

These sections of the plane generally offer wider, more comfortable seats with increased recline and leg room, more in-flight entertainment options and better food. Some airlines offer priority check-in, additional hand baggage allowances and priority boarding and disembarkation as well.

Airport lounges

With increased security and the need to spend more time waiting these days, airports can have a big effect on your travel experience. Most airports offer lounges where travellers can watch TV, send e-mail, have a drink or snack, sleep or take a shower — a necessity if you have a couple of hours stopover on a long flight.

While these lounges are usually for the benefit of first or business passengers, it's worth researching the reciprocal arrangements between airlines before you take off. There are a number of independent airport VIP lounge programs that allow access to lounges around the world for an annual fee:

If you plan to do some duty-free shopping in transit, savvy travellers can look up maps of the airport on the Internet to save time otherwise spent wandering around in a daze:

What's all the carry-on?

All airlines are trying to cut the number of bags passengers take with them and are tough on excess baggage. Excess charges can be steep, especially when you have to pay them on the return journey as well, so try and stay within the limits. One way to avoid baggage hassles is to use a personal luggage delivery service, which delivers your luggage door-to-door, eliminating the need to haul bulky suitcases or sporting equipment around the world:

Lost bags are a sure way to ruin a trip, so make sure you have done everything possible to ensure that your bag will find its way back to you if it goes missing. The most obvious is to label it very clearly with your name and contact details. Tags often catch on conveyor belts or and get torn off, so it's also a good idea to put a second tag inside your bag, so it can still be identified.

The final piece of advice concerns how to avoid sitting next to the passenger from hell, but no-one has figured that one out yet!

Tips for a better flight

  • Secure your preferred seat in advance through the airline, travel agent or online Web check-in service before you leave home.
  • Try to be seated as far forward in the plane as possible for speedier service and ease of disembarkation or over the wing if you suffer motion sickness.
  • Exit rows cannot be reserved in advance, so ask at check-in.
  • Bulkheads are usually allocated to families with young children, so may not be so desirable.
  • Aisle seats allow easier access, but if you want to sleep, a window seat might be better.
  • If travelling with a companion, reserve the aisle and window seat of a three-seat row for a better chance of having a spare seat between you.
  • Join a frequent-flyer program or VIP program for access to airport lounges or a chance of an upgrade.
  • Consider the new ''premium'' economy classes if you have a long distance to travel.
  • Consider using a personal luggage delivery service to avoid carrying bulky items or losing your bags.

Related video: How to get an upgrade

User comments
I flew internationally at least twice a year with 3 young children and did everything in my power to ensure no inconvenience to fellow travellers. Now I find myself very resentful towards some of todays travelling families. Some kids have absolutely no boundaries and indulgent parents who believe their darlings should do what they want and the rest of us put up with it - because they're just children! Flight Staff never want to take action lest they upset the parents. I'd like to see a Behaviour Code for Parents travelling with Children printed on ticketing - in a prominent position impossible to miss along with information on how to make flights easier and more enjoyable for little ones. Also at boarding, announcements should include reminders for parents to control kids inflight. Children misbehaving, along with parents should be reprimanded by Staff and those who ignore directives either charged or banned by airlines. Maintain order or give us child free zones!
My experience as a disabled passenger, requiring extra leg room on flights, has been a painful nightmare for EVERY flight in the last 12 years. Being disabled you cannot pre-book the exit rows that provide the much needed room (Economy class). There are no cushions to assist with comfort. One flight attendant told me to bring my own. (Melanie).Often special requirements have not been met, even when booked in advance every time. One airline took one and a half hours to provide a wheel chair and twice my carriage to the plane was via a box trolley. Thank you for the uncomfortable ride and embarrassment. Some put you on the flight way before any other passenger has embarked and disembarked me a long time after all other passengers have left. Both airlines have been guilty of actually cleaning the airplane whilst still on board waiting for the wheelchair to arrive. People with disabilities are still people, we should not be treated like the dirt left behind after a flight.
The airlines have the seats way too close - it's a health hazard, I hate the way people kick the back of your seat, the young parents of today have no idea, they just let their kids run riot, they just seem to pretend that the kids aren't theirs!! I think kids and screaming babies should be put at the back of the plane with their parents so us older people can fly in peace! (And to those who turn their noses up at me, yes I have travelled with my own children around the world several times when they were small and never once did I have to check them because they knew how to behave themselves!! If they didn't they would get a tongue lashing from me!!
Having only just flown to the US (and back, obviously), my only issues were the economy seats, waking the lady in the aisle seat to get to the toilet, the turbulence (it's not me!) and the 40 knot westerly we hit coming back in to sydney. My main issue was with the people having a chat while leaning on the emergency door, and the lack of silly plane movies (trips would be better with Snakes on a Plane, Air Force One, Starflight and who could resist Flying High!). That aside, its a fact of life planes wobble (no part of a plane is any less wobbly than another), its noisy near and behind the wing, they want to make sure your shoes don't have a bomb in them (yes its a hassle), as well as babies crying, ignorant parents etc etc etc. Next time i actually won't mind the seats right up the back of the Virgin 777 - there's only two of them, and the toilet is right next to them!
The worst experience I ever had was after landing in Auckland from Sydney. The immigration officials decided that my son and I were carrying drugs. They didn't just say "we want to check your bags" and then politely search everything. They falsely accused us of having drugs... saying that their sniffer dogs had singled out our baggage. They were extremely rude and accusing. They weren't going to take "no we don't use drugs" for an answer. They treated us as if we were guilty. The most distressing situation I've ever been in. I don't even take legal drugs, much less illegal drugs and I am happy that my 17 year old son has made the same decisions for his life. I am very sorry that my son had to be suscepted to such subhuman treatment, because it really was below the normal standards of decency. After even going through the pictures on my camera, they decided that we could leave. Ironically, out in the lobby, a sniffer dog walked straight past our baggage without hesitating.
Do the parents of screaming children not realise that their little bundle of joy is noise pollution atuned to torture. The toilets are not equiped for nappies which can sometimes weigh more than my flight bag and cannot just be left on the floor of the communal toilet. Can they be seated all together and a discount offered to any person willing to fly in the hot seat.
My favourite long haul flights have been with Korean and Japan Airlines that offer a five star stop-over, the service is amazing. For trans-Tasman flights I would only fly Air New Zealand because the attendant kept plying me with alcohol so that I never felt any turbulence or discomfort, I was the life and soul of the party! I don't like children that make any noise, bring on the childless flights! I don't like parents that read to their children either. I don't like talkers at all unless they are all under the influence and giving each other scalp massages as they fly into London. I don't like *** either, they're as bad as dissaprovers. Funnily enough I like snorers cause I snore as well as the most celebrated decibel.
i just got back from a flight from sydney and i had a huge man next to me in the middle seat and i was stuck litterally in the window seat. He should have had to have bought 2 tickets as he took up half of my seat too. I was so crushed that i started to sweat and feel cloustrophobic. He couldnt put his arms down as they would have been on my leg so he had to hold the head rest in front of him the whole flight. Not once did he apologise for being on half my seat and if he would have looked at me just oonce i would have told him to next time buy a second ticket. or lose weight. Man that was the longest hour flight of my life. What if we were travelling overseas? I think i might have succummed to air rage and stabbed him with my plastic knife.......
I’ve got THREE more pet hates of flying- ONE- Paying for business class to get away from screaming kids in coach. I only do it once a year to get a good flight but get extremely annoyed at wasting that money to just have rich mummy and daddy pay to have their babies in business class! Is there no escape from babies on planes? Business class should be for 18 y.o. and over! Or have a plane service just for ignorant parents and disobedient kids, call it ‘BRAT AIRLINES’ lol. Business Class Standards have fallen too, its not worth the money anymore. TWO- Priority baggage, what a joke! Im a Gold customer and my bag is suppose to come out with the first bunch but it never happens! Usually its last! and Perth Airport is the worst offender. It does have a Priority Tag on it which always makes me laugh when i pick up my bag after waiting 30-60mins! THREE- Airport Clubs, There’s nothing in there! the food is rank! the Bar is never open! What’s the point of joining?
Crying babies can be taken care of by noise cancellation headphones & music or a movie on while you sleep but the thing that annoys me is when parents let their kids wander up the aisles away from them to annoy other people. On one flight I had this small child touchign all my stuff in front of me in the pocket and also then came up and stared at me while I was eating and then proceeded to touch my food.I tried to be polite and loud enough for the parents to hear but they chose to ignore so then I rudely told the kid to "go away"