The Big Shrink: 6 Ways to Get More Room on Planes

You’ve seen it at the grocery store: boxes of cereal containing fewer corn flakes or cans of tuna with less fish inside. The Big Shrink has been affecting the nation’s airliners too, resulting in cramped planes and less legroom – but there are a few things you can try.

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6 Way to Get More Space on a Plane

1. Join the elites

If you fly often enough, staying loyal to an airline miles program can provide perks like roomier seats or at least free aisles or windows seats toward the front of the plane (which elites often get automatically). You can also spend your miles to upgrade.

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You can also become a virtual elite by using an airline-branded credit card to earn miles. Most also offer enticements such as free bags and/or priority boarding.

2. Act fast, and don’t give up

When you buy your tickets, choose the best seat available and keep returning to the airline’s website to see if you can’t improve your position. This means keep checking up to and including the day of departure, which is when airlines often drop prices on seats that no one’s shown interest in (this is especially true on international flights). Don’t forget to check at the airport kiosk, the airline VIP club and smart phone apps for last-minute seat deals.

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3. The ‘customer of size’ deal

Many airlines tell large passengers to buy two seats. On Southwest, if the flight is not sold out, you will be reimbursed for one of those seats. It is a gamble, but one that could pay off with an extra empty seat to spread out in.

4. Look for better seats in the rear

Face it, most passengers don’t want to sit in the rear of the plane, so aisles and windows are generally easier to find there. Just be careful if you have to make a tight connection – it could take a while to deplane.

5. Fly Tuesday, Wednesday or Saturday

These are the slowest days of the week for travel which means your chances of being next to an empty middle seat are much better than if you fly busy days like Fridays and Sundays.

6. Pay a cheap fee

On some airlines such as American, premium seat fees are advertised for as little as $4 (though they can rise significantly, based on length of flight). If it’s not too steep, pay it – the extra comfort can be worth it.

More from Rick Seaney:

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Published: September 6, 2012