Josh Hartnett returned to New York from the Los Angeles Oscar parties in a most unusual way for a movie star: he flew coach.
Extreme overbooking on his February 25 United Airlines (UAL) flight meant that the 29 year-old star of the upcoming Warner Independent Pictures (TWX) film The Rum Diaries could not get an upgrade. "But it wasn't for lack of trying," an onlooker told the New York Post (NWS). "There were so many celebs on the flight, when he went to the counter to ask about a wait list they told him, 'You're number 55.'"
We can take comfort in knowing that even celebrities get stuck flying in the less spacious, and at times uncomfortable, coach end of an aircraft. But flying at the back of the plane does not have to be a low-rent experience. Travel professionals say there are ways to get the more out of flying coach.
If you plan on flying coach—and don’t get stuck there, Hartnett-style—before you even book your flight, visit SeatGuru.com (EXPE), says Bob Jones, an airline analyst with BookingWiz.com. The site displays the seating charts for all U.S. airlines, and for about a quarter of the international airlines. “They tell you which seats to pick and which to avoid,” says Jones. “The ones to pick—with the most leg space are reserved for elite member passengers, however 24 hours before departure the seats open up and you can pick whatever is best.” Exit rows generally have more leg room, says Jones. But watch out for planes with two exit windows because the first exit row tends to have seats that barely recline. “The last exit row is better because it reclines and gives you the extra leg room,” says Jones.
Bulk head seats are another great option, says Anne Banas, the executive editor of SmarterTravel.com (EXPE). “Go to the airport early and go to check-in an hour before your flight to ask for the bulk head seat.” Just bring earplugs, adds Jones. Those seats are often reserved for mothers and children.
Some routes have extra legroom, too. In Hartnett's case, the six-foot, three-inch actor got lucky. “In our California to New York flights the entire cabin is Economy Plus, which has five extra inches of space,” says Robin Urbanski, a spokeswoman for United Airlines (UAL). On flights where the Economy Plus section is separate, priority goes to frequent flier members, but travelers can also arrive early to the gate and pay the $15-$20 upgrade, says Urbanski. JetBlue (JBLU) also offers certain seats with more space. Their website shows which seats have extra leg room, says Banas.
Airtran (AAI) is another bare-bones airline that offers upgrade deals. “Check in early and they’ll ask if you want to bump up to first class for $60," says Banas. "[That way] you get the free drinks and some good cookies with the comfort of extra leg room.”
However, if wind up in just any old coach seat with little choice in the matter, to make your trip more comfortable turn on the charm. (But only the charm.) “This isn’t a hotel where you slip a twenty to someone and get an upgrade,” says Banas. “If you want something or have a concern, mention it as you board the plane. There are a limited number of pillows and blankets so you want to be the first to ask.” Just don’t even think of using bribery to get an upgrade, says Jones. “No chocolate, flowers, or money. They could get fired.”