Month: January 2019

Landing a Great Airline Seat for Takeoff! How to Get the Best Seats for your Flight

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Airplanes awaiting takeoff at Reagan National Airport

Your seat assignment can make or break your flight every time, and the longer your flight the even more important it becomes to score the best seat possible. You may be wondering how to secure the best seats for your flight. I wanted to share some tips on recognizing a better seat, and to give some information on how some of the different major airlines work with regards to seat assignment, to help you in this quest! Nobody wants to get their travel experience off to a bad start before it even begins due to a loathsome seat assignment!

Consider pitch and width.

Pitch and width are the formulas that will help you determine which seats provide you with more space. Pitch refers to how far away the seats in front of you and behind you are, indicating legroom. Width indicates how much room you will have in the chair. This can differ from class to class, airline to airline, and airplane model to airplane model. It is also important to remember that some seats recline while others don’t.

Not all aircraft are created equal.

Different aircraft have different seat configurations. Visit seatguru.com to view detailed information about the seats on any plane. Enter the airline, date, and flight number and you will be advised on the pitch and width of each type of seat and the layout with which they are installed on the aircraft on a complete map showing where the exit and bulkhead seats are, how many seats are in each section of the cabin, and how many seats across there are in each row.

Not all airlines are created equal.

Airlines differ in a couple of ways when it comes to what kind of seat you can expect to get. The first involves which actual seat models the airline uses on their aircraft. For example, you can expect seats with 28 inches of pitch that do not recline on Spirit Airlines. The aforementioned resource, seatguru.com, can advise you on the seat pitch and width for each type of seat, and whether or not they recline, before you book the plane you are considering.

The second way the airlines differ is in their policy on how seats are assigned. My preference, and I contend it is the best way to assure yourself the best seat, is to book with airlines that allow you to reserve a specific seat at the time of booking at no additional cost. This has consistently been my experience on Delta and United, even when buying economy tickets. JetBlue also allows advance seat reservations. American, on the other hand, assigns the seats in economy coach; you do have the option when checking in (up to 24 hours in advance) to reserve a specific open seat, however, expect in most cases to be charged to do so. Southwest has a completely different policy – basically a free-for-all when you board. No coach seats are assigned and are first-come, first-served when boarding the plane. Your best bet if you fly Southwest is to check in 24 hours in advance (the earliest you’re allowed to!) so that you are assigned an early group number… and then hustle when that group number is called! Group numbers determine who boards the plane first, and those first to check in are placed in the early groups. NOTE: early check-in, with any airline, is always a good idea since the airline may begin giving upgrades to certain members of their loyalty program – making fewer good seats available to everyone else… at this time. It’s another good reason to reserve a specific seat at booking if you can!

Of course if you are flying first class, business class, or as a high-level member of an airline’s loyalty program you will receive priority. These guidelines apply to coach travelers, and, in particular, economy coach travelers.

Book a premium seat.

Some airlines, like JetBlue and United, offer seats with greater leg or chair room for a greater cost (JetBlue’s “Even More Space” seats and, for United, “Economy Plus Seating”). Different airlines will refer to these seats by different names; keep an eye out for a reference to greater seating space, particularly if you notice certain seats that come at a higher price point. And for even greater comfort, you can consider business and first class seats, where there are always fewer seats per row, much more legroom, and far wider chairs. Of course, you can expect these to come at an even higher price point. If you need even more space, some airlines will also allow you to book more than one adjoining seat.

Arrive on time.

You don’t want to go to the trouble (and/or expense!) to reserve a specific seat just to see it given away to a standby passenger because you arrived late for boarding! Try to arrive a half hour before your flight is scheduled to leave, when the boarding process usually begins… or as close to that time as possible.

Consider placement of seats on the plane.

Of course window and aisle seats are more popular unless you are traveling with a companion you want to sit beside in a middle seat. But there are other considerations. Seats near the wings are notoriously less turbulent than those further away from the wings, if that is important to you. If you have a connecting flight, choosing one closer to the front of the plane, so you can disembark more quickly, could prove extremely helpful.

“Bulkhead” seats or seats in the first row of the section, with no seats directly in front of them, can offer greater legroom but no personal item storage (expect to place it in the overhead bin). This may be an advantage or disadvantage to you depending on your priorities. And exit row seats have more legroom, but children are not eligible to sit in these rows, and you will need to adhere to the responsibilities of the exit row passengers as outlined by your flight attendant during safety instruction. Also, the exit rows may have a greater shortage of room in the overhead bin due to the storage of safety equipment.

Confirm your seat assignment before check-in.

If you made a seat reservation ahead of time, double check to make sure your assignment hasn’t been changed. In some cases the airplane scheduled for your flight may be changed to a different aircraft, causing seat reservations to be re-assigned unexpectedly.

Other considerations.

Consider congestion factors on the aircraft, such as the seats near the lavatories potentially being high-traffic zones. Also consider that seats closer to the door may be cooler if the weather outside is cold. And if you want to be served earlier during food and beverage service, flight attendants often (but not always!) start in the front and work their way back, especially on smaller planes (on larger planes more attendants may be serving and start from both front and back.)

If you want easier access to the restrooms you may want to go for the aisle – and, conversely, if you want to avoid having to get up and move for others in your row getting up, then the window may be better.

If you need access to your carry-on in the overhead bin during the flight, the aisle will be most convenient. The wall of the window seat can serve as a makeshift headrest, but the aisle seat can give you more opportunities to stretch out when people aren’t using the aisle. Finally, you can expect the back row of seats won’t recline, but you won’t have to worry about unruly passengers kicking your seat!

What about the “dreaded” middle seat?

Often the least coveted seat, the middle, does have a couple of advantages too! These include better access to the personal light and environmental controls, and often easier access to an outlet. It also will be easier to snag a middle seat in the front of the plane or an exit row if that’s where you want to be for other reasons. And if you’re a social butterfly, you’ve got the potential to make two new friends (or, on the flip side, enemies!)

If all else fails, ask again at the gate.

If you couldn’t get the kind of seat you wanted, assuming seats are assigned on your airline, try asking again at the gate. Loyalty program members may have been upgraded and their original seat assignments abandoned. This can translate into new, great seats becoming available at the last minute. Note that some airlines may refuse to accommodate this request if you are flying with an economy fare ticket.

I hope these tips will help you get the best airplane seat possible for your next flight! There are a lot of different factors to consider!

 

 

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Winter in Cocoa Beach, Florida!

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The Pier at Cocoa Beach

While many beaches across the United States are closing up shop for the Winter, Florida’s beaches stay open throughout the year – and with temperatures frequently getting up into the high 70’s (Fahrenheit), and higher, even in the peak of winter, they are a joy to visit! So don’t pack away your shorts and swimsuits just yet – instead considering packing your bags for a winter visit to the Florida coast!

The Pier at Cocoa Beach, and neighboring beachfront, is the most popular attraction in Cocoa Beach. Here you will find sunbathers, swimmers, volleyball players, bars, restaurants, retail, and fishing off the Pier. For a nominal fee you can rent fishing time and equipment (including the fishing poles and gear as well as a fish cleaning station!) Fishing season here ends on December 15, but you can get some “winter” fishing in if you arrive before then!

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Cocoa Beach: popular with surfers

Cocoa Beach is notorious for being a draw for surfers. Nearby you can also explore Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center Visitors’ Complex. This area is often referred to as “Florida’s Space Coast” in tourist brochures. Surfers just call it paradise! If you fancy a cruise on one of the major cruise lines, those depart from neighboring Cape Canaveral too.

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Ron Jon Surf Shop: largest surf shop in the world!

The Ron Jon Surf Shop in Cocoa Beach consists of 52,000 square feet spread across multiple buildings. The complex includes a gigantic retail outlet, surf museum, and surf lesson studio! It is the largest surf shop in the world!

Cocoa Beach is a fun place to relax and unwind or test out your surfing skills, whatever the season! Should you be visiting nearby Cape Canaveral, don’t overlook the additional attractions here in Cocoa Beach, well worth the detour!

You may view my full tour here!:

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Camera Bans in Museums Violate the Concept of Art!

 

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Castle in Germany: No photography of any kind allowed inside

In a number of museums, cameras and filming are not allowed – and the restriction is not limited only to flash cameras. Every attempt I make at grasping the logic in this results in failure. In some instances, it is argued that if people have had a chance to see what the place looks like in film or photograph, the motivation to visit in person will be gone. Yet these museums allow film crews of travel television shows to visit – eliminating any validity in this argument. If being able to see the place in advance in photo and film reduces peoples’ desire to visit then why not restrict ALL photo and filming? On the contrary, I think being able to see a “teaser,” which is all a photo or film can give you – it will never be quite the same as an in-person visit – only makes people even more motivated to visit.

Enjoying a destination on film or photograph is a very worthwhile experience. I get tremendous pleasure out of binge-watching “Rick Steves’ Europe” or thumbing through picture books of exciting destinations. But comparing that experience to an actual visit is akin to comparing apples to oranges. They are not the same thing.

It has put a great damper on my experience visiting a place to find out I cannot capture the experience in photos and film. Sure, I can “remember” what I saw, but not in the same vivid way I can relive the experience watching video I filmed live. Memories may last, but memories fade. That which is digitally captured can be enjoyed and shared throughout a lifetime.

The enjoyment and sharing of digital media which captures our travel memories inspires and promotes travel. ALL museums should be open to allowing cameras, and should also educate their staff on camera equipment. More than once I’ve had museum staff think my stabilizer was a “selfie stick” and ban it for that reason, because selfie sticks are not allowed. This only further displays a lack of understanding of the photographic arts, and appreciation of it as an art form. If anyone should appreciate an art form, shouldn’t it be a museum?

Yes, it’s true that some flash photography can damage sensitive works of fine art. For this reason, I can understand a ban specifically on flash photography. Other forms of photography should be allowed in these cases.

Video and film of travel excites the sense of sight, and, in the case of film, sound. But it cannot capture that which we experience with our other senses. We can never truly be immersed in a place without exploring it in person, first hand. Photos and film, while a very enjoyable indulgence, and great introduction to the places we are considering visiting, can never replace actually going. Why do so many museums feel threatened that this will happen?

I think it’s more about museums making money in their gift shops than a concern about losing future visitors or damaging the art. The one argument that probably does hold true is that if you took a picture of something in the museum, you are less likely to buy the postcard. But if this is the concern then why not just offer a photography “pass” for an additional charge?

Camera bans in museums disrespect the whole concept of art. Great art promotes interactivity with its viewer: reaction, response, discussion, and sharing. It’s all about the iconography or message. Art is not ultimately meant to be hidden away and forgotten, but exposed and contemplated, and endowed with as many divergent viewpoints as possible! Ironic that so many museums don’t “get” the whole point of art (or, worse, don’t care)!

I want to challenge the museums that currently ban photography and filming to reconsider. Readers please leave your comments below whether you agree or disagree!

Back to my travels soon – I’m still away from my home office (and most of my photography equipment and media) attempting to sell this house out of state, where what I anticipated to be a 3 day venture has morphed into over 3 weeks!

Hope you are having a great new year!

New Year, New Travel Resolutions!

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Dubai, United Arab Emirites: on my 2019 Wish List

Another year, another opportunity to make new plans and goals for achieving your travel dreams! I have my own laundry list to work through, which I wanted to share here. Hopefully this list will give you some ideas, or inspire you to come up with more of your own! Please comment below if you have some additional travel goals for 2019!

Sign up for TSA PRE and Global Entry

I’ve been considering how much time I “wasted” waiting in line at airports and cruise ports in 2018, and all of the ways in which I would have preferred to use that time. I also thought about the stress involved in getting through security checkpoints – something that can put a damper on your travel experience before it ever really begins. That’s why I want to enroll in TSA Pre and Global Entry this year. With TSA Pre, you don’t need to take off your shoes and other clothing items, separate your electronics and liquids, or – best of all – take as long getting through security. Global Entry is specific for international checkpoints at airports and cruise ports to get you through faster, including the availability of VIP lines to save time. To take it a step even further, I could enroll with Clear, which allows you through security in even faster lines using retinal scanning and fingerprint identification. But at a minimum I want to get set up with TSA Pre and Global Entry.

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Fly Through Airport Security Before You Fly!

Be more “loyal” to my loyalty programs…

I’m a member of a number of loyalty programs – hotel, airline, cruise line, casino… but I’ve had a bad habit of delaying those coveted rewards by “playing the field” instead of remaining loyal to my favorites. While I won’t exercise 100% loyalty to any one company of each type, since variety is one of the great pleasures in travel, I will make a greater effort to be more loyal to my favored brands and rack up those rewards faster!

Become more fluent in more languages…

Due to time constraints, language study has been an ongoing challenge. My ultimate goal is to become a polyglot. I need to make a better effort at carving out more time in my schedule for accomplishing this goal. The extent to which some understanding of the language in a place you are visiting enriches the travel experience is not to be underestimated. It immerses you in the culture in a way that stumbling along in English just can’t. Your interaction with the place, and its people, is so much more authentic.

Pack lighter!

Travel writer Rick Steves, my mentor, says that no one ever got home from a trip wishing they’d packed heavier! (ricksteves.com) I couldn’t agree more. Practically with each trip I have gone on I have realized this more and more, and improved my travel experience significantly the less I am burdened with belongings that aren’t ultimately important in the grand scheme of my adventure. I’ve never found myself in a position where I couldn’t pick something up that I needed, or an adequate approximation, later in the destination. And I wasn’t fighting sore muscles and achy joints from day one, or wasting time at airport checked-baggage carousels when I could have been sightseeing!

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Seoul, South Korea: a Must-See 2019!

Visit new continents!

It’s my goal to finally visit East Asia, the Middle East, and South America this year. South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, United Arab Emirates, and Peru are high on my wish list. And one of these days I’m determined to take a cruise that gets down to Antarctica! (Will this be the year? Stay tuned!)

Take longer road trips…

I took a LOT of road trips this year, many due to circumstances other than the intention to travel. I enjoyed every last one of them – even the repeat trips – because there is always something new to discover. In my opinion, the road trip is the absolute best way to see the country, and I can’t wait to see even more of it that way. There’s something about “accidentally” finding a hidden gem that is completely overlooked by most that creates some of the most memorable journeys of all.

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Tucked-Away Victorian Village in Petoskey, Michigan

Don’t overlook smaller towns…

This goal goes along with road trips – because road trips provide the perfect opportunity not to overlook these smaller towns. You never know what you’re going to find out there that’s off the beaten path! I had some amazing experiences this year in some of the most unexpected of places!

Hunt down deals more aggressively!

In my haste to lock in travel arrangements I often didn’t do as much research as I could have to find the best deals. I would like to be more diligent about that this year – and use the money I saved for one more trip than I otherwise would have taken! I posted a blog a while back on saving money on travel you can read here!:

How to travel MORE for LESS: Build Your Budget Travel Game Plan!

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I am extremely grateful for your generous donation to help keep the site running! This site and individual posts are not sponsored! A dollar may not be a lot, but every dollar counts!

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I hope you have an amazing, travel-filled 2019!