For travelers who are taller or broader or heavier than the average American, who have had their knees bashed, heads bonked and hips squeezed on flights from coast to coast, a little relief is in sight.
No, airlines are not reconfiguring planes. But it is becoming easier to find the best possible seats thanks to some new and lesser-known websites that allow you to search for flights not only by price and schedule (like Kayak, Priceline, Expedia) but also by seat width, legroom, quality of aircraft and conveniences like Wi-Fi and power outlets.
SeatGuru.com has been the go-to destination for travelers intent on discovering the roomiest seats farthest from the bathrooms, which you can do with a cursory glance at the site’s color-coded airplane maps: green for good seats, yellow for potential drawbacks like misaligned windows or restricted legroom, green and yellow for mixed reviews, red for bad seats.
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Now SeatGuru has an innovation, Guru Factor (or G-Factor), a “comfort rating system” that ranks the in-flight experience by “love it,” “like it” or “live with it.” Part of the site’s nascent flight comparison search engine, G-Factor scores each flight by legroom and comfort (type of seat, seat pitch, width, recline).
The ratings also take into account customer service and satisfaction ratings (the site is owned by TripAdvisor and therefore has access to scores of reviews), in-flight entertainment, Wi-Fi and the availability of power ports at the seat. You can browse flight-search results not only by lowest prices but also by G-Factor simply by clicking buttons at the top of the page.
G-Factor, as one might expect, has competition.
A new site called Routehappy.com
is striving to stand out by allowing users to filter flight-search results by “happiness factors.”
The site, which is intuitive and easy to use, allows you to search for a flight and then narrow your results by nonstop routes, time, airlines, airports, flights that are “happy and cheap” or “happiness factors” — which you can filter even further by clicking boxes for “nicer planes,” “roomier seats,” “high flyer rating,” “Wi-Fi,” “best entertainment” and “in-seat power.”
Like SeatGuru, Routehappy is a search site, not a booking platform. So if you like what you find, you’ll have to book it directly with the airline or an online-travel agency.
Those familiar with this breed of site might also know that a big player in this space, Hipmunk.com, has been around since 2010 and allows users to sort flight-search results by “agony” factor, a combination of price, number of stops and duration.
After searching for a flight, you can sort the results by agony or by other individual factors like arrival, departure, duration and price.
If your primary goal is to make your flight as brief as possible, the Danish flight search site Momondo.com rates routes on a scale of 1 to 10 based on price and average flight time. The best scores receive green smiley faces. The worst? Red frowns.
So what if you’ve already booked a flight and every decent seat is occupied?
You can avail yourself of a seat-tracking app. Unfortunately, these services do not enable you to actually book a seat when it becomes available — they simply alert you to that fact. It’s up to you to then call your airline or use its website to nab the seat before some other long-legged passenger does.
One such tool is Seat Tracker, a new feature from TripIt Pro, the popular trip organization app and website.
To use Seat Tracker, you must be a TripIt Pro member ($49 a year, although the website offers free 30-day trials). Members log into the site and create an alert for a future flight, then select their criteria, like a window, middle, aisle or “aisle or window” seat as well as their desired area of the plane: ahead of the wing, over the wing, behind the wing, in the exit row or by the bulkhead. More info: tripit.com/seattracker.
If you don’t want to pay for a seat alert, there’s ExpertFlyer. A basic membership to the site, which specializes in helping frequent fliers maximize their miles and elite upgrades, is $4.99 a month; a premium membership is $9.99 a month.
But you can sign up for one seat alert at a time free of charge (additional alerts are 99 cents each if you do not have a monthly membership). An iPhone and iPad app enables you to manage your alerts wherever your travels might take you. Info: expertflyer.com/free-program.