13 Things Airlines Don’t Want to Tell You (But Every Flier Should Know)

From how to get the best seats to disgusting airplane habits to avoid, get these insider secrets to a safer, cheaper flight.

november 2015 13 things airplaneSerge Bloch for Reader's Digest

1. Here’s what a safety demo doesn’t say: We dim cabin lights at night so your eyes are adjusted to the dark if you need to find a way out. We put up tray tables at takeoff and landing so passengers next to you can escape if needed. And you should open your window shade, so if there’s a crash, firefighters can see inside.

2. We’re extremely stingy about fuel. It’s expensive to carry because it’s heavy, so keeping levels low saves us a lot of money. But it also means if there’s rough weather or an unexpected delay, we’re more likely to make an emergency landing because we’re running out of gas. These real-life airline announcements are unbelievable. 

3. If your flight is overbooked, don’t accept the first $200 voucher we offer. We typically keep increasing the offer until we have enough volunteers willing to give up their seats. If we don’t get enough volunteers and have to bump you involuntarily, insist on cash compensation instead (many airlines will write you a check at the airport). Department of Transportation rules say you’re entitled to as much as $1,300 in cash, depending on your ticket price and how long you are delayed.

4. If you book a group trip, search for only one ticket at a time. Why? Because if you search for, say, four tickets, and we have only three at the lowest fare, all four are bumped to a higher price bracket.

5. Some airlines don’t allow two pilots flying together to eat food from the same source within an hour of each other. Either they have to eat at different restaurants, or one waits at least an hour to make sure the other doesn’t get poisoned or sick.

6. Lost your luggage? Don’t delay reporting it—even if the lines to do so are long. Most of us require you to file a report within a very short time period. If you miss the deadline, your claim may be denied.

7. You’re not imagining it: Our seats really are getting tinier. In the Boeing 777s used for long-haul international flights, we recently shrank the seats by one inch so we could fit an extra seat in each row.

8. You don’t want that pretzel you dropped on the tray table. Most airlines don’t clean trays between flights. Before you touch anything, clean it with sanitizing wipes.

9. If your flight is canceled, get in line at the ticket desk or the gate counter—but also get on the phone. You’ll probably reach an airline phone agent before you get to the frazzled agent behind the desk.

10. We pay a fee every time you book through price-comparison online sites like TripAdvisor and Orbitz, so we’re making it harder for you to use them. Some airlines (Delta, Southwest) don’t release fares at all to certain third-party sites.

11. Check the seat map about four days (100 hours) before your flight. That’s when we start upgrading fliers from coach to business and some of the best seats open up.

12. We are totally disgusted when we see you walking around barefoot on the plane. That carpet? Everything you can imagine has been spilled on it: vomit, milk, baby pee, and blood, to name a few.

13. If we cancel your flight, we will offer to put you on another one. But you should also know that even if you have a “nonrefundable” fare, we will give you your money back if you ask.

Sources: Charlie Leocha, chairman and cofounder of Travelers United, a consumer travel organization; Melisse Hinkle, head of content and social media at cheapflights.com; Chris Lopinto, cofounder and president of expertflyer.com; Rick Ingersoll, author of Frugal Travel Guy Handbook; George Hobica, founder of airfarewatchdog.com; and a captain for a regional airline

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest