Finding bliss, or at least comfort on a long flight to Hawaii is something akin to a game of chess. Whether you’re on an airline with seat selection and fare options or on Southwest, this makes such a difference to your state of mind. Planning wisely can help determine in part how much you’ll enjoy your travel on 5+ hour flights to and from Hawaii. And furthermore, it sets the tone for your Hawaii vacation.
Today BOH editors Jeff and Rob were in the air and it was pure economy. Not even any extra legroom. But it was still a very pleasant experience. Why so? Jeff bought three seats instead of two (which were on sale and very reasonably priced). That allowed two passengers to be assured of no middle passenger in the 3 across seating. All airlines flying to Hawaii allow you to buy an extra seat like that except for Southwest.
Jeff also scored the first row of economy. Was it luxurious? Well, not exactly. But it was really great, so much so that he slept. And it made us revisit what it takes to find bliss at 30k feet.
It is always great to travel with extra comfort, be that more legroom or getting upgraded using points or cash into premium economy or business class, but that isn’t always possible either due to affordability or availability. Premium seats of all types to Hawaii are in far greater demand (and supply) than ever before, and people stand ready to fork over the extra money in order to be more comfortable. So that premium isn’t feasible, the only option may be to select the best economy seats available, especially for such a long flight. But there are ways to improve the situation, and we have more of them here.
Airlines, including Hawaiian, charge extra for some regular economy seats.
We wrote before that Hawaiian Adds $19-23 Fee for Many Economy Seats. All airlines, other than Southwest, let you pick your seat. But, having said that, there can be extra charges for seat assignments, especially 1) on the cheapest tickets and 2) for those seats found near the front, plus aisle or window seats. But when the alternative is sitting in the middle, or not being seated together with your travel companions at all, that can be a real bummer when starting out on your long-awaited and otherwise expensive Hawaii vacation.
Everyone has their own take on the best seats.
Seats that are in one class are the same as others, in terms of their physical dimensions. But in other ways, they may not be equal at all, as experienced travelers will definitely attest to and as we experienced today.
One thing to decide on is whether you want an aisle seat or window seat. Or when two are traveling together, is one of you willing to accept a middle seat? Also, you may want to make note of the distance from restrooms in terms of potential convenience as well as annoyance.
Do you prefer to sit near the front of the plane?
Beat of Hawaii editors definitely do as you know. We like not seeing all the other people on the plane. It doesn’t really make sense, but somehow it feels less crowded and claustrophobic. Also, it’s great to be among the first to get off the plane on arrival in Hawaii. And, if you have a connection en route, sitting forward helps reduce the concern about a missed flight.
Will you be able to easily stow your carry-on bags?
That’s another real concern these days. And it isn’t always easy to figure out since it involves both where you’re sitting and the airline’s boarding plan. Keep in mind that overhead bins near bulkheads will sometimes be used by the airline’s flight attendants. Generally, sitting near the back gives you more access to overhead storage, but that also depends on when you are able to board.
Two-across economy seating has become somewhat of a rare commodity.
All of the airlines with flights to Hawaii have moved to mostly, but not all, single-aisle, narrow-body aircraft. These are almost exclusively 3-across seating in economy. Check when booking to see if some flights might still be available on wide-body aircraft. Those are offered depending on route and flight by American Airlines, Delta Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines, and United Airlines. Both Alaska Airlines and Southwest Airlines only use single-aisle, narrow-body aircraft to Hawaii. You probably saw that Hawaiian Airlines Dreamliner will have 3-3-3 seats throughout economy, ending 2-across seating for those flights.
Aisle, window, and emergency row seats are mostly now paid features.
The airlines know all too well that we hate middle seats and are in the process of fully monetizing window and aisle seating whenever they think that they can. Even on aircraft with two-across economy seating, airlines will try to charge extra for those sections to the degree possible.
Here’s one old trick – it’s no longer working.
In a plane with three-across seating, an old trick was to reserve in a row that was open, even better towards the rear, and then select window and aisle seats, leaving the middle seat open. When the plane wasn’t completely full, that usually offered the opportunity for two people to share three seats. Heck, that’s premium enough for most of us. But since airlines are often filling nearly every seat, that is not likely to happen anymore.
Here’s another old trick – it’s still working.
When traveling with a companion and neither of you wants to sit in a middle seat, you can choose adjacent aisle seats. We have done that ourselves many times. We had a comment on that practice from Ted, who said, “An annoying pattern I’ve noticed is that before when 2 people traveled they usually took aisle/middle or window/middle seats. What’s happening now is each person taking aisle seats across each other.” What’s your take on that?
And this scheme works, too.
Use the airline’s app and check frequently on your reservation from the time you book until your travel date. In today’s rapidly changing travel world, your flight times could have been changed, the flight could be delayed or canceled, or the aircraft type might not be the same any longer. In addition, here’s the good news: other seats may have become available as other passengers change reservations. Whatever may have happened, do check frequently to be sure everything is as you expect. We can’t say how many times this trick has either saved us or improved our seats!
How to look for the best seats on your flight to Hawaii.
Some seat locations (we didn’t say the seats themselves) are simply more comfortable than others. Depending on the aircraft, seats can provide more or less legroom, and some seats in front of exit rows may not even recline. There are other issues, too, such as fixed armrests between seats. In addition, there may be emergency doors jutting into the cabin at your seat, and there can be electronic boxes under the seat in front of you, blocking some of your travel space.
Two websites that we use regularly to check seating.
Those are Seat Guru and Aerolopa. We like checking both to see if they yield the same results. Be aware that SeatGuru, owned by TripAdvisor, has not been keeping up to date well. You’ll enter the date and flight in most cases or may need to identify the specific aircraft type assigned for your flight. Both websites show you a depiction of the seat map, with indications of which seats are better and why, as well as which ones you may want to avoid entirely. You can also check the seat width and the seat pitch there, using these websites, which is especially helpful if, like editor Rob, you are 6′ 4″ tall.
Another strategy is searching online reviews.
Check how things work by simply using an online search. If you’re planning to be seated on a Hawaiian Airbus A330 in row 34, for example, search for such details and you will find things including online reviews, YouTube videos, and much more. Try it, it works! Another thing to search for might include what’s the best economy seat on Alaska Airlines 737-800, etc. This works for every airline flying to Hawaii and should be added to your arsenal of information, preferably before making your purchase.
Choose your seats immediately when booking.
That gives you the best possible selection of seats from which to choose. Ideally, that seat selection happens in the same process when you are purchasing your flights. If seat selection at purchase isn’t possible for whatever reason, and you have to wait to pick seats at check-in 24 hours before departure, set an alarm so you’re there at the exact moment you can check-in and not one minute later. This is another important tip! We do not choose basic economy for the simple reason that you will not be able to select seats at purchase.
Re-check seat availability 24 hours before travel.
Online check-in at twenty-four hours before scheduled departure is also an ideal time to change seats if you have reserved ones that aren’t your favorite, don’t already have seats, or are hoping for any kind of upgrade. When that doesn’t work for whatever reason, the last choice (but sometimes a good one) is to arrive at the airport early to see what is possible. You may recall that editors Rob and Jeff arrived at Heathrow more than four hours early and were surprised to be offered a very low-cost upgrade to international first class.