Frequent flyer’s No.1 boarding gate trick

You know the feeling. You’re on a long-haul flight, wedged into 74F and squeezed between a man who hasn’t showered in recent memory, a kid who won’t sit still, and a woman who keeps hogging the armrest. You’re thinking — are we there yet? — and the plane is still on the runway.

Me? I’m five rows behind you, happily sprawled out on an empty middle row of three or four seats, and looking forward to some extended shut-eye after dinner and a movie. How did I score the best seat in zoo class? With a little forward planning, lots of chutzpah and, of course, a wing and a prayer.

Having bought my ticket, I regularly check the flight’s online seat map — changing seats as the economy cabin fills up — for as long as the seat plan remains available. It also provides a sense of how full the flight is closer to departure day, then it’s off to the airport.

Last on means the best way to score a row of empty seats.Source:istock

To be clear, there are rules for flying economy. Check in early, be at the gate lounge well ahead of time, board in order of seating row, and remain in your seat until the aircraft doors are closed.

Rule one is a given, offering the opportunity to score a coveted exit row seat. Many airlines sell these seats — online or at check-in for a nominal $80 or $100. Trust me, the extra space is worth every cent if the flight is chockers.

Getting to the departure gate lounge early allows time for questions with the boarding crew (naturally checking their name tags, calling them by their first name and flashing your best smile). Is the flight full? Is anyone sitting next to me? Are there any empty seats at the back of the plane?


Walk confidently down the aisle.Source:istock

Rule three is for the birds. Read a newspaper or magazine or make a few phone calls while everyone else lines up to board as requested. This takes some nerve as the gate lounge empties, but the key here is to be the last — the very last — passenger to board.

Stand by the gate as the final boarding call is made, make a last check of the lounge, and head down the air bridge. If any stragglers come behind you, wave them ahead with a cheery smile.

And now for your Oscar-winning performance. Once on board, walk the entire length of the plane, bypassing your own seat and scanning the cabin for any empty rows or pairs of empty seats, invariably at the rear of the plane.

Keep cross-checking your boarding pass and aisle numbers to make it look as though you’re searching for your assigned seat and if you’re lucky to find an empty row, move in with the conviction of a lion kill.

Find an empty row and own it.Source:istock

At this very late stage of boarding and the crew busy with cabin checks, it’s unlikely anyone will ask to see your boarding pass.

Expect glares from other passengers who have been eyeing your row but dutifully remained in their seats until the aircraft doors closed behind you, but who cares?

Drop your hand luggage on one aisle seat, push the extra pillows and blankets to the other aisle seat, plonk yourself in the middle of the row and make yourself at home.

It doesn’t work every time — a full flight is a full flight — and if a crew member calls you out, simply return to your assigned seat, but this is one frequent flyer trick definitely worth trying.

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Originally published as The boarding gate rule I always break

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