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This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book

On the Plane

After you board a plane, you start to notice some real differences between airlines. These differences encompass more than just seat configuration—they extend to meal service, in-flight phones, and even airborne Internet access.

Plane Etiquette

Before we get into the available on-board services, here are some tips on how to best get through the boarding and deplaning processes:

  • Boarding the airplane rear-to-front, as instructed by most airlines, lets everyone leave sooner.

  • Don't block the aisle when boarding; if possible, pull into your seat row while taking off your jacket and stowing your baggage in an overhead compartment.

  • Don't place your suitcase on another passenger's suit coat in the overhead compartment.

  • Stow your carry-on above your seat or in a compartment in front of you, if possible. If you have to put your carry-on in a compartment in an aisle behind, don't swim upstream when deplaning; wait until everyone has left the plane and then retrieve your bag.

  • Turn off your computer, cell phone, and wireless PDA when instructed.

  • Don't pull or lean on another passengers seat back.

  • Don't stick your feet out into the aisle.

  • When the plane lands, don't immediately stand up and hover over your seatmate; wait until you see passengers actually departing before getting out of your seat.

Cabin Service

Few travelers mourn the demise of the much-maligned complimentary airline meal service. The full airline meal is now more the exception than the rule—so much so that airport restaurants have begun selling meals you can take on-board, and some airlines have taken to selling meals on their flights. At a handful of airports, you can even order a meal online prior to your flight and pick it up at an airport restaurant. For more information, check out the CarryOnCuisine Web site (http://www.carryoncuisine.com).

This leaves you with three types of available service: meal service, buy-on-board, and snacks and drinks. The conditions that determine which service is provided depend on the airline, length of flight, class of service, and time of day. For example, Continental offers hot meal service in coach on flights longer than 3 hours; American offers similar service on flights longer than 4 hours.

Airlines that offer meal services will also offer special meals, such as bland, fruit plate, gluten-free, kosher, low calorie, seafood, and vegetarian. You need to reserve these meals ahead of time.

The new buy-on-board services give you the option of purchasing, for between $5 and $10, a high-end, gourmet- quality breakfast, lunch, or dinner selection. This service is typically offered on flights shorter than 3 to 4 hours where complimentary meal service is not offered. At publication, American West, Northwest, United, Northwest, and US Airways were testing these meals with recipes from popular restaurants such as T.G.I. Fridays and Einstein Brothers.

The following table details the available food services on the major U.S. airlines:


Snack and Drinks


Meal Service









America West
















Delta Air Lines




Frontier Airlines




Horizon Air




JetBlue Airways




Midwest Airlines
























US Airways




In-Flight Phones

Verizon's Airfone Service offers voice, data, and fax calling to and from equipped aircraft. Calls can be placed at the gate, during takeoff and landing, and while in-flight. Continental, Delta, Midwest, United, United Express, and US Airways offer Airfone Service on most of their flights; Airfones are located on every first class seat and every middle seat on domestic planes. Voice and fax rates for calls to the U.S. and Canada include a $3.99 connection fee plus $3.99 per-minute airtime fee. Data rates are $1.99 per-minute, with no connection fee.

Remember, Airfone is your only option if you need to make a call while airborne. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) bans the use of cellular phones on aircraft in the (often-challenged) belief that wireless transmissions can interfere with the aircraft's electronic equipment. You can, of course, use your cell phone while the plane is at the gate. Looking forward, several companies are working on developing technology that would allow you to use your cell phone in-flight—but don't expect this type of service for several years.

In-Flight Internet Service

Airlines are beginning to introduce on-board Internet and email service. Two service providers are currently offering these services, on different airlines—Connexion and JetConnect, a product of Verizon.

The Connexion service offers full Internet connectivity but is available (at publication) only on the international carriers Lufthansa German Airlines and British Airways. Japan Airlines and Scandinavian Airlines System (SAS) have announced plans to equip long-range jetliners in their fleets with the service, starting in 2004. Pricing for the Connexion service is estimated to be around $30 per flight, for a single leg of an international flight. Connexion has indicated that it will be rolling out service in the U.S. in the near future.

The Verizon JetConnect service is less robust. It offers instant messaging, one-way text messaging, news, and games for $5.99 per flight. A companion service, JetConnect with Email, adds the capability to send and receive 2 kilobyte emails (including attachments) for $15.98 per flight plus $.10 for each extra kilobyte. The service is not too speedy, with transmission speed at 9.6 kilobits per second. To use the service, you need an email account that uses either a POP-3, Microsoft Outlook, or Lotus Notes protocol. At publication, JetConnect is available on 300 narrow-body (one-aisle) Continental aircraft and 17 wide-body (two-aisle) United aircraft. United announced that it would be available on more than 500 planes by the end of 2003. You can expect to find other airlines—especially those currently offering Airfone service—to introduce JetConnect in 2004.

In-Flight Electronic Devices

Frequent travelers are familiar with airline restrictions regarding the use of personal electronic devices. The concern is that these devices may cause electromagnetic interference with cockpit navigation or communications systems during ground operations and while the aircraft is flying below 10,000 feet. After the aircraft is above 10,000 feet you can use your devices.

Devices that can be used during the flight—but not during takeoff and landing—include calculators, handheld computer games, shavers, portable CD and tape players, videotape and DVD players, PDAs, and laptop computers and accessories. Note that the FAA doesn't specifically ban the use of these personal electronic devices but has stated that the airlines must prove that they do not interfere with flight operations before they allow passengers to use them below 10,000 feet—thus the continuing ban, in the name of safety.

On-board Power Ports

If you are looking to spend your flight working on your laptop, your best bets are American, Delta, United, and US Airways, all of which offer power ports on select aircraft. These outlets provide 15V direct current to operate laptop computers and CD/DVD players, and to charge cell phones and other devices. Use of power ports is permitted only when the aircraft is above 10,000 feet in altitude and the flight attendant announces that personal electronic devices are allowed.

To use a power port, you'll need a compatible DC auto/air power adapter. These cords can be purchased at most electronics stores, at LapTop Lane outlets, or through power cord manufacturers. Keep in mind that power adapter cords are device and model specific—although you can always go with the IGo Juice power cord, which is an all-in-one power adapter (retail price $119.99) that connects your device to any AC or DC power source. The Juice cord can also simultaneously power mobile phone or handheld devices, along with your notebook. (You can purchase the Juice cord at http://www.igo.com, or by calling 888.258.7721.)


If you do any flying at all, you know how uncomfortable the average airplane seat is—in economy class, anyway. You also know that some airline seats are less uncomfortable than others. Let's take a few minutes to examine what makes for a more or less comfortable airplane seat.

Seat Pitch and Width

Not all airline seats are created equal. The difference lies in just a few inches of difference in seat pitch and width.

Seat pitch is the number of inches from any point on a seat to the exact point on the seat in front or behind it. Pitch is an approximate measure of legroom; the greater the seat pitch, the greater the amount of legroom. Seat width, on the other hand, is the measurement from one edge of your seat to the other.

Seat pitch and width vary wildly by airline, by airplane, and (especially) by class of service. The bottom line is that two or three extra inches one way or the other can make a big difference to your personal comfort. And some airlines (such as JetBlue, Midwest, and Song) have bet their bottom line that passengers appreciate the difference.

Seat Configuration

Another important factor in passenger comfort is seat configuration. The configuration denotes how seats are grouped within a row. For example, a 3-2 configuration means three seats, an aisle, and then two more seats. Configuration helps you determine the odds of being stuck in the notorious middle seat—or, looking on the bright side, of having a possible empty seat between you and your row mate.

Best and Worst Seats

In general, exit rows and bulkhead rows have extra legroom. But if you want the inside scoop on the best and worst seats go to SeatGuru.com (http://www.seatguru.com). This Web site provides comprehensive airplane seat information for the full aircraft fleets of American, Continental, Delta, Northwest, United, and US Airways. The site identifies specific seat information such as extra legroom, limited recline, decreased width, and obstructed movie screen viewing. The seat information is continually updated by traveler's feedback.

Getting the Seat You Want

First and foremost, ask the reservation agent for the seat you want. Particularly if you have a connecting flight, you will want a seat in the front of the plane. The 10 minutes you wait for other passengers to deplane could cost you your connection. Ask whether there are places on the plane with fewer people if that is important to you. Avoid the last row of the plane where seats don't recline and are noisier. Rebook your seat assignment an hour or so before your flight. Airlines hold back part of their inventory for day of departure assignments; this includes the coveted bulkhead and exit row seats.

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Last Update: November 17, 2020