I am in a quest to level up my life. Free flights is a big part of this. I've not gotten too many of those yet, but the next best thing is free seat upgrades. I'm not talking about first class - that's beyond me, at the moment. I'm talking about getting stuck in the back of the plane, jammed against someone else, with zero space. There's plenty of room for improvement.
Short of being moved to first class and getting a personal waiter to attend to every creature comfort, you're best option is getting bumped up to an exit row. After seven hours of your knees bumping into the seat in front of you, an extra six inches of leg room would be better than a four course meal.
When you buy your ticket, you can usually choose what seat you want. Except exit row seats. Those cost extra. No one wants to shell out an extra $40 or $100 for that, so you accept the back-seat-middle option, and head to the airport.
Here's how I've managed to upgrade, for free to the exit row (with it's extra leg room, and often no one sitting beside you) on six of the last seven flights I've taken.
Step 1: Inquire at the ticket counter, if there is one. (The ticket counter will be near your gate, but is not the kiosk sitting beside the gate.)
Be polite. Put yourself in their shoes. Then act like a decent human being. It's not hard.
Here's the script:
You: "Hello - is this the right place to ask about a seat upgrade?" Them: "Yes." You: "Awesome. I was wondering if there are any exit row seats available on 1107 to Dallas." Them: "Let me check"… typing… "Yes, there are. You may upgrade for $40 dollars." You: "OK - thanks for checking. I'm trying to spend as little as possible on this flight, so I'll pass on the upgrade right now, but thanks again for checking."
OK - no luck at the ticket counter. This isn't a surprise, because the ticket counter is sort of like upgrading via the website - if they'd charge you on the website, they'll charge you at the ticket counter.
Step 2: Inquire at the gate-side kiosk. Again, be friendly. Even if the answer is no, you should have still brightened their day a bit.
There are three options here: 1. No seats available. Walk away. The seats are all full, so no dice today. 2. Seats available, but you have to pay. Walk away - there's still hope. 3. Seats available, but the agent has to either let everyone else board, or needs to finalize the roster before giving you the upgrade. Let them know you're interested, give them your ticket if needed, and wait until they call you back up or everyone has boarded.
This last option has been the most common for me. I have to wait a few minutes, or let everyone board, and the ticket agent hands me a new ticket for the exit row. Success!
Step 3: Make the switch once you're on the plane. By this point, you should know for sure if there is an exit row seat, and if you asked, you'll know which one. (If it's the middle seat between two people, and you're assigned an isle seat elsewhere on the plane, it may not be worth making the switch.
But if it's a desirable seat, here's what you do…
Take your assigned seat, and wait for everyone to get on the plane. As soon as flight attendants start shutting the overhead compartments, locate one and say "I noticed an open exit row seat. Would you mind if I swapped into that one real quick?"
They will probably say "go for it."
Success! Sitting in an exit row seat, possibly with no one besides you. I'm writing this right now in an exit row seat with an empty seat beside me. It's great, and quite worth while.
There are two reasons why this is something worth doing:
First, flying is uncomfortable. Any extra room for comfort increases the quality of the hours you'll spend sitting there. This upgrade hurts no one, so why not try for it?
Second, you will start learning to ask for things in a polite but reasonable manner. I have suspicions that a lot of things can be had by just asking kindly, so why not start learning to do so?
Please give this a shot next time you take a flight. Let me know how it goes!