HOT SEAT-MATE CALCULATOR
I’ve spent a lot of time on planes. To pass the time I watch movies, listen to music, read the airline magazine and memorize stats on their aircraft fleet, and look out the window. Occasionally I’ll have a conversation with my seat-mate. With no cell service, and generally no internet, there’s a lot of time for the mind to wander. It frequently wanders strange places, and for the past few years it occasionally circles around to an observation that in my thousands of flights taken, my seat-mate is very very rarely a beautiful woman.
‘Do beautiful women not fly?’ I ask. Perhaps I just haven’t been very lucky when it comes to my seat assignments. Maybe it’s because I usually choose the window seat and hot girls like sitting next to the window?
Through travel experience I’ve come up with a lot of anecdotal evidence, although the causes are unknown. I believe they generally do choose a window seat given a choice. I think they generally do not have ‘elite’ status with airlines – I’ve almost never seen them in the lounges. They almost never fly first class, unless with a partner. I don’t think young women travel solo quite as often as men do. There seems to be a lot of men that fly for business – more than women. Sales guys usually.
I decided to ask our data scientist at work for help to understand the universe a little better, and to answer the age-old question ‘Do hot girls fly on planes?’.
After a little research on population, passenger numbers, and gender balance of travelers he came back to me with a nifty little spreadsheet that crunched the numbers and gave a general estimate of the likelihood of your next seat-mate being a hot girl. Assuming a rather popular aircraft, a Boeing 737-900, the numbers came back and affirmed what I had already discovered through anecdotal evidence – that your chances are slim. Defining what a ‘hot girl’ is is a bit of a hard task, so I simply said the top 10% of the female population aged between 20-29. You can adjust these numbers and the results will update, but if you are like me and usually sit in an isle or window you’re looking at about 170 flights before you might be so lucky. If however, you choose the middle seat, your odds jump to 1 in 85!
So next time you are booking a flight and selecting your seat, consider perhaps the virtue of the middle seat. Often overlooked, disregarded, or talked of disparagingly, there is at least one good thing about being wedged between two strangers. One may be that unicorn we all hope we get – a hot girl on a plane.
HOT SEAT-MATE CALCULATOR
* There are a few known problems with the calculations. It does not factor in the aircraft seat configuration, passenger load, or accurate passenger data. Also differences between airlines and origin and destination cities. Maybe someone can go all the way with this?
This past summer I took a somewhat epic trip that involved driving a small car from England to Mongolia. It required a good deal of planning, visas, cash, quitting my job, and a strong sense of adventure. Here is a seven point summary of things I learned from that trip:
1) The power of the destination.
This one seems obvious now, but I don’t think I was as consciously aware of it until this trip. The lesson is if you have somewhere you are going, whether it be physical or metaphorical, one’s greatest potential is unlocked in this time.
2) People are the same.
There are a shit-tonne of people in the world of various types. We tend to get ourselves into similar tribes and find ourselves against some other tribe. Truth is that we are pretty much the same and our needs are all shared. That is: water, food, shelter, sex, family, gas (energy), love. That’s it!
3) Let go.
You can’t control everything. Letting go and embracing the chaoticness or flow of life is sometimes the best thing to do. Fighting it only leads to stress.
4) Some people will dislike you.
This one I did not expect to come across on this journey. It really has nothing to do with driving a small car a long way, but weirdly it was a ‘sleeper’ lesson to be had. For whatever reason, there will be a time when someone doesn’t like you or what you do. Most people I knew love that I gave up my job and took a journey, but there were a couple that disapproved. You could go into the psychology of it all but it doesn’t matter. Some people will dislike you and you just have to know that.
5) People are everywhere.
I know the world’s population is around 7 billion. What I didn’t know is that means the entire planet, even in the world’s most desolate places, is full of people. There are basically people and their stuff everywhere. Even if you drive for 10 hours and only see a few people you’re just not that far away. The short answer is there are too many people using too much stuff and the world is most likely fucked. Sorry for the downer point.
6) You are capable of more than you know.
Put yourself into a difficult situation and I guarantee that most of you will do some next-level shit to get out of it. Most of us live in our comfort zone and it turns out there is a very large amount of unused potential sitting in that buffer. Find those edges.
7) Uncertainty is scary.
This dials into our core emotion of fear. When you don’t know how something is going to turn out you feel fear. Instinct tells us to pull back, but as a man who drove a small car a long way, our greatest strength and achievements come in that phase. Be tolerant of risk. It feeds back into your potential.
Ultra long-haul flight SA204
This year thus far I’ve taken a number of ultra long-haul flights; one trip to Sydney from Denver, and another to Capetown from New York. On one hand they are miserable affairs, on the other it’s pretty amazing how you can be on the other size of the world in less than a day. Here are my tips for surviving them the best way possible:
- Seat choice.
This is critical in my opinion, although on some flights (in particular Sydney to LA) there’s not much you can do to avoid a full plane. People employ the same mindset flying long-haul as they do a short commuter flight, i.e. they all want to sit near the front. This makes absolutely no sense though when you’re talking about being on the plane for 16 hours and 10 minutes vs 16 hours and 18 minutes. Knowing how the general public behaves I booked seat 70D (a few rows from the very back) on a recent flight from Johannesburg to New York. The front and middle of the plane were jam packed on the 16 hour flight, the back had empty seats all over. I clinched the holy grail of economy class flying and got the entire middle row to myself. A lie-flat bed for $600!
- Hydration before you get on the plane.
For some reason, perhaps deliberate, it’s impossible to get more than about 200ml of water in one go while on a plane. You get tiny cups or tiny bottles, none of which are adequate to quench any real thirst. Being hydrated helps your organs function, get better sleep, and arrive in a better state. Make sure you start your flight with your body being fully hydrated so you are not playing impossible catch-up whilst in the air.
- Think about timezone change.
When you fly to the other side of the world your body is going to arrive in a bit of a daze. You’re dealing with changing timezone, seasons, language, culture, and a loss of balance from the motion of being on a ship for so long. You can minimize jet-lag by following a few simple things. Firstly think about the time you arrive at the destination and plan when you will rest on the flight accordingly. On my 15 hour flight to Sydney from LA we left at 11pm LA time and arrived at 7am Sydney time. I knew I wanted to arrive with enough sleep to last a full day in Sydney so I stayed up the first 6 hours of the flight so that I would a) be super tired and be able to sleep on the plane, and b) get about 6 hours of sleep before being awaken by the sunlight and breakfast service. When you arrive make it through as much of the day as you can and perhaps take an afternoon nap of no more than 2 hours. You’ll be tired but make it until at least 8pm, but try 11 or midnight. Get a full night’s sleep and then wake up the next day and enjoy!
- Red wine and drugs.
After you’ve factored in your arrival time and amount of sleep you’d like to get take two small bottles of red wine and a Tylenol PM or other mild sleep aid. The red wine and Ibuprofen do wonders for relaxing your muscles and helping you sleep in an otherwise uncomfortable position.
- Ear plus and eye mask.
Pack these! They help dull your senses and in combination with the wine and Tylenol will help you sleep.
- Befriend your seat mate.
This one might seem silly but a little bit of small talk with your seat mate at the start of the flight can really help. Whether it be helpfulness moving so you can get out, preventing an arm-rest border dispute, or as I did on my flight from JNB to JFK, asking him to relocate to another row so that we could both have spare seats, gaining a bit of good grace from your neighbor can really improve things. You might even have some good conversation that eats up a few hours.
Despite it’s lack of frills Southwest is one of the better domestic carriers. The only annoying thing is the stupid cattle-call boarding process getting the general public to behave like the sheep that they are.
Getting to the point; my advice when flying Southwest is to set a calendar reminder in your phone when you book your flight to remind you to check-in online exactly 24 hours before your flight departure. Southwest does not automatically send out an email reminder like other airlines but if you’re smart and check in right at the maximum allowable time (24 hours) you’ll get an ‘A’ boarding zone essentially giving you free rein on where you’d like to sit.
An addendum to this is if you’re in no rush to exit the plane on your arrival, and you miss getting an exit row seat, choose a seat near the rear of the aircraft. These are the last to fill up and you’ll have more of a chance of having the middle seat empty.
One of the things I enjoy most about traveling is getting that ‘local experience’. It’s the time when you see a place through a local’s eyes; a glimpse of what it might be like to live there albeit without the drudgery of having to work. Staying with a friend is a great way to do this, and also lets you free up money that would be spent on a hotel to have some fun with.
Here are my tips to help you get invited back:
- Always leave a bottle of wine, a gift, or at least a handwritten thank you note.
- Avoid lengthy stays. As my aunt Patricia used to tell me “guests are like fish Kyle. Anything longer than three or four days and they start to smell bad”.
- Clean the kitchen or stack/unstack the dishwasher.
Leave a thank you bottle of wine
I consistently get really good deals on rental cars and here are my secrets:
- Book early – You don’t need a deposit for rental car reservations so book early as it doesn’t matter if you cancel it.
- Use both a discount and a promotion code when reserving.
- Rent from local or non-airport locations.
- Don’t get the insurance – use the coverage provided by your credit card instead.
- Book for longer – A one week rental will be cheaper than a 5 day rental due to pricing rules.
The number one thing that will lower the cost is applying the discount codes. It’s simple to get one. Nearly all airlines offer a discount code “CDP” for use with car rental agencies. To find it just google “CDP”, your airline, and rental agency. United’s is ‘62455’ for Hertz. Next go to the rental agency’s website and look for their promotion and coupon page for a promotion that fits your rental. Add the Promotional Coupon “PC” to your rental and let the magic unfold! Here is a great resource to find rental discount codes that I use: www.carrentalsavers.com
Car rental agencies are like restaurants in that they don’t make their profit from their core product (restaurants make their profit on drinks not food). Their biggest markup is from insurance, and you’ll find it will typically double the total cost of your rental. If you can, use a credit card which comes with rental car insurance coverage and decline the insurance from the rental agency – and try not to crash.
Another counter-intuitive artifact of car rentals is that it is often cheaper to rent for a longer period. Agencies have a stepped pricing model, with the typical being 1-day, 3-day, weekly, and monthly pricing. If you need a car for 5 days it will almost always be cheaper to make the rental 1 week so that your pricing drops to the weekly rate. You can still return the car after 5 days, you’ll just pay less for it.
Lastly think about renting from a non-airport location, particularly when doing one-way rentals. A great example I have is from this summer when I did a one way month-long rental from LAX to Reno, NV. If I had rented the car directly from the airport location the cost was $950. Instead I hopped in a taxi and took it 5 miles to a nearby neighborhood location. The taxi was $25, but the car rental was now $525.
Rental car desk
The days of cheap gas are over. Gas is now a moderate expense for most of us yet there are a few simple things you can do to save some money, and help the environment by using less.
- Buy it as cheaply as possible. Apps such as ‘GasBuddy’ (iPhone and Android) make it easy to find the cheapest gas nearby. Pay attention to which areas have the cheapest prices too. Some towns/regions have consistently cheaper gas than others. Also look out for deals on higher-octane fuel. 91 octane fuel has approximately 3% more energy in it than 87, so if the price difference is less than that you are saving money.
- Driving style. It’s amazing that there isn’t more education about driving efficiently. The way you drive really makes a difference in how much gas you use, and it doesn’t always mean you are going to take longer to get somewhere. You can get 20% better mileage pretty easily by adjusting how you drive.
- Easy on the acceleration! Being gradual in the amount you accelerate saves energy. Try to avoid frequent rapid acceleration.
- Look up! It’s amazing how many people drive looking only 30 yards in front of them. Look up when you’re driving and see the traffic conditions ahead of you. Don’t accelerate into a stop light or traffic. Ease off the gas and coast in.
- Maintain a constant speed. Changing velocity (speed) uses energy. For flat highway driving use cruise control.
- Keep it 70 or under. Cars just like jets have an optimum ‘cruise speed’. This is the point where they travel the most distance for the least fuel. A typical jet is 530-550 miles per hour, a typical car is 55-60 mph. It requires exponentially more energy the faster you go and the graph looks like a typical bell curve. Once you start driving over 70 your fuel economy plummets.
- Car maintenance. There are some pretty simple things you can do to help get the most mileage out of your car.
- Tire pressure. Under-inflated tires can add significantly to your vehicle’s drag. Make sure you keep your tire pressure at or above the manufacturers recommendation. They typically spec a PSI that is slightly lower to improve ride comfort, but you can safely drive on a bit more pressure.
- Oil changes. Oil can reduce your engine’s internal friction and therefore help it deliver more of its power to the wheels. Change your oil every 5000 miles. Certain oils have a lower viscosity which can also help reduce friction.
- Weight. Every 100lbs extra that your car weighs increases your fuel consumption by 2%. If you’ve got extra heavy junk in your trunk that you are driving around needlessly take it out!
- Drive smart. A little thought can save you a lot of gas with no fancy hybrid needed.
- Plan your travel. You can save a lot of fuel simply by planning on when to drive. Doing your travel outside of peak traffic time reduces the amount of time your car is running very inefficiently at low speeds or stopped in traffic. If you commute to work think about how you can alter your hours to drive when there’s less traffic. If you are running errands do it at a quieter time of day. It will save you both time and money!
- Think about your route. Most GPS units favor interstates when giving you directions, even if they are longer distance-wise. Depending on your route you can save fuel by taking more direct back-roads which can reduce usage by being a shorter distance as well as driving at slower more fuel-efficient speeds.
- Think about conditions. Rain and snow both decrease your fuel-economy by creating extra friction on your wheels. Extremely cold temperatures also affect the efficiency of your engine by requiring a higher fuel/air ratio.
There will be times when, despite being as popular as you are, you will have no connection with someone to put you up for the night. It may also be that you just want to stay in a hotel. Fortunately there are a few ways to stay in 1200 count egyptian cotton sheets for very little!
My number 1 pick is using my Starwood Preferred Guest points (SPG) that I gather by using my SPG American Express credit card. Upon approval you are given 25000 points, enough for two nights at the W hotel anywhere (valued at ~$700). You can also use cash+points to pick up a room for $40-60. More info here (let me know if you apply so I can get the referral bonus though!)
If you don’t have an SPG Amex, then my number 2 choice is an iPhone/Android app called Hotel Tonight. It gives you super deals on curated hotels in most major cities, but the catch is you can only book the hotel that day. The hotels they pick are all carefully chosen and so you won’t go wrong. Use my invite code ‘krobertson7’ and get a $25 credit for your first booking!
Sign up using my invite code ‘krobertson7’ and get $25 in free credit!
There are all sorts of techniques and theories for getting cheap flights. Buy on Tuesdays. Book travel that leaves mid-week. Look for deals via Twitter. The list can go on and on.
My number one trick for getting good deals is simply to know what the average price is and be able to buy when you see something that is good. If I have an upcoming trip I want to take I set up a price alert on Kayak and I simply check the price for the particular flights I want every day. Over the course of time you get to see a general trend on what the average cost of a ticket is, then if there is a sale or suddenly the price drops I’m able to know it is a good deal and I buy it right then and there!
This is also is handy when booking popular routes like NY-SF or LA. Over the years I’ve observed that the average price is around $400 for a direct return flight. If I see a direct flight for the dates I want that is say $300 then I’ll just buy it right then because I know that is about as good as you are going to get.
So in short, know the average price by looking frequently and you’ll know when you see a good deal!
If you’ve ever tried to call up an airline reservation line to make some kind of change to your flight chances are they didn’t do it out of the kindness of their heart, and instead stuck you with some huge change fee. It took me a number of times before I realized that these people suck and can’t help you. Even if you complain, ask for a supervisor, make a big fuss, ask nicely, they still won’t help you – or they’ll charge you. The people in the call centers have no discretionary power, and are a profit center for the airlines. So who can help?
Despite frequently being some of the surliest, most bitter employees of any airline, ground staff at the airport have the power! They can book you on a earlier flight, change your connecting city, book you on another airline, upgrade your seat, even change the city you’re flying to – without charge!
The people who can help you the most are the staff at the actual gate. The check-in staff often have to get permission from a supervisor, or are super-unhelpful because they deal with assholes all day. It depends on the airport and airline though. You can forget about getting help from any New York airport. They have hands down the worst ground-staff across all airlines in the whole country, if not the world. People are nicer and more helpful in smaller airports and in the southern cities.
The best position to adopt with any request is to be nice, extremely polite, and as friendly as possible. They have total discretion about how much to help you, and if you are refreshingly nice from most of the people they deal with all day you’ll find you’ll have a better chance of them going out of their way for you.
Next time you’re at the airport, go ahead and ask if you can get on that earlier flight, or that free
seat upgrade. Be nice and you’ll be surprised at your success rate!