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?
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.
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!
It’s pretty standard practice nowadays for airlines to charge an extra fee for ‘premium
seats’ such as the bulkhead and exit rows. I usually balk at the extra charge which can sometimes be 50% of the cost of the flight segment and so do a lot of other people it seems, which is why they often go empty. Why pay though when you can get it for free?
My technique? I wait at the gate and be the last person boarding the plane. If the exit row is free just sit in it like you own it! 99% of the time the stewards don’t check your boarding pass and the worst possible outcome is they tell you to move.