United Airlines recently announced plans to retrofit 19 of its domestic Boeing 777 wide bodies with a 10-across seating floor plan. While the idea of squeezing one more seat into a jet that was designed for nine seats abreast is not new —American Airlines, Emirates, KLM, and Air France have been employing it for several years — what is distressing is that Boeing recently said that half of its orders for new 777s were asking for the 10-wide layout. “It’s just another trend of cost savings that ultimately hurts the traveler,” says Zach Honig, Editor in Chief of the travel website ThePointsGuy.com.
Sometimes a cheap ticket is not all it is cracked up to be, if it is with the wrong airline for your personal priorities, so you have to do your homework (don't worry, we did it for you below). And as it turns out, fitting 10 seats where there once were nine is not the only measure of cost-saving that travelers should consider. Here are some of the most egregious factors to look out for before booking your next flight:
1. Tray Tables
As airlines stuff more passengers into a finite space, they are forced to come up with creative methods to cut weight, and create more room. Frontier Airlines recently reconfigured their seating and miniaturized their seatback tables. The table is fixed in place and is not much larger than an iPad. Working on anything in-flight will be tough since you can fit your cell phone, a drink, and, if you're lucky, that bag of pretzels you brought along for the trip.
The Worst Offender: Frontier Airlines
The Best Alternative: JetBlue Airlines
2. TSA Precheck
The best way to avoid long lines, and being required to pull out your computer while disrobing from your shoes, belts, and jacket is to be part of the TSA Precheck program. If you have TSA Precheck status, you are allowed to jump into the expedited security lanes, unless you are flying with Frontier, Spirit, or WOW Airlines. To save costs, and keep fares low, they have not upgraded their systems to comply with the program.
The Worst Offenders: Frontier, Spirit, and Allegiant Airlines
The Best Alternatives: Delta, United, American, Southwest, and Virgin America Airlines.
3. Lack of WiFi
Being able to access the Internet from 30,000 feet makes long flights more palatable, and has become all but essential for frequent fliers on business trips. Over the past few years, airlines have been adding WiFi access to most of their jets. To save money, Spirit, Allegiant, and Hawaiian Airlines don't offer it, and it is available on only half of Frontier Airlines' fleet.
The Worst Offenders: Spirit, Allegiant, and Hawaiian Airlines
The Best Alternatives: JetBlue, Virgin America, and Delta Airlines
4. Seat Room
If small seats are your biggest peeve, avoid Spirit Airlines, which offers an industry-worst 28 inches of seat pitch — room between the back of your seat and the one in front — on their “pre-reclined” seats that don’t move. They are the lowest-rated American-based airline according to Skytrax, an industry-rating group. Coming in a close second to Spirit are European discount flyers Easy Jet, with 29 inches, and Ryan Air at 30 inches.
The Worst Offenders: Spirit and Easy Jet Airlines
The Best Alternatives: JetBlue and Alaska Airlines
5. Customer Service
In addition to slashing costs by cramming you into ever-crowded planes, several airlines have taken it a step further by virtually doing away with their customer service desks. Expect long hold times and spotty response times to be the norm. Low-cost airlines like Frontier and Spirit Airlines have done away with their toll-free numbers altogether, and now require you to call a 1-801 number that can charge you up to 18 cents per minute while you are on hold. Toss in the numerous fees they charge for everything from printing your boarding passes at the airport ($2–$10 for Spirit) to the penalty for not paying for your carry-on online ($60 at gate for Frontier), and you can see why these two rank at the bottom of most national surveys for customer satisfaction. You may save money up front when you book, but with all the hidden fees, you may actually wind up losing money if you aren't cautious.
The Worst Offenders: Frontier and Spirit Airlines
The Best Alternatives: JetBlue, Hawaiian, and Virgin America Airlines
6. Slim Line Seats
Most airlines are offering some form of a “slim line” seat on their planes these days. On the larger carriers like United, Delta, and American, they are found in the back part of coach away from the premium seats, while other airlines like Southwest, Allegiant, and Spirit have them more widespread throughout the plane. The thinner seats offer less padding, storage space, and many do not recline. “While they may look nicer at first glance, they can prove to be uncomfortable for longer flights,” says Honig. “It is one of the biggest complaints we get from travelers.”
The Worst Offenders: Allegiant, Ryanair, and Spirit Airlines
The Best Alternatives: Virgin America and Delta Airlines
7. Seatback Entertainment
If you don’t fly very often, you might be surprised the next time you board a plane and find that the familiar seatback entertainment system is missing. Many airlines are eliminating them in the interest of saving money and lightening the planes to fit more people on them. If you have preloaded movies on your laptop or tablet, no problem, but if you are hoping to stream their live feed, you will need to have the latest version of their app to view them. Other airlines like Allegiant and Ryan Air offer no inflight entertainment.
The Worst Offenders: Ryanair and Allegiant Airlines
The Best Alternatives: JetBlue and Virgin America Airlines
8. Overhead Storage
Today’s planes were not designed to deal with the large influx of carry-on luggage travelers are using these days to avoid fees for checking baggage. If you're part of the airline's frequent flier program, you usually can board before others and find room for your luggage, but if you're not, you might have to gate-check your bag. A nuisance, especially if you're trying to book it from the Salt Lake City airport to your noon ski session in Park City. To deal with this issue, the newest Boeing 737’s are being designed with larger overhead bins, which offers higher opportunity for profits. So far, the feature has been ordered by Alaskan, American, Ryanair, Southwest, and United, plus 32 others across the globe.
The Worst Offenders: Frontier, United, Delta, and American Airlines
The Best Alternatives: Southwest, JetBlue, and Virgin America Airlines
Whether to listen to music, watch a movie, or block out noise, headphones are indispensable. But don’t expect flight attendants to save you the next time you realize you forgot your pair the moment you arrive at your terminal. And even if your airline still offers earbuds on board, the ones flight attendants hand out during each flight are cheaply made, and according to a recent Reddit questionnaire for airline employees, barely sanitized, and commonly recycled from flight to flight.
The Worst Offenders: American Airlines
The Best Alternatives: Virgin America