David J. Danto


Travel thoughts in my own, personal opinion




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Enjoying Flights At Awful Times – November 2023


Best Plane Spotting Location at San Diego International Airport ...  While I’ve been flying for a lot of years, I suppose I can always learn new things.  On my last business trip I accidentally learned how to have more comfortable flights.  It was a total accident, and it won’t always work, but let me explain the strategy so that it might help you. 

Since some surgery I had last year I care much more about which model aircraft I fly.  The ‘mid-cabin lavatory’ is now something I really want to have on flight of a few hours or longer.  Out of EWR I of course fly United (and do read any of my old blogs to be reminded of how much I hate that.)  The promised ‘free’ upgrades to domestic first class happen just about never for a million miler – which only gets one lifetime Gold Elite status (and that is another long, frustrating story you probably know by now if you’ve read any of my past blogs.)  Gold elite flyers on United get to be on the upgrade list (at like number 37) but don’t get any actual upgrades.  That means I work very hard to choose only 757s, 737-900s, and the occasional 737-800s that have the mid-cabin lavs.

Interestingly, on all the routes I’ve been traveling lately, those aircraft take off at terrible times.  My recent round trip to Las Vegas for a conference had me departing EWR at 6:00am (the first flight there of the day) and had me coming back home on the 3:00pm flight, landing after 11:00 pm (the last flight back before the red-eye.)

Taking a 6:00am flight from Newark – for me – means waking up at about 2:00am, having coffee and breakfast, doing some desk work while my body wakes-up, showering and getting ready, and getting to the airport at about 4 / 4:30am.  Keep in mind that this is on days when I’ll likely be awake until 11:00pm west-coast time – about 24 hours awake.  Not what I think of as a fun day.  Coming home and taking the 3:00pm flight is a similar experience – I’m not as exhausted at the end of the day as the departure, but I’m still landing around 11pm, getting back home after midnight, and then not getting to sleep for a couple of hours.

Both of those timings are far less than ideal.  You can tell that because they’re sometimes less expensive than the other times of day, and, I’ve discovered, they are often lighter loads...far lighter.  On both of those flights on this last trip I had an empty middle seat next to me.  In fact, both flights had multiple empty middle seats. 

In many cases, coach in an aisle seat with an empty middle is nearly as good an experience for me as domestic first class.  True, you don’t get a meal, but I never count on airplane food to be edible lately, so I always pack something I bought at the airport.  You don’t get free booze, but I don’t drink.  I do get free Economy Plus seats on United as a million-miler, so legroom is not an issue, and with the middle seat empty and the arm-rest lifted up, the insane seat-width issue goes away.  Coach also has the advantage of a tray-table not in the armrest, and an extra one that happens to be by an adjacent seat I’m not using, essentially letting me have one and a half tray tables or one available that isn’t right in front of me if I want the extra room.  I can keep watching my iPad or working on my PC and have a drink and/or meal nearby.  And an empty middle also lets me put my briefcase under the seat next to mine, so I have all my under-seat legroom free.

After this last trip I received the usual post-flight survey request from United, you know those where passengers tell them how bad the flight was and United proceeds to ignore the feedback.  Oddly for me this time, instead of venting my frustration in the review, I realized there was nothing bad that I could complain about.  The flights left on time, landed early, and I was comfortable.  Maybe I should pick awful flight times more often…



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I have one more trip that I know of now before the end of the calendar year.  Then, as always, I start the traveling year at CES in Las Vegas.  I was honored to be one of the CES Innovation Award Judges this year, which makes this upcoming event just that more special. 



This article was written by David Danto and contains solely his own, personal opinions.

All image and links provided above as reference under prevailing fair use statutes.

Copyright 2023 David Danto


As always, feel free to write and comment, question or disagree.  Hearing from the traveling community is always a highlight for me.  Thanks!