Iberia Airlines Plays Song About Death and Dying Before Takeoff

Earlier this week I had the distinct displeasure of flying from Copenhagen to Madrid with Iberia Airlines. While my trip ended up being fantastic, the flight itself was an unmitigated disaster.  The flight crew was unfriendly, rude and all around difficult to engage with. Which, fair enough, is disappointing but not all that uncommon in this day and age. But, ultimately I ended up being in for two distinct surprises that left me all around shocked.

The first was when I reached my seat, went to sit down and had to squeeze into it. I’m 193cm (6’3″) and long-legged so it’s always a bit of a challenge.  This time though? Utterly ridiculous. The space between each seat was so tight that even in the more spacious sections between the seats it was still tight enough to leave my normal sized water bottle self supported and securely stuck as shown in the photo below. I realize I’m a bit tall, but I’m not unreasonably tall…and this? Less than a water bottle’s worth of space from seat to seat? Pure tomfoolery. And for those of you who are tall and curious?  Yes, the stewardess managed to ram my knee with the drink cart with significant force, shrug it off, and go back to business without even a passing apology.


But, the real icing on the cake came as we prepared for takeoff. In between the cabin crew’s safety talks music was playing over the cabin speakers.  A nice touch and one that ultimately should be soothing and relaxing.  So, knees getting bruised by the seat in front of me, I settled in and tried to enjoy the music. Then, something about the lyrics seemed off and caught my ear.

Best Airline Seats For Tall People – Ask Alex – Travel Question Wednesdays

Ask Alex - Travel Question Q and A every Wednesday

This post is part of the Ask Alex, Travel Question Wednesdays weekly series. To see previous questions click here. To submit your own; tweet it to @AlexBerger, ask it in a comment on this post or send it in by e-mail.

This week’s travel question is from James K. he asks,

Q. “I believe I read that you are fairly tall. As a tall person where is the best place to sit on an Airplane?

A. – You’re correct! I’m right around 193 cm or just under 6’4″ depending on the mode of measurement you want to use.  This means that I JUST fit in most airline seats.  It also means that I have a deep seated hatred for people who press the recline button and then throw their weight against the seat back without warning to recline as quickly as humanly possible.  I’m not sure the exact thinking but I assume it is tied to the old “If I do it quick, maybe they won’t notice” line of thinking.  Given my knees are usually flush against the back of the seat in front of me, and align perfectly with the tray arms I do notice.  Every time.  Painfully.  As a result it’s not uncommon for me to finish a flight with lightly bruised knees.

If you’ve found yourself in a similar boat then you will have likely heard that the exit row seating or bulkhead row seating is the best place to sit. In general the common narrative when discussing airline seating seems to be that these are the best seats on the plane.  For years I fell into this school of thought and sought them out.  No longer.

Unless you absolutely require exit row seating avoid it.  It sucks. If you’re tall, but still short enough to fit into the standard seat I suggest opting for an aisle and bypassing the exit row land rush all together.  Why?

  1. Most tall men (and women) seek out the exit row.  Tall people tend not to be bone-thin.  If you get unlucky (as I often did) you’ll find yourself sandwiched into tiny seats next to two other large men who can’t help but sprawl. While you may have picked up an inch or two of added knee room you’ve lost it in shoulder and leg room.  Few things make a multi-hour flight less enjoyable than role-playing a sardine in a sardine tin for 8 hours straight.  It’s also worth noting that these seats are desirable for people who tend to be slightly heavier as well, as it makes getting in and out of the inner seats significantly easier.
  2. You have to stow all of your carry on items. While a fairly minor annoyance the requirement that bulkhead/exit row seats require all luggage be stowed in the overhead during takeoff and landing can be fairly annoying. Especially if flying in/out of an airport with sub-par weather and regular post-boarding flight delays.  As baggage fees increase the lack of overhead space can also be a huge pain.
  3. The seats don’t recline.  While some bulkhead seats recline most exit row seating is locked in the upright position.  In many cases I find that this can be more uncomfortable than tight leg room over long haul flights.  While this may be redundant for many tall travelers, keep in mind that most airline seats are designed to offer back and neck support.  Unfortunately, the molding for these types of seats tends to be for  at maximum a 6’1″-6’2″ build.  I often leave long flights and bus rides with sore shoulders because of the way the seats push my upper body forward with the upper back cradle hitting mid-shoulder blade instead of higher as intended.
  4. It’s probably more expensive.  Responding to demand and eager to make a quick buck a lot of airlines have started charging extra for exit and bulkhead seating.  In addition to being a questionable practice for a variety of different reasons, it’s just not worth the extra money.

Keep in mind that different airlines and different aircraft have vastly different configurations.  Sites like Seat Guru (http://www.seatguru.com) have done a great job providing high quality research tools which you can use in preparation for your next flight.   Best of luck, and have a safe (and enjoyable) flight!

Would you like me to elaborate on an aspect of this response?  Let me know!

Have a question of your own? ASK IT! Want to see previous questions? click here.

Thank you to Budget Car Hire for helping make this post possible.

Flying With British Airways – Why I Will Never Trust Them Again

If you talked to me in the month or so before I caught my flight over to Denmark to begin my two year study abroad session I was probably very complimentary of British Airways.  I’d recently signed up for a British Airways associated Credit Card, received 100,000 miles as the signing bonus and been able to book my international flight with the miles without significant lead time.  Further, I’d talked to the agent with whom I booked the ticket and he had made several suggestions which seemed like they solved the problems I was looking at in getting my luggage (including a desktop) over to Copenhagen for an affordable rate.

Unfortunately, British Airways managed to burn every ounce of that good will and then some in the 36 hours before my flight.  If there’s one thing I can’t stand it’s a good old fashioned bait and switch.  When you sell me on a product, sell me the product as delivered or straight to hell with you.

The Pitch: In talking with the agent and explaining what I was doing and inquiring what my options were for getting additional luggage to Denmark he suggested that I book the ticket (30,000+$239 in taxes/fees) and then upgrade for an additional 15,000 miles (a 50% increase in “cost”) to decrease the cost of additional bags.  The way it typically works is that a standard ticket with BA gets 1 free checked bag, 1 carry on, and 1 personal item.  From there the first additional bag would cost me $51 w/ a discounted price if I booked it ahead of time and online. The third bag would then cost $119 (online) or $140 (at the counter).  BUT, if I upgraded to World Traveller Plus for the additional 15,000 AirMiles I’d receive a second bag free and then be able to pay $51 for my third bag, and $119 for my fourth if I needed it.

With a weight limit of ~50 pounds and the need to transport two LCD monitors and a desktop I knew I’d need three bags, in addition to my carry on (backpack) and personal item (laptop). So, the 15,000 miles and additional ~$50 I’d end up paying for the 3rd bag seemed like a great option.  I did some research, thought it over, and then went to book online using their e-portal.  Only to have it error out every time I tried over a 6 hour period.  Frustrated and having been told there were only a few tickets left I called in and manually booked it over the phone repeating my previous conversation to the new agent.  I told him to book the ticket with the upgrade, and he reminded me that there was a baggage discount if paid online ahead of time/during online check-in.

Fast forward to a day or two before my departure.  I was about to enter the 24-hour window for check in. I logged in and went to pay for my additional luggage.  You can imagine my surprise when I added my third bag only to be notified it was going to cost $119. Assuming a mistake with the website I exchanged tweets with @BritishAirways and then began the process of trying to call the executive club member number on my card. I also had noticed that I was never prompted to purchase traveller’s insurance either on-line or in the follow up e-mail.  Wondering if it was included through the insurance on the Signature Credit Card or had been auto-included in fees I paid I was eager to speak to a rep and ask them about it.

After two calls at different points in time (both of which projected 13+ minute wait times) which is absurd for a “premium” member service I tried calling a third time only to learn that the executive office closes at 8PM EST (Good luck westcoasters!). With less than 24 hours left before my flight I called the standard booking number and spent more than 30 minutes on hold before finally giving up.  Keep in mind this is the phone number to BOOK with British Airways.

In doing  some online research I found an additional number for the 3rd party vendor they use and called their 24 hour number only to learn that not only was there not a policy # for my flight, but because I hadn’t purchased insurance from them within a 7 day window after purchasing my ticket from BA, I wasn’t going to be able to buy a policy.    Frustrated I went to bed and woke up early to try calling once again.

Finally after a few short hours of sleep I found myself awake, called and after a relatively short hold time I reached a BA sales agent who I told about the issues with web pricing.  With an incredibly rude tone, she directed me to the website and said that regardless of what I’d be told previously the $119 fee for the 3rd bag was correct.  Throughout the conversation she was rude, unfriendly, and combative.  This led me to escalate to a supervisor who while apologetic and far more friendly was unwilling/unable to do anything to fix the fee amount despite the source of the misinformation being one of their booking agents.

At this point I’d been forced to book by phone because their web portal wasn’t working, been sold an upgrade at 15,000 miles on the premise of discounted luggage fees which were non-existent, faced ridiculous  hold times and BA had no intention of doing a damn thing about it. Not to mention never having been offered the opportunity or informed of the need to purchase third party travel insurance (which only had a 7 day window to begin with).

Unwilling to make the situation right about the mileage upgrade and added fees for the luggage the supervisor did at least take the time to call the insurance provider and to line up a last minute insurance plan which I was able to purchase over the phone.

I am both incredibly annoyed and disgusted by the way British Airways handled the entire thing.  Their lack of interest in making the situation right was only compounded by the terrible performance of their phone and web services. For a major airline and allegedly one of the more reputable ones, their level of professionalism was absolutely lacking.

It’s a pretty sad statement when a customer has to not only work to spend money on an airline, but also has to work with that airline on a buyer-be-ware basis. If this is the type of service and treatment I can expect from them, I’ll be looking forward to the moment when I can dump my miles and cancel my card. It is also worth noting that in sharing this story with friends and fellow travelers, I’ve heard similar story after story that indicates BA has systematic customer service and quality issues.

20 Days in Central America for less than $2,500

Barrier Reef - Sailing Tour - Belize

One of the most common questions I receive from friends and readers alike is how do you afford it? The assumption is that a 16-20 day trip abroad must be terribly expensive.  People commonly expect the trip expense to be somewhere in the $5,000-$10,000 USD range.  Which, given the structure and cost associated with most of the vacations Americans take, isn’t unreasonable.  When I tell them that my average trip costs me less than $3,000 most people are surprised, and more than a few don’t initially believe me.

I recently wrote a post explaining how I’ve managed to save for/budget the ~$6,000 I need each year for two 16-20 day trips abroad in my blog post, “Tallying Up the Cost: How I Afford to Travel“.  My goal with this post is to share with you my real world application of the techniques I outlined previously.

A few things to keep in mind: I could have done this trip for several hundred dollars cheaper.  I splurged on food on a regular basis, opted for mid-tier budget accommodation, and took a number of tours which I could have done solo/on my own for half the price.  I was also traveling during Central America’s peak season (December/January) which resulted in a significantly more expensive flight ticket and increased prices for the tours I did.

Barrier Reef - Sailing Tour - Belize

What It Cost

A round trip ticket from Phoenix to Cancun with travel insurance:  $530 USD.

Total Credit Card expenses: $280.29.

Total ATM Cash Withdrawals: $1,461.99.

Misc. expenses (ATM Fees/Reserve USD): $87.

Total price: $2358.81 for everything.

Actun Tunichil Muknal - Mayan Cave

Evaluating the Real Cost

That’s not the end of the story.  It’s important to put that figure into context.  Keep in mind that I was gone for 20 days.  An extended period during which I would have had a number of basic expenses regardless of where I was located.

In a given day at home/work I spend at least $20 on food.  That means that my average food expense had I stayed at home would have been at least $400.   I also go through about 1 tank of gas a week at an average cost of about $40 per tank.  At nearly 3 weeks on the road, I would have spent around $100 on gas in total.  Then add a conservative projection of about $150 total for entertainment expenses (bars, movies, etc.).

The end result is about $650 in expenses that I would have spent anyway, had I been at home.

This drops the real added expense burden down well under $2,000 to about $1,710 for the trip.

Is it cheap? Not necessarily, but is it significantly cheaper than you were probably expecting?  Most definitely.  Is it doable for most people?  Most definitely, IF you’re willing to prioritize and set some money aside.

Thoughts?  Questions?  Comments?  Leave a comment or shoot me a tweet @AlexBerger.  I look forward to your thoughts!