Shermanstravel Blog

Subscribe via RSS
Please enable an RSS reader on Google Chrome.

9 Legroom Hacks That Actually Work



Fitting our 40” legs into a 32” Delta seat is like trying to cram an extra day’s worth of clothes into an already-stuffed suitcase. The result is an uncomfortable, jumbled mess, and something will inevitably be sticking out. However, due to our stubborn refusal to pay an extra $100 for Economy-Plus seating, we’ve had to learn the subtle art of airplane seat-hacking. Here are a few legroom hacks guaranteed to secure more space while you’re cruising at high altitude:

Research your seat options. Did you know there’s an entire network that reviews airline seats? SeatGuru collects flight data and discusses the most comfortable and uncomfortable seats on an aircraft. Don’t sit here because the service tray will bump into your knees. Don’t sit there because there’s limited shoulder room. Once you reserve your flight, read over a few reviews before choosing your seat.

Time your check-in. Most airlines begin check-in procedures twenty-four hours before takeoff. The earlier you check-in, the more likely you can snag an exit row seat.

Seat alert! If you check-in late, you can always arrange an alert system that texts you when a better seat opens. Using ExpertFlyer, just input your flight information, create a set alert, and wait for a buzz. Once your phone notifies you there’s a better seat available, head to your flight information and re-book immediately.

Upgrade using frequent flyer status. Loyal customer? Airlines will often hand the good seats to you. When you arrive at the airport for check-in, simply present your number to the gate, and, more times than not, you’re much more likely to be rewarded.

Sit at the back of the plane and bank on an empty row. People avoid the back for a few reasons: Noise level from the engines; you’re last off the plane; the bathroom.

Rush to the open seat. Every flight harbors a unicorn seat. It’s the empty first row or exit row seat. When you see it, take note of it. After take-off, sprint like Usain Bolt to your unicorn.

Two-for-one seat deal. Southwest, and a few others, offer a policy whereby “customers of size” must purchase two tickets. If the flight’s not full, they’ll refund you for that second ticket. You can do the same. It’ll reserve an empty seat next to you giving you plenty of room. Just hope the flight doesn’t fill.

Be an angel to the gate agent and the flight staff. We asked a 20-year flight attendant veteran, Sandra White, how to score a better seat. Oftentimes, your seat fate’s in the hands of the gate agent if you’re looking to score a free upgrade, but, occasionally, a flight attendant will send you to the front if there’s a bit of space. Her advice, “You draw more bees with honey.” So be considerate, and they’ll consider you.

The water bottle trick. We don’t recommend this last resort, but if you’re desperate for a few inches of extra space and okay with frustrating — or possibly really angering — the person in front of you, wedge a water bottle between your tray table and the seat in front of you. This prevents the person from reclining. Maybe it violates airplane etiquette. Whatever your beliefs, the water bottle trick guarantees inches of much-needed room. (Edit: Another reason we don’t recommend tricks as these? They may get you kicked off the flight.)


  • Ronnieb says:

    I love that water bottle trick in Cramped Economy seats should be fixed and not be able to recline………….

  • Carla says:

    Can someone explain better or diagram the water bottle trick? I don’t understand where you would place it that would prevent the seat from reclining.

  • Christine Wei says:

    Hi Carla, essentially, the water bottle need to snuggle right up under the tray latch as it sits on the tray or some cushioning on the tray. Then it essentially jams the seat from leaning down and back to recline. (It’s not very nice, though, and we don’t really recommend it.)

  • Pamm Peterson says:

    I don’t like being touched by the fat hairy guy next to me. Our system: take a legal pad with you. Place it next to your seat in the empty space between seats. This keeps your seat mates thighs from spreading into your seat. I paid for my entire seat you didn’t pay for any of my seat. Keep yourself off my seat. Back away from my seat. We’ve only had one person say something to us.

  • Dave says:

    Denying the person in front of you the ability to recline they seat she or he paid of is despicable. The seats are altogether too upright, painfully so for many. Most folks legs aren’t long enough that the reclined seat is a problem anyway. Mostly, it’s folks who feel uncomfortable having the seatback too close to the face, in their imaginary “personal space”.

    I get that folks shouldn’t lay back all the way on a short daytime flight. But trust me, if you block my ability to recline my seat an inch or two on such a flight, we’ll have a problem. I will simply get up, take your water bottle, and try to resist the urge to poke you in the eye.

  • Carol Ring says:

    Many airlines no longer have seats that recline. I recently flew to Malaysia and Japan Airlines and American Airlines both had seats that don’t recline.

    Japan Airlines at least had wonderful inflight entertainment. On my American Airlines from Chicago to L.A., which was four hours long, we got something to drink and not even a peanut to eat. i could purchase a set of earphones and hear old TV programs for entertainment.

    American recently pushed seats together so they could add more seats on the plane.

  • John says:

    It is sad that you would even consider the water bottle trick. I would like to see how much you would enjoy it if you could not recline. So much for consideration of others. Thanks ShermansTravel for sharing another selfish act to add to this world.

  • Sherri says:

    I have read suggestions from people to jam your laptop in that space between the tray & seat. I’ve wondered if it could get cracked that way, and it seems aplastic water bottle might burst. But I’m definitely going to try something–a thick paperback book maybe?

  • Lisa Finney says:

    What is not very nice is having the person in front of you recline to the point of putting their head in your lap. Next time I will say I have to get up and go to the bathroom and ask them if they could please sit up.

  • Nancy says:

    The water bottle “trick” is just rude. I can’t believe that you would suggest it.

  • MIchelle says:

    In early 2009 my husband and I were heading from NY to CA on the first leg of an international flight. The day before something came up and he couldn’t make that leg. I checked him in anyway, (foolishly) thinking that since we had paid the $500+ for the seat, I’d at least get to enjoy the empty one beside me on the 4 hour flight. Nope. Since he wasn’t there at the counter to show his passport, they sold the seat to someone else…and I didn’t get a refund of course. Clearly I’m still bitter all these years later! :-p

  • DR says:

    The “water bottle trick” is despicable behavior. So you get to have extra room but the people around you do not. Spoiled brats!

  • Dave says:

    I recently flew with friends on Southwest. I had three drink vouchers and offered the people in the row ahead free drinks if they agreed not to recline. Just asking would probably have been enough but the drinks sealed the deal

  • Tamar says:

    That water bottle trick is just Awful! How inconsiderate can you be?

  • Michael K says:

    You know what isn’t nice, its reclining your seat. You are violating the person behind personal space.

  • Brenda R. says:

    I agree with Ronnieb; seats in cramped economy shouldn’t be allowed to recline. I’ve never heard of the water bottle trick, but I’m not sure it’s any more rude than someone sitting in front of me choosing to decrease my personal space to increase their own.

  • Daniel says:

    Flight Attendants can charge for the seat when the door closes, they are given a seat map with their paperwork. If you “sprint” to the open premium seats expect a request for a credit card to pay for that seat.

  • Annette says:

    Well, the water bottle tactic is about as rude and selfish as they come! You are not the only one who has paid dearly for economy seating, and the person in front of you is just as uncomfortable as you, why add to their discomfort because “your comfort” is more important! Geesh!

  • C griffin says:

    However if you’re a customer with back problems, you need that few degrees of recline, even on short flights. Why not just politely point out your own need for a little space? Most of us can find a happy medium. I think the “bottle trick” is a pretty rude approach! I’ve many times noted long legs behind me and not fully reclined even without being asked. I’m disappointed and offended.

  • EdR says:

    I question whether someone should feel entitled to stop the seat in front from reclining. Is it then OK for you to recline your seat? Most coach seats only recline 1-2 inches.
    Mr Burson seems to think that he is entitled to a exit row or premium seat and to block recline. Can you spell ethics?

  • Lynn says:

    Not very nice? rude travelers like those who propose such crude behavior are a reason to stay home!.

  • Joe Smith says:

    Put a water bottle in my seat and I will knock you the f*ck out!!! Why would someone even try to incite being rude to other people? What is wrong with people?

  • Frequent Flyer says:

    If I pay for a seat and that seat reclines I expect it to recline if I need it to. Jamming a bottle or the purpose made seat recline blockers will result in an altercation. Take your beef up with the airlines who design the seats smaller & smaller to cram more passengers into the jet. At 6’2″ I need all the room I pay for.

  • Kat says:

    I hope everyone using the water trick to prevent gets a hungover smoker next to you that gets sick on every bump and a child kicking the back of your seat – over and over in every F light after your trick. To make someone else uncomfortable for the selfish gain of an inch or so is pathetic

  • B Bear says:

    Seats should be locked in the upright position!
    Anyone who thinks reclining into the person behind them is OK and someone attempting to stop them is rude needs to look at the rude person in the mirror!
    So you don’t think its RUDE to put your seat back into somebody’s face?
    Say something to me, and you’ll get it right back!

  • Kath says:

    If we could all be less self-centered, it would make a better world. If your “personal space” is so small that someone reclining a seat in front of you offends you, perhaps you need to rethink being anywhere in public! Flying isn’t “that” expensive when you shop right, if you consider the price of traveling by bus or train. I personally look at airplanes as flying buses and don’t expect any more comfort than if I rode the local express across town. I think we all need to stop acting like we’re so entitled, relax, and be nice.

  • klevon says:

    These GD selfish, greedy airlines created this problem. I hope someone gets hurt in an altercation and sues the greedy btards. They keep increasing seat count, reducing space, and charging for every service imaginable. Checking bags, food…really? What happened to good service and being comfortable while flying. I am only 5’7″ and 160 lbs and cannot even move my arms at times. I can’t use my laptop because I am crowded out of my own seat space! That’s unforgiveable. It’s cruel and inhumane treatment. I spend over $10000 a year to fly, wish I had another choice and could tell these airlines to take this seat and shove it.

  • LAnderson says:

    Some airline seats are so crammed together than if a passenger in front of you reclines the full amount you can not even cross your legs or change position. Their seat is only a few inches off the tops of your legs. I rarely recline for this reason, and never recline fully, AND, I always tell the passenger behind me that I’m going to recline a couple inches, but if that is too restricting, I’ll raise the seat back up. I’ve had good luck with this communication to my fellow passengers. I’ve also had horrible luck a few times where the person in front lowered their seat all the way with the full force of their body and the seat literally bruised my knees. In addition, I was trapped in my seat unable to move or do paperwork on the seat tray. Although I have never blocked the seat in front of me from reclining, I totally sympathize with people who try to block the recline of the seat in front of them after having experienced rude travelers who think it’s their right to smash into the passenger behind them. It’s important to realize that many seats still exist that were designed for planes with half the number of rows and three times the leg room and they should be ripped out of the airplanes and replaced with newly designed, comfortable seats with limited recline abilities. This is clearly an issue where the airlines are ignoring customer needs and satisfaction in the name of profit. Obviously, those who think it’s their right to fully recline because they’ve paid for their seat have NO IDEA the full impact on the passenger behind them, and forget that passenger also paid for THEIR space, either that, they don’t care how it impacts anyone else and are even more rude than those who block the seats.

  • Al Kabal says:

    That’s too bad I paid for use of the seat and if it’s made to recline so be it .I’m sure I could pop a water bottle.

Leave a Comment

Sign up for the Top 25 Newsletter
to get exclusive weekly deals