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In-Flight Experience

The Best Air Travel Surprise

On a recent flight to Iceland, something happened to me that I’d never experienced before: I had an entire row to myself on a plane.

Sure, I’ve occasionally had a middle seat open when I was on the aisle, good for some much-appreciated extra elbow room. But for the most part, I’m used to flying on completely full planes and worrying less about whether I’ll have an open seat next to me than about whether there will be an open spot in the overhead bin for my carry-on. (Anyone else been forced to gate-check a rollaboard at least half a dozen times?)

Of course, full planes are ideal for the airlines — more passengers equal more profit. And these days the airlines are doing a good job of selling out their flights more often than not.

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So that’s why my empty row — on a red-eye flight, no less! — felt like such a miracle. Our plane was delayed briefly on the tarmac by a lighting issue, and as the technicians worked on it I watched the open door with an eagle eye, certain that the missing couple would show up, breathless after a sprint through the airport and ready to claim their seats. But then we were pushing back from the gate and the space was mine, all mine.

Alas, there was one minor snafu: the armrests wouldn’t go up, which did rather defeat the purpose of having a whole row to myself. Still, I was able to lean back against the window with my knees bent, and toward the end of the flight I figured out that I could even lie down in the fetal position with my hips angled out around the armrest. It’s the closest I’ve ever gotten to heaven in economy class.

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What’s the best surprise you’ve ever encountered while flying?

By Sarah Schlichter

Deputy Executive Editor Sarah Schlichter's idea of a perfect trip includes spotting exotic animals, hiking through pristine landscapes, exploring new neighborhoods on foot, and soaking up as much art as she can. She often attempts to recreate recipes from her international travels after she gets home (which has twice resulted in accidental kitchen fires—no humans or animals were harmed).

Sarah joined the SmarterTravel team in 2017 after more than a decade at the helm of IndependentTraveler.com. Sarah's practical travel advice has been featured in dozens of news outlets including the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, USA Today, Budget Travel, and Peter Greenberg Worldwide Radio. Follow her on Twitter @TravelEditor.

The Handy Item I Always Pack: "A journal. Even years later, reading my notes from a trip can bring back incredibly vivid memories."

Ultimate Bucket List Experience: "Road tripping and hiking through the rugged mountains of Patagonia."

Travel Motto: "'To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world.'—Freya Stark"

Aisle, Window, or Middle Seat: "Aisle. I get restless on long flights and like to be able to move around without disturbing anyone else."

Email Sarah at sschlichter@smartertravel.com.

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