Consumer Reports: Improving your airline experience

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Airline profits hit $25.6 billion dollars last year. But customer complaints also shot up 34 percent higher than the year before.

Passengers say they're dissatisfied because of cramped seating, long lines, and having to pay for services that used to be free, like selecting a seat or checking a bag. So Consumer Reports has important advice on how to improve your flying experience.

With airlines packing in more seats than ever before, savvy travelers book seats ahead to avoid the dreaded middle seat. But increasingly that's not an option, at least not for free.

"Airlines have long charged for extra leg room, but now selecting even a regular economy seat in advance can cost you," said Amanda Walker from Consumer Reports.

One tip: airlines will often release the seats they haven't sold or were canceled 72 hours ahead of the flight. So keep trying then and you might score a decent free seat.

Knowing which seats give you the most room can help, too. Check out for information about most airlines' seating plans, including size, limited recline, or leg room.

"If despite your best efforts you're still in a cramped seat or your flight is over four hours, get up frequently and stretch your legs and feet to avoid blood clots," said Walker.

Another travel mishap you can avoid: missing your connecting flight.

These days with increased security, Consumer Reports recommends allowing at least 2 hours between domestic flights and 4 if you're traveling overseas.

Sitting in the front can save as much as 15 minutes when deplaning, though you might have to pay for that seat.

Avoid booking the last flight of the day. And if possible, also avoid major airports that have the worst on-time departure performance.

And you do have rights if you are bumped involuntarily from a flight and are delayed. You may be entitled to up to $650 dollars if the flight is domestic and $1,300 dollars if it's international, according to Department of Transportation regulations.

Consumer Reports' latest customer satisfaction survey found that as in past years, JetBlue, Southwest Airlines, and Virgin America top the ratings.
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