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advice needed - must fly business class US to Europe

Hi there! I could really use some advice from experienced travelers. My husband and I have been waiting for years to plan a trip to Europe, but we have one big problem. My husband is very tall and his legs cannot fit in the space allotted for standard economy seats. He literally doesn't fit and is in a lot of pain if he tries. The prospect of spending upward of $4,000 on tickets has been putting our plans on hold for a long time and it's really frustrating, especially when I find economy steals around $500-600 that we would snap up in an instant if not for this issue. These crazy ticket prices more than double the otherwise affordable trip we're trying to plan. So my question is whether anyone has good advice for finding reasonable business class or premium economy seats. Which airlines are best? Which airports? We were hoping to fly DC to London, but if we can find a good deal we're happy to fly out of New York or rearrange our European plans to fly into almost anywhere in Western Europe. Also, if it makes any difference, we're shooting for the late August through early October time frame. Thanks in advance for any advice!

Posted by
8939 posts

For only about $150 extra Continental allows you to purchase bulkhead seats in the economy cabin. You can do this when you purchase your tickets during the seat selection process. Continental flies out of Newark, and has multiple flights per day to London.

Posted by
913 posts

Ashleigh, I don't know how tall your husband is, but I'm 6'3" and can't afford Business Class, so I always try to find the best seats in "steerage" . I use Seat Guru .com to check out the "seat pitch" (distance between seats, 32" is the min you want!) on each plane/ seat/airline for a flight that I may be considering. Then I check the airlines policy regarding purchasing "exit row" seats. These seats have lots of legroom, but can be in a very "cold zone". My last opportunity is the day of the flight. I get to the ticket counter when it first opens, and ask if any exit row seats are availble. If I have no luck there I go up to the gate counter, when it opens, and do the same. Many times people upgrade from these to Business. If alll else fails I always book an aisle seat, and have my wife book one across from me. Then I "cheat" and stick one foot out in the aisle. You can also find super discounted Business Class seats on Cheapoair.com, but you better have a good travel insurance policy, because they are not noted for their reliability.

Posted by
89 posts

Are you a member of a frequent flyer program or have a credit card that accumulates miles? I have flown both business and first class from Seattle to Europe by saving my miles up and redeeming them for these seats. Just an option.

Posted by
12016 posts

Open Skies is an all-business class airline that flies between DC (or NY) and Paris. You might check there. Or try what we did: join the British Airways Executive Club (mileage plan) and get their credit card. You get almost enough miles for signing up (25,000) to upgrade a ticket from Economy to Premium Econ, or from Premium Econ to Business (flat bed seats). We just purchased the additional 5,000 miles needed for the upgrade, but if you have a major purchase coming up you could plan around that. The Chase credit card you get has an annual fee but they do not charge foreign transaction fees, so that is a savings on use of the card in Europe.

Posted by
61 posts

Can you buy economy seats th the exit row or behind the bulkhead? I sat in the first row of the last economy section on a 777 and there was a relatively large amount of leg room. You can't choose your seats until 24 hours before your trip on British Airways, but other airlines should let you select those seats if they are available.

Posted by
1740 posts

Right now Delta, AA and some others have a deal from BOS to AMS and LHR for around $1,500 round trip in Business Class and I think it's good in August. (It's not good in September) There's a "mile run" board on www.flyertalk.com and there are threads on there talking about this fare and what "conenctions" you can make. (For example you can get the same fare starting in RDU and MCO. The big issue is that you have to get out of BOS There may be some options out of the airports near you. ) This fare is set to expire 3/31. It has been extended once, but no gurantee it's going to extend again so if it will work for you jump on it! It's a great fare. Another option. OpenSkies is an all business class airline flying into Paris Orly from Washington Dullus airport. Around $1,000 each way so not as good as the BOS sale, but it is close!

Posted by
1035 posts

I am 6'6" and like Steve, I have a whole list of strategies I employ. - Work that emergency exit row if you can. When staff see my height at the gate, they will sometimes "find" bulkhead or emergency exit for me. - Get up and walk around a lot, especially if he can get an aisle seat - Seat Guru is your friend. Different rows can have significant differences. Stay away from the seats behind the emergency exits! - If traveling with my wife, I swing one leg into her area and the other into the aisle (when practical). If with wife and daughter, I take middle seat and encroach on both of them.
- I fly lots and get a 1st class upgrade on about half of my domestic flights. If you don't have a FF account, time to get one. You won't get an upgrade on international too often, but as someone else mentioned, you can use miles to upgrade your class. - When you check in online, check the change seats, if you can find a row with an empty seat, you are golden (although sometimes someone ends up in it) and can stretch your legs diagonally into the next seat. Not going to sugar coat it though, I have had some pretty painful experiences, but nothing that isn't manageable. Last year flying home on a flight from Europe, I realized it could be worse. The Egyptian national basketball team was abroad, and some of those guys were in real agony.

Posted by
4521 posts

From IAD, your choices for direct flights to London are on BA, Virgin Atlantic, and United. Personally, I think a direct flight out of Washington is really the better option for comfort than routing through another city as the flight is only 7 hours. Would United Economy Plus work for you? United's Economy Plus gives you extra legroom but no other benefits. This is going to be much cheaper than Virgin or BA's premium economy which also give you other amenities. United's Economy Plus from IAD to LHR is only about $200 more than regular economy on a R/T ticket. If you do this, you might consider United's annual option for economy plus since there are two of you travelling. Additionally, I like United's morning flight out of Dulles. It leaves around 9:30am and arrives around 10pm. Since it is a daytime flight, you aren't trying to sleep on a cramped plane. It just seems much more comfortable to me than the overnight flight.

Posted by
1534 posts

United has Economy Plus seats with 5-6" of extra room. I'm not sure if you have to be a mileage plus memeber to upgrade to these seats, but if you upgrade when you book your flight you have a good choice of seats. I've been a mileage plus member for years, have a mileage plus visa, and almost all purchases go on this credit card and are paid off every month. My husband and I flying to Europe in Sept for miles (50,000) plus cash ($900) plus the upgrade($400+). 2 RT for the price of 1 with extra legroom. Check seat guru because bulkheads aren't always the best option. Sometimes you are cheated out of the "extra" legroom by not having legroom under the seat in front of you. Also, on wide body planes, the seats are narrower in bulkheads since the trays have to be stored someplace.
On the bright side, flights from the east coast to Europe are only 6+/- hours, compared to 11-12 from California. So do what I do and hang out with the other non sleepers in the galley/restroom area and do regular laps up and down the aisles.

Posted by
2 posts

Thank you so much for the replies. My husband is 6'5." It's barely manageable on 3 hour domestic flights with his knees jammed into the seat in front of him. Last time we were behind someone who kept trying to recline his seat... of course it wouldn't go back because my husband's legs were pressed against it. The guy kept slamming his back against the seat trying to make it recline. We politely explained that sorry, it won't go back because his legs are just too long and unfortunately there's no where else to put them. The guy stopped, and then 15 minutes later started trying to slam his seat into reclining position again. Sigh. :( Steve and Michael, I hear you about the foot in the aisle! Last time my husband was on an international flight he tried that, but he got run over by the food cart, admonished by the flight attendant, and (thankfully) bumped up to business, with stern instructions not to attempt economy again, haha. I did check open skies, which seems like it could be a great option but it's currently a little too expensive for usin the dates we're looking at, tickets are around $2400 each. I will definitely follow up on the various leads you all proposed! I didn't know about the $150 upgrade for bulkhead on Continental. Will also definitely check United economy plus, which I wasn't aware of. I'll look for economy flights where we can our seats at purchase, and troll seat guru and jump on those exit rows. Thanks very much. I've been searching for a while but it's always good to get leads from others who have been there.

Posted by
1551 posts

If you have flexibility, I have been watching this time period and things are much better in Oct. than in Aug. right now. But, I would bet they will change soon. Have you looked at kayak.com? One thing I've done is send my husband in business class and I'll go for an economy seat. My husband is tall and has bad knees. This might be a good time to sign up for an airline frequent flyer program if you don't already belong to one- you're going to get some miles out of this trip! Right now, on American, they have business class seats for 50,000 each way in Oct.

Posted by
1750 posts

Just got an email from Lufthansa about a deal on business class seats to Europe. you might go to their site and see if that "deal" will work for you. I'm not sure of the dates, I knew I couldn't take advantage of the offer, so I deleted the email. Lufthansa runs business offers quite frequently, so you might subscribe for a while to get emails from them if you are still looking for flights.

Posted by
3 posts

Hi Ashleigh - I can offer you a few tips that have been extraordinarily helpful to me in my own similar quest to book economical business/first class Europe tickets. First, right now Delta has a sale for certain legs on their new, flat-bed sleepers from Boston to LHR and Miami to LHR. Their total, including taxis, is currently $1717 per ticket. That's for many, many dates all summer. I was able to get an even better fare for our family of five, with Delta from Orlando to Amsterdam in first/business class for just $1296.00 total, including taxes. Much of what I have learned has come from an excellent website, www.thepointsguy.com. He's a wealth of knowledge about maximizing economical business-class travel opportunities. You can also try going into Travelocity and setting 'fare watches' for travel to London or other portals in Europe. I have no doubt that if you do your research, are patient and flexible, you'll be successful! Best of luck to you!

Posted by
3 posts

*taxes LOL - can you tell I'm now working on ground transportation for our itinerary?

Posted by
23 posts

This information might be completely overdue but just in case....check out flyertalk.com. My husband and I are flying first class and back to Rome this fall because of some of the strategies I learned on that site...at a cost of at $1500 pp.

Posted by
69 posts

Hi Ashleigh, I know that this reply is bit late, unless you have already purchased your tickets. But, I am tall person myself, and I guess to believe your husband's frustrations on crammed seatings in Economy class, while on the other hand to pay a full-fare Business Class ticket may be a bit "heavy". My solution has been to fly the new middle class between Economy and Business Class, that quite a few airlines (SAS, Virgin Atlantic, BA, Air France) offer, and which gives you more leg space. I have good experience from Air France's Premium Voyager where this newly introduced class fits some two seaters in shells, ie. the seats recline inside the shell and does not bother the person behind. Decent legspace. If price is an issue, check out on www.klm.com, where you can purchase an Economy class ticket, and after the purchase pay an additional ca. USD 100-150 to reserve seats in their new Economy comfort zone (I believe Delta offers this product as well). Economy comfort is inside the Economy Class cabin, but in the front, and has ample leg space, but you receive Economy class service. Check it out yourself on the airline's website. Could be a solution to save lots of costs. bon voyage to Europe!

Posted by
361 posts

Air France--Premium Voyageur seating and if you are lucky they may also upgrade you to Business Class.

Posted by
954 posts

Consider a low season trip instead of summer, if you can. I've bought Continental and Delta business class seats when they offer sale prices for November and March/early April. Weather can vary but at least it won't be hot & you will have paid much less, if you don't have miles. Sign up for their weekly emails for their specials, and get a mileage credit card and maximize that. Also, the NY Times has ads in the travel section for business fares, so look at those carefully.