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3 Ways to Check How Full a Flight Is

These easy tips for how to check how full a flight is will help you avoid an uncomfortable, jam-packed plane.

3 Ways to Check How Full a Flight Is
© onlyyouqj / Freepik

By Jessica Puckett, Condé Nast Traveller

Even before the pandemic, being on a completely jam-packed flight was less than ideal. Add in stress about COVID-19, plus the crowds of holiday travelers, and the prospect of being on a sold-out flight can seem unbearable.

Some airlines, like Delta and Alaska, have promised customers they will continue to block middle seats and limit passenger capacities until January 6, 2021. For most other airlines, however, all bets are off, and planes are being fully booked when possible.

Fortunately, there are some strategies to help avoid that situation. But no matter how empty a flight might look prior to boarding, keep in mind that airline seating assignments can change at the last minute: Passengers might be waiting on standby to board your flight, a new smaller aircraft might be swapped in, or fliers could be added due to other flights that were canceled or delayed.

Here are three easy ways to check how full a flight is before takeoff.


Check the airline’s app

Many airlines provide information such as seat maps that are accessible via their apps and websites before the day of travel. These maps will show you the layout of every seat on the plane and whether it's been booked or not.

Delta, for example, allows fliers to log in to its app (or website) and view how full the seat maps for their flights are under the “My Trips” tab. Seats that have been blocked for social distancing will be labeled “blocked for safety,” while booked seats will say “occupied.”

Some airlines, like JetBlue, Hawaiian, and Alaska, allow you to view the most current version of the flight’s seat map by logging in with the passenger’s last name and confirmation code. (You will have to follow prompts to change seats, but you can view the map without actually confirming a seat change.)

These tools will give a reliable indication of how full you can expect the flight to be. But remember, most airlines continue to assign seats throughout the check-in process, and seats might be shuffled by gate agents to accommodate families and other travelers who need special attention.



Take a look during check-in

Depending on your airline, you’re almost certainly able to get a peak at the seat map during the check-in process, which starts 24 hours before departure. This usually comes with the chance to select or purchase seats, and as such will show you how many open seats are available the day before your flight.

If the plane is looking too crowded for comfort, you'll still have time to switch to a new flight. Many U.S. airlines have eliminated change fees for most cabin classes, so there's no penalty for swapping to a less full flight. (You will have to pay any difference in fare, though).

If you have elite status, you could have even more options. United Airlines, for instance, has introduced a same-day confirmation service on select flights for all passengers with elite status—that means they can switch to an earlier flight in the same cabin class at no charge, without paying a difference in fare.



Call (or chat with) the airline

When in doubt, call the carrier’s customer service line and an agent to check how full the flight is. It might not be the most convenient option, but it will yield an answer. If you dread the idea of waiting on hold, some airlines have also introduced new customer service chat features.

United’s Agent on Demand feature, for instance, lets customers submit a question and request to be contacted by phone, video, or online chat. American also launched a new tool called Sherpa that provides information travel restrictions and COVID-19 measures that also has a chat function. Southwest Airlines and Delta's mobile apps have live chat options, and JetBlue agents are available through Apple Business Chat.

See more at Condé Nast Traveller

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Travel Magazine: 3 Ways to Check How Full a Flight Is
3 Ways to Check How Full a Flight Is
These easy tips for how to check how full a flight is will help you avoid an uncomfortable, jam-packed plane.
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