Tripologist: How to get a good seat on the plane

Finding space in cattle class

I'm facing a long economy flight to Europe and I'm wondering how I can get a decent seat on the plane.

I know about SeatGuru and seat selection via the internet but it seems that so does everyone else and the premium seats are always booked.

Is there another way to fly economy in comfort?

- C. Larssen, Northbridge.

There is. Several airlines sell their exit row seating and it's one of the best bargains around. For a small charge, you get a seat beside the emergency exit and anything up to a metre of extra leg room.

On the kangaroo route, Qantas ( and Virgin Atlantic ( both sell these exit row seats. One of the best deals comes from Singapore Airlines (, which sells its exit row seats at a fixed price of $US50 ($47.50) a sector.

For that amount, you could, for example, make the 14-hour flight from Singapore to London without your feet or knees ever coming in contact with the seat in front.

Singapore Airlines calls these "preferred seats" and you can purchase one by retrieving your booking on the airline's website.

Bookings made through Singapore Airlines reservations and ticket offices or travel agents must be ticketed on Singapore Airlines.


Passengers seated in emergency row seats must be 18 years old or over, able-bodied and capable of opening the emergency exit doors.

Take a pool cue from the stars

What is the protocol when going to and from a pool in a five-star hotel? Is it OK to return to your room with a towel wrapped around you, or should you shower and change near the pool and return to your room fully dressed?

It seems a little laborious to take all your toiletries with you but it also seems tacky walking back to your room, passing other guests wrapped in a towel.

- V. Sacco, Terrigal.

When it comes to bodies wrapped in towels, the world is not a level playing field. If Miranda Kerr or Hugh Jackman were to saunter from hotel pool to their room, you can bet that every other guest would consider a towel was perfectly OK. The rest of us need to play it by ear.

If it's a resort hotel and you're in a bungalow or somewhere relatively private and you can get there without exposing yourself to the Unilever incentive group, by all means go with the towel.

If it's something like the Peninsula Hotel in Bangkok, however, where the route from pool to room will take you through the lobby to the lifts, you're going to feel pretty uncomfortable in a soggy towel among the suited and silk-wrapped bodies - and that's just the staff.

A better option for the room-to-pool transit might be a hotel-supplied bathrobe, especially the long and fluffy towelling variety; plenty of guests use these even in plush urban hotels.

Convenience could be worth the drive

My wife and I are heading to Europe in September. We have seven nights to get from Berlin to Paris and are keen to travel via hire car.

The information we have suggests companies are reluctant for cars to be dropped off in a second country and car leasing seems to require a two-week minimum. Do you recommend petrol or diesel?

- D. Burns, Caringbah.

If you return your hired vehicle to a city other than the one you hired from, you will pay a relocation fee. If you return it to a different country, the fee rises.

If you hire a Ford Focus starting from and returning to Berlin's Schoenfeld Airport from September 1, the cost if you book now is $377. If you return that vehicle in Paris, pictured, you're going to pay $755.

There is an alternative. To drive from Pozieres in the Somme region to Aachen, just across the German border, Hertz will charge $402. You could then catch a train from Aachen to Paris.

I'd settle for the convenience of returning the vehicle in Paris. And diesel is cheaper in Germany and France, and gives better mileage.

Large islands the key to cutting cost of Caribbean

My wife and I, who are in our 50s and 60s, recently backpacked through Central America and would recommend it to other adventurous Australians.

This year, in June and August, we want to explore the Caribbean. But all we can find are islands aimed at the mega-rich and/or US/European package tourists.

Could you suggest backpacker-friendly alternatives? Also, feedback to date suggests Cuba doesn't really fit the bill. Maybe we are getting the wrong advice?

- A. Johnson, Seaforth.

The Caribbean is not really backpacker territory. Those blinding white, bikini-sized beaches, those hammocks swinging between the coconut palms on Martinique, those waiters plying you with iced mojitos on the balcony of your plantation-style resort all come at a premium price and, for most visitors, this is what the Caribbean is all about. Unlike Central America, there is not a cheap and cheerful way to travel in most of the Caribbean islands that is accessible to foreigners and you might find yourself on the outside, looking in.

However, some of the larger islands get a tick from enthusiastic backpackers, including the wild and green wonderland of Dominica, Jamaica, pictured, Granada and, si, Cuba, once you escape Havana.

You might want to reconsider the timing of your trip. June to August are low holiday season in the Caribbean because this is the start of the rainy season, although this usually means putting up with brief tropical showers. On the upside, the hotel rates drop by as much as 60 per cent and this is a popular time for European visitors.

The official hurricane season falls between the beginning of June and the end of November and peaks in September.


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