How To Make Flying Less Miserable: Play The Airplane Game

How to make flying more bearable

Once travel opens up again, I'm pretty sure the travel experience will b MORE miserable than ever before.

There will be longer lines, slower lines, and more checkups to reduce the risk of the coronavirus transmission. As a result, traveling is not going to be that great of an experience.

Given I only run a lean lifestyle business, when going to Hawaii for our semi-annual company retreat, I still fly economy class. While in the air, I like to spend most of the time writing new posts. I use my tray table to place my 13″ laptop and need to be wary of the seat in front bashing into my laptop during recline.

One nice solution to working more comfortably is to pay about $60 extra for an Economy Plus seat. The seat measurements are the same, but you get six more inches for typing. As I’m a regular sized person at 5’10”, 168 lbs, economy class seats fit fine.

After doing 50 pushups and 100 situps to get the blood flowing, I boarded my five hour flight. Usually, I always board last to minimize my time in the airplane. Alas, when I got to my Economy Plus seat, there sitting in the middle seat of a three seat row was a morbidly obese man whose side rolls overflowed onto the adjoining seats.

Given we all know that obesity is almost entirely genetic, I couldn’t blame the 5’8”, 300 lbs man for taking up more room than he purchased. After all, nobody purposefully becomes obese given there are literally hundreds of millions of malnourished people in this world. That would be thoughtless and greedy. Further, we know obesity can lead to all sorts of health problems. Who wants to die young?

Despite taking action on what I thought was a good plan, sometimes things just don’t work out. I didn’t anticipate there might be a higher frequency of larger folks in Economy Plus seats because they require more room. Anyway, there're worse things in the world than paying $60 extra to have someone’s fat lay on me for five hours.

But here’s the upside. I always create financial mechanisms to hedge against unfortunate events.

The Airplane Game: How To Make Flying Less Miserable

Whenever I travel with a friend or colleague, we always play The Airplane Game. Given airplanes don’t charge humans by weight or size (even though they do for luggage), it’s always risky to fly in the United States due to our physical disposition. One third of Americans are considered overweight, and another one third are considered obese. Therefore, there's a 65% chance you will sit next to someone who may take up some of your seat space when flying.

And if you think it's bad for a non-obese person to sit next to an obese person for five hours, think about how uncomfortable the flight would be if you were an obese person sitting next to another obese person! The seats today just haven't kept up with our growing waistlines.

Here are the simple rules of The Airplane Game:

Rule #1: If you sit next to a normal sized person who does not take up any of your space, you must put $20 in the pot. You have an estimated 35% chance of this happening.

Rule #2: If you sit next to an amazingly attractive person who does not take up any of your space, even if you want him or her to, you must put $40 in the pot. You have an estimated 10% chance of this happening.

Rule #3: If you sit next to an amazingly attractive person who does not take up any of your space, even if you want him or her to, and you get his or her number where you get proceed to have an Eat, Pray, Love moment on your trip, you must put $100 in the pot. You have less than a 5% chance of this happening.

Rule #4: If you sit next to a fit person who so happens to be famous, you must put $200 in the pot. You have less than a 1% chance of this happening in economy class. $200 may sound like a lot, but think about all the stories you’ll be able to tell and the selfies you can take to show all your friends over social media?

Rule #5: If you sit next to an obese person who takes up some of your space, you get $20 from the pot. You have a 65% chance of this happening.

Rule #6: If you sit next to an obese person who takes up some of your space and sweats all over you, you get $40 from the pot. You have a 50% chance of this happening as it’s generally cold on the airplane.

Rule #7: If you sit next to an obese person who takes up some of your space, sweats all over you, and gives off horrendous body odor, you get $100 from the pot. You have a 25% chance of this happening, since most people are courteous enough to shower and brush their teeth before mingling with other people.

Rule #8: If you sit next to a morbidly obese person who takes up a lot of your space, sweats all over you, gives off horrendous body odor, and is sick, you get $200 from the pot. Not only do you have to suffer through the flight, you have a greater chance of becoming sick for 1-2 weeks after the flight as well. You have less than a 1% chance of this happening.

Based on these rules, those who are fortunate pay for those who are less fortunate. And for their misery, the less unfortunate get some relief. Who knows, some of you with needs may actually enjoy the suffering! We already have this type of system in place. It's called our progressive income tax system. To protect us from unfortunate events, many of us purchase insurance policies.

Shrinking airline seats

Travel Permutations

If you will be traveling alone, ask some friends beforehand whether they’d like to play the game with you. It’s up to you to be honest, or at least take secret pictures of your neighbors to prove your position.

If you are traveling with one other person, then you have to pay the amounts to each other. If you plan to sit together in a row that has more than two seats, you must decide before boarding who takes the seat next to a stranger. If both of you are screwed or lucky, no money is exchanged. Or, you can just keep a running tab for the flight back. In general, it’s best to settle payment before the plane lands.

If you are traveling with multiple people, this is where things can get really fun because the pot can be sizeable. Let’s say you’re traveling with your basketball team. There are 20 people in total and you are the unlucky smuck who happens to sit next to a morbidly obese person who is hacking up a lung. Meanwhile, the 19 other in your party are sitting with their current and future soulmates. Theoretically, your sorry situation could be assuaged with a 19 X $200 = $1,800 + $200 equals $2,000 payout!

If you are an obese person who tends to take up some of your neighbor’s space, consider giving each neighbor a $20 bill and telling them about The Airplane Game! It's a nice way to initiate a conversation about an unpleasant situation and might just make you a new friend. At the very least, offer to buy your neighbors a drink.

You don’t have to follow my exact dollar amounts either. Instead of $20, $40, $100, and $200, you could do $5, $10, $25, $50 for example. The goal is to redistribute money from the fortunate to the less fortunate. But in reality, the main goal is to just have fun.

Airline Seat Shrinkage

Always Make The Best Of A Bad Situation

I hate flying with a passion. Security lines are long. Making connections may be stressful. My butt gets numb after a couple hours. The food is terrible. If the plane crashes, you will die. And your neighbors might take up your space and smell bad.

Despite my hatred, I do my best to make the best of a bad situation by:

1) Creating a business to reduce the cost of flying. Flying is now a business expense.
2) Upgrading to Economy Plus for more leg room and typing room.
3) Flying to nicer places for business because as CEO I can choose where I want to hold my work retreats.
4) Working while in the air with the goal of writing at least one post every five hours. Work along with sleep are terrific time killers. It’s probably more efficient to work on your laptop in a dark airplane cabin.
5) Buying several million dollars worth of life insurance.
6) Creating a new version of The Airplane Game.

I’m a super optimist. During my childhood, there were some unlucky situations that could have derailed my path towards financial freedom. But because they didn’t, in bad situations I’m always looking for the positives. I firmly believe that if you start looking at things in positive ways, your life will be happier.

On our paths toward financial freedom, sometimes things don’t work out. The best we can do is come up with a financial plan, follow our financial plan, review our progress, and keep the faith long enough until the turbulence clears.

Related: The Best Way To Travel For Free And Lower Your Taxable Income

About the Author: Sam worked in investing banking for 13 years at GS and CS. He received his undergraduate degree in Economics from The College of William & Mary and got his MBA from UC Berkeley. In 2012, Sam was able to retire at the age of 34 largely due to his investments that now generate roughly $250,000 a year in passive income, most recently helped by real estate crowdfunding. He spends most of his time playing tennis and taking care of his family. Financial Samurai was started in 2009 and is one of the most trusted personal finance sites on the web with over 1.5 million pageviews a month.