The Help Key: An Airport Tech Survival Guide

Being a very, very, very frequent traveler, I’ve picked up a few tips for how to handle the foibles of the modern airline system. Companies might their best to try to screw you out of free Wi-Fi and a decent seat these days, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still come out on top. Click the jump to see a few of the tips I’ve picked up over the years for surviving the modern airport.

Pick the best seat:

Picking your plane’s seat is a crapshoot—it’s hard to know if 14A won’t recline until you get on board and it’s too late. The remedy: visit Plug in your airline and the model airplane it will tell you exactly what seats to ask for, and which to avoid.

And remember a few of the common pitfalls that pop up again and again on the site. For example, while emergency exit rows offer primo legroom, the seats directly in front of them often can’t recline. Also, with some exceptions, the seats in the back of the plane often are narrower, and the ones by the privy are privy to odors.

How To Find Free Airport Wi-Fi:

These days, finding free Wi-Fi at an airport has become harder than finding cheap food. With few exceptions, most airports try to strip you of eight or nine bucks a day in exchange for the privilege of checking your email for the half hour before your flight leaves. But there are ways to surf for free:

At JetBlue’s hubs, such as New York’s JFK, they often offer free Wi-Fi in their terminal area. Park your laptop nearby and soak up the rays. Otherwise, your best bet is near the airlines’ luxury membership lounges. These guys always have Wi-Fi, and rarely password-protect it. Get within range of the Red Carpet Club and surf away.

Keep Charged:

I’ve begun to notice a disturbing trend: airports disabling their power outlets to prevent people from soaking up free juice. This is out-of-control cheapness is a particularly bad problem at New York’s LaGuardia Airport, where working outlets are few and far between. So how do you get around this? Look for water fountains. These suckers need to be plugged in, and outlets typically come in pairs, meaning the airport can’t turn on the fountain’s outlet without switching on another as well. Simply plug your laptop into the plug that adjoins the water fountains and power up.

The Help Key is a weekly article about making the most of your high-tech gear and appears every Monday. Read more of The Help Key here