Life is generally easier if you’re taller–in perhaps every respect but one, which we’ll get to in a second. First, some of the advantages:
- Studies show that tall people make more money than short peoplesimply because of their height.
- Women find taller men more attractive.
- Height is literally the only physical attribute that we’re still allowed to make fun of. (Check out this DirecTV commercial mocking short people if you don’t believe me.)
However, when you’re traveling for business, it’s better to be smaller. I asked hundreds of people of all different sizes for their take on this. Here’s what the more diminutive of them said they do to make air travel suck less.
1. Don’t sweat the legroom.
This is the obvious one, and since it doesn’t require you to do anything, let’s put it first.
If you’re shorter than average–under 5 feet 10 inches tall for men; under five feet four inches for women–lack of legroom in coach doesn’t bother you as much as bigger people. (It’s still not enough legroom, mind you–but it’s not as big a deal as for taller people.)
“I’m short, so most seats are fine for me,” said Jeremy Pepper, a public relations and integrated communications professional who stands 5-feet-5. “But the reality is, if the person ahead of me decides to recline … There’s really no room.”
2. Stand your ground.
A couple of physically smaller travelers said they resent the idea that bigger passengers sometimes feel entitled to push them around. Their advice? Do whatever you can to stand up for yourself.
“Occasionally you’ll get someone who wants to trade your aisle for a middle seat. no matter your size,” says Sajel Shah, a public relations manager based on San Francisco who said she stands about 5 feet 5 inches tall. “If you booked your seat for a reason … You can hold your ground.”
(Related: Several smaller people said they make it a practice to stake out the armrests as a silent protest if larger travelers try to physically intimidate them.)
3. Seize the overhead storage.
Among the bigger problems for smaller people: Manipulating your carry-on baggage into the overhead bin space. One trick is to grab space toward the front of the plan, before you reach your seat. That way you avoid having to squeeze against traffic to retrieve your bag when everyone is trying to get off at your destination.
“It’s harder to reach the overhead bin,” said one business traveler based in New York who said she stands exactly five feet tall, and asked that her name not be used. “Pack light so you can lift your bag!”
(Also, she added, she has the opposite legroom problem of taller passengers in coach: “Seats [are] uncomfortable because [I’m] unable to reach the floor!”)
4. Pack a small carry-on.
Attention entrepreneurs: This is a customer need I kept hearing about–being vertically challenged so to speak, and not able to reach the overhead compartment easily. Find a solution to that and you might have a huge hit.
“By far, my biggest complaint is getting my carry-on situated on the top storage compartment. It’s virtually impossible to get a bag up there and be able to reach it during a long flight,” said Francesca Montillo, owner and founder of Lazy Italian Culinary Adventures, who said she clocks in at 5-feet-2-inches.
“Inevitably, I’ll remember something I need during the flight. … It means getting either a flight attendant or having to jump on the seat, which is not always an option.”
5. Take the window seat.
Personally, I’m a window seat guy, mostly because I like to get settled and not have to get up for other people.
However, Jenny Olson, a 5-foot-3-inch public relations director, said she takes the window seat whenever possible because otherwise, “tall and large passengers often choose to sit next to me because I’m small and take up less room.”
This way, she says, “only one side of your body is exposed to a larger, legroom hog instead of being sandwiched between two.”
6. Wear big shoes.
This one only works for women, because if shorter guys ever get caught wearing lifts or heels or the like, they never hear the end of it.
But Lisa Goller, a self-described “petite content marketing strategist” who says she’s five-foot-one (but “5-feet-2 if I poof my hair”), is all about high heels.
“To avoid the need to stand on a seat (or a fellow passenger) while storing luggage overhead, wear your heaviest, tallest shoes on the airplane,” she suggests. “This trick helps us take up less space in our carry-on, gain a height advantage and feel almost statuesque.”
7. Gate check your bag.
This one is related to carrying a small carry-on, but instead the idea is simply to plan to gate check your bag.
“It is hard for me to reach the overhead racks, especially if the bag is heavy,” says 5-foot-2-inch Jane Tabachnick. “Planning on gate checking … reduces stress.”
8. Fight for equality.
This one would tick me off and give me a Napoleon complex, no doubt. Apparently there are some employers that set how much they’ll pay for travel by employees’ height. It’s sort of like a sign that reads, “you must be THIS TALL to ride in comfort…”
“I used to work for a company that allowed employees over 5 feet 10 inches to book business class, or at least economy plus,” said Corey Kronengold, who is 5 feet 5 inches tall and is the CMO for Smart Adserver. “Total bullshit. It isn’t just about legroom. Just because I’m shorter than 5’10” doesn’t mean I don’t want to work on my laptop.”
9. Be flexible (literally).
“My size makes travel WAY better for me,” said Courtney Osgood, head of PR and communications at Paint Nite. “I’m like a compact car. I can fit into small spaces.”
Her advice is to dress in a way that maximizes that advantage: “Wear sneakers or something with tread on the bottom. If you want to curl up, it’s always nice to have tread on the bottom of your shoe so that your foot doesn’t slip (especially when you’re sleeping!). Waking up because of a foot slip is the worst!”
10. Bring your own pillow.
This one would never have occurred to me, but several shorter travelers said the built-in headrests on airline seats are too high for them to be of use.
“Bring your own pillow or neck support for long business travel,” advised Dr. Kat Cohen, the CEO and Founder of IvyWise.