Consumer Reports: How to squeeze the most out of airlines squeezing you

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Shirleen Allicot has the latest details.

Airline profits hit $25.6 billion in 2015, but customer complaints also shot up 34 percent. Dissatisfaction is likely driven by cramped seating, long lines and having to pay for services that used to be free, like selecting a seat or checking a bag.

Consumer Reports has important advice on how to squeeze the best out of the airlines that are trying to squeeze you.

With airlines packing in more seats than ever before, savvy travelers book ahead to avoid the dreaded middle seat. But increasingly, that's not an option, at least not for free.

"Airlines have long charged for extra leg room, but now selecting even a regular economy seat in advance can cost you," Consumer Reports' Amanda Walker said.

One tip is that airlines will often release the seats they haven't sold or were canceled 72 hours ahead of the flight, so keep trying and you might score a decent free seat.

Also, knowing which seats give you the most room can help, too. Check out SeatGuru.com for information about most airlines' seating plans, including size, limited recline or leg room.

"If despite your best efforts, you're still in a cramped seat or your flight is over four hours, get up frequently and stretch your legs and feet to avoid blood clots," Walker said.

Another travel mishap you can avoid is missing your connecting flight. With increased security these days, Consumer Reports recommends allowing at least two hours between domestic flights and four if you're traveling overseas. Sitting in the front can save as much as 15 minutes when deplaning, though you might have to pay for that seat. Avoid booking the last flight of the day, and if possible, also avoid major airports that have the worst on-time departure performance.

And you do have rights if you are bumped involuntarily from a flight and are delayed. You may be entitled to up to $650 if the flight is domestic, and $1,300 if it's international, according to Department of Transportation regulations.

Consumer Reports' latest customer satisfaction survey found that as in past years, JetBlue, Southwest Airlines, and Virgin America top the ratings.
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