As airlines cram in more and more seats and change configurations on their planes, the task of choosing a seat you’ll be happy to occupy for hours is becoming daunting. Do you want a window seat for the view or to lean against? Is your preference an aisle so you can get up easily? On some planes the first exit row seats – and the row at the back of the plane – don’t recline. And how do you know where those big metal boxes bolted to the floor that eat up your legroom are located? Here are a few tips for getting the best seat on your next flight.
Your Travel Manager is a terrific asset here. Take advantage of their access to industry booking portals, and lock in your seating preferences with them before you book. Seat Guru is another resource, dedicated to the topic of airplane seating. It provides seat maps for most airlines and planes, along with comparison charts. They even have a ‘Guru’ tab providing helpful articles such as ‘Bulkheads Explained: Pros and Cons’ and ‘The Art of Negotiating a Seat Swap’.
Economy Class passengers should check-in online as early as possible. If you can check-in 24-hours before your flight, don’t wait until 23 hours beforehand! Setting a calendar reminder or phone alarm for when it’s time to check-in will help you get first pick on unclaimed seats. If you’re flying solo – as business travelers often do – keep an eye out for a spare aisle seat in a row of four where the two at the other end of the row have been taken. That lonely middle seat will likely be the last chosen and this maximizes the possibility of a spare seat beside you.
Ensure your seat preference is registered with your frequent flyer profile. If you like an aisle or a window, you should be allocated your preference automatically. Don’t waste your breath on asking for a free upgrade – these went out of style with the smoking section. You can ask for a bulkhead seat or an exit row seat, but there will likely be a fee.
You’ll usually get a smoother ride near the front of the plane and if noise is your big issue go for a spot forward of the wings. The back of the plane is where you sit near the restrooms, suffer a noisier, bumpier ride and are often last off the plane. You’ll also be among the final passengers to get a meal, meaning your first choice of food might not be available by the time they get to you. Try requesting a special meal when you book or check-in online, as these are delivered before the main service starts. For these reasons, the back of the plane is generally avoided. But, if these inconveniences don’t bother you, then you can likely score an empty seat or even a vacant row nearby.
Of course, even the most painstaking seat selection process could still result in you sitting in front of a wailing infant, next to a garlic-loving seatmate, or behind an instant-recliner. So just in case, make sure to always pack your Zen in your carry-on.