It seems as if more ink has been spilled about how to get the cheapest airline seats than almost any other topic in travel, but less is written about how you should select that bargain seat. Most travelers identify as either window- or aisle-seat people (we’ve yet to meet someone who prefers to play elbow hockey in the middle seat). Whichever seat you prefer, here are a few strategies to increase the odds that you’ll enjoy a comfortable seat for the journey:
WINDOW VERSUS AISLE
Many travelers choose the window seat because they prefer the view, but that view is wasted when it’s dark outside for most of the journey. So, if a view is your thing, choose a window only for daytime flights. But if you’re someone who sleeps through the flight (oh, how we envy you), you may want to consider the window seat; you can snooze against the outside wall, and your seatmates won’t wake you up on their way to the restroom.
Couples often choose to sit together, which typically means one of you will end up in the middle seat. We both prefer aisle seats, however, so we’ve learned that the best configuration is to select aisle seats across from each other. That way, we can still converse, but each of us gets a bit more space and easy access to the aisle for restroom and exercise breaks.
FRONT VERSUS REAR
Some people prefer sitting in the rear of the plane because airlines often load passengers from the rear first (after high-status frequent flyers and other preferred passengers), and they feel there’ll be more overhead storage space available for their luggage. Unless you’re bogged down with large bags that need to be stored, it’s better to stay up front. You’ll be one of the first to de-plane, which becomes especially important if you have to make a tight connecting flight. Also, on flights with food available (even at a charge), the airline is less likely to run out of your meal choice.
ALL AIRPLANES ARE NOT CREATED EQUAL
The same model aircraft (for example, a Boeing 777), even on the same airline, may not have an identical configuration. To determine the exact seat layout of the plane you’re flying on, go to SeatGuru.com, and input your flight details. A color-coded seat map will pop up (red, yellow, green) of the aircraft for your flight, with detailed descriptions of what to avoid.
For example, some rows may not have a window; SeatGuru will point that out for your specific flight. Bulkhead rows usually (but not always) provide extra legroom. On one airline, the bulkhead may be just behind the galley, while on another airline, it’s near the restrooms. SeatGuru will tell you which bulkhead rows are equipped with bassinets, a small bed for infants, which are handy for new parents but less desirable for someone who’s hoping to sleep during the flight (we speak from experience).
PAYING FOR A SEAT ASSIGNMENT
Many airlines now charge for seat assignments or to be seated in certain rows. We think it’s worth paying the premium to ensure you sit where you want, particularly on a long overnight flight. The fee is minimal when compared with the total cost of a vacation, and having the optimal seat on your flight can make the difference between arriving at your destination excited or grumpy.