THE BLOG
10/29/2012 09:08 am ET Updated Dec 29, 2012

How To Pick The Right Seat For 40,000 Feet

Have you ever experienced this scenario? You are nearly finished with the online booking for your next flight when the airline's reservation system prompts you to select a seat. You are stumped. Which seat do you pick? How do you know if 8A is better than 14C? What if you end up in one of those seats that don't recline?

Well we've asked around and here is a rundown of some general rules of thumb that should help you find the right seat. After all, not all seats are created equal.

High Trafficked Areas:

You may think that an upgrade gets you a better seat, right? Well that is not always the case. Back in the spring one of our team members upgraded to a premium economy seat on a transatlantic flight, only to find that she had been placed right across from the galley and bathrooms. Yes she technically had more leg room but, given that passengers were using her extra space to stand in line for the restroom, it wasn't worth the frequent flyer points. And sleep -- forget about it!

Bottom line is that high trafficked areas, such as galleys and lavatories, can be annoying if you are looking to leverage your flight for some peace and quiet. So always double check your aircraft's seating plan before booking your seat.

The Most Legroom:

So where can you find a few extra inches to stretch out without having the space hijacked? Well, not surprisingly, it is usually the exit rows and the bulk head seats (the first row of a cabin). Unfortunately, these are also the most popular seats and they are usually reserved for elite frequent flyers or those willing to spend money on the seat assignment. If not pre-allocated, they are usually made available during online check-in or at the airport -- so make sure you double-check/ask.

Reclining seat:

While the exit rows are the most desired part of the plane, it's important to note that any row of seats in front of an exit row won't recline. So that means if a plane has two exit rows, the first row may have more leg room, but the seats won't recline. You should therefore avoid this area if you need to lean back to get comfortable. The same is true for the last row of seats on the airplane as they typically back up into the back of a bathroom or galley.

Children:

I'm sure you've seen news articles in recent months about children and flying. For instance an Australian carrier has banned men from sitting next to children traveling alone, Air Asia has banned children from the first seven rows in economy, and there have been countless stories about passengers who have had nightmare experiences when traveling with their kids, and passengers who have had trouble with other people's children. Each time a new story breaks there are two very distinct camps -- those with young children and those without.

As a mother myself, I certainly lean more toward the former. However, whatever side you take there is one thing to keep in mind when booking a seat -- many airlines have drop down bassinets at the bulk head for young infants. It depends on the aircraft model (typically a Boeing 767 or 777), but you'll usually find bassinets on cross-country and international flights. Major carriers like American Airlines, United Airlines, British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and KLM all offer bassinets, depending on the route. So, if you don't want to be near to a baby, find a seat further back or check your flight's seat map on SeatGuru to see if the plane your flying offers bassinets.

And for families traveling with children be warned, sitting together has become, more challenging in recent times. Today many families have to pay for at least some of their seat assignments if they want to sit together.

Safety:

Are you a nervous flyer? Then consider sitting in the back of the plane. A recent study by the Discovery Channel found that it might be the safest part of the plane.

Other Resources:

Looking for even more insight into seat assignments? Then, instead of anxiously pondering the fate of your comfort at 40,000 feet, why don't you check out some of these great websites?

ExpertFlyer
A great tool for flyers that want to get out of the middle seat or just find a seat on a full flight. The website offers a free Seat Alerts feature that is also available as an iPhone/iPad app. Through the Seat Alerts tool, travelers can select their preferences (aisle, window, etc.), even if the seats are occupied. ExpertFlyer then notifies the traveler by email or text when a seat becomes available. The site also provides frequent flyers with services that make it easy to obtain an award ticket using miles and business/first class upgrade alerts.

SeatGuru
Get seat advice for more than 700 seat maps, backed by 45,000 flyer reviews. Simply enter the airline and flight number for your upcoming trip to find a seat map for that specific flight. The maps show which seats have been rated as "good" by previous flyers, as well as the seats to avoid. You can also read detailed seat reviews to get an idea of the storage space, legroom, armrests etc. as well as more information about the location of power ports, overhead televisions, emergency exits, lavatories, closets and galleys.

SeatExpert
This site is similar to Seatguru, but offers a quick and simple glance on the best and worst seats on a specific flight with details on legroom, proximity to bathrooms and seats with restricted chair recline, or no option to recline.

Have some tips of your own? We would love to hear them!

- - Allison Hollins is a project manager at Fly.com and is based in New York City. As an avid traveler and new mother, Allison is becoming an expert at traveling with a baby after some interesting cross-country and transatlantic flights with an infant in tow this past year.