You've managed to secure the cheapest airline ticket or the best value ticket based on your travel itinerary. Or, maybe you've managed to snare that elusive upgrade or free award ticket in First Class. That's terrific, but you're still only halfway to a great experience -- Where are you going to sit? On the wing?
Traveling from one city to another can vary greatly based on the airline and the equipment (type of plane). Different airlines will fly different aircraft types and each will have its own seating configuration and amenities. This can drastically alter your flying experience. Even with the same airline, two or three different aircraft types may be used and each with varying quality of seats and seat arrangements.
Tips for Finding the Best Seat
1. Get to Know the Aircraft
There are several web sites, like SeatGuru.com, that will graphically show the relative position of every seat for every aircraft model flown by nearly 100 airlines. The comments listed on SeatGuru are invaluable as they are the results of passenger observations. Find out which aircraft type your flight will be using and study the seating chart. Make particular note of the distinctive characteristics of each seat. Avoid seats near galleys and restrooms at all costs.
2. Find Out What is Available
Airline web sites may not always show you which seats are available for your flight. And leaving your seat assignment up to the airline's computer is like playing the lottery and hoping for the best. If you go to ExpertFlyer.com, you will be able to view which seats are occupied or available for specific flights up to 11 months in advance for over 140 airlines worldwide. Pick an available seat then call the airline and ask for it specifically. If there are not good seats available, use a service like Seat Alerts to notify you when a preferable seat option opens up. ExpertFlyer Seat Maps also contain SeatGuru ratings information, so you can know which seats are both available and preferable.
3. Not All Aircraft Types are the Same
So you found out your flight will use a specific aircraft type. Do you think they are all configured the same? Guess again. Japan Airlines has over a dozen different seating configurations just for their 747s and American Airlines has two very different 777 First Class configurations.
4. Think Twice About Asking For The Exit Row
The common belief is that an exit row seat is probably the best seat in coach. Maybe, but it can also be the worst. If an aircraft has two exit rows, one behind the other, never pick the first exit row. Why? The seats will not recline so as not to intrude into the exit row behind. And while the exit row seats may have a little more leg room they usually have less width. This is to accommodate the tray table that must be stowed in the armrest instead of behind the seat in front.
5. They Save the Best for Last
Airlines will generally hold back certain choice seats for assignment to their elite frequent flyers. If these seats are not assigned they will then be released at the airport just before flight time. These include seats at the front of the coach cabin and exit row seats. If you don't like your seat assignment, ask at the airport when you check-in if one of these "blocked" seats is available.
6. Changing the Fleet
As airlines bring new aircraft into their fleet and retrofit older aircraft, the in-flight seating and entertainment will vary amongst the same aircraft for a particular airline. This is especially true in First and Business classes with more advanced entertainment systems and "lie-flat" seating.
7. Beware the Lie-Flat seat "Lie"
The Holy Grail for any long haul traveler is to be able to lie perfectly flat in your seat as if you were lying in bed. Some airlines have installed bed-like seats in the First and Business cabins. But others seem to have taken liberties with the concept of "lie-flat." Be aware that some seats that claim to be lie-flat are actually on an angle or "wedge". The seat can be reclined to a position that is virtually straight, but it is pitched on an angle creating what looks like a wedge with respect to the floor. While these are certainly nice seats, they are definitely not the real thing as passengers have a tendency to slide down the seat.
Chris is the President and Co-Founder of ExpertFlyer.com, a service that helps travelers get out of the "Middle Seat" by providing in-depth flight info and alerts when Awards and Upgrades are available.
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