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5 Ways to Get a Great Seat On Your Next Flight

No one wants a bad seat. Whether you’re flying for business or pleasure, everyone tries to steer clear of those awful seats. There is a simple reason for this: comfort. Even if your flight is less than a couple of hours, it’s a long time to be thinking about escape. And the longer the flight, the higher the stakes.

Because I come from Australia, I am all too familiar with very long flights and how important it is to secure a comfortable space for yourself. Luckily, because of this, I have become aware of some simple and not so simple tips to find your happy seat. Here are some of the things that I’ve found to be pretty effective when it comes to getting a good seat.

Book ahead or wait for check in

It seems pretty obvious that the further you book ahead, the more likely the seat you want is available. Although it is not as easy as that. Most airlines block certain seats for various reasons. They usually hold the best seats for their frequent flyers or those that might require them (such as tall people at exit rows). Another reason could be for operational and load factors. For example, they don’t want everyone at the front as it would put the aircraft out of balance. Therefore, sometimes they deliberately block out sections to fill up other seats. Generally though, if you book well in advance, there is a better than even chance you can pick your favorite seat.

If booking well ahead is not practical, you could always wait until really close to the flight time. It can be a bit of a gamble, but more often than not, stellar seats will pop up due to cancellations or upgrades. In this case, the “operational reasons”, such as weight and balance, might come in your favor as the airline tries to distribute passengers around the cabin.

Get a higher frequent flyer status

Boosting your frequent flyer status really does make a difference in terms of seat selection. I’ve experienced this myself as I was making my way up the frequent flyer ladder. I used to make the same trips week in, week out on the same days and times. Whenever I was checking in, the front ten or so rows were always blocked out. That is, until I reached Gold. Suddenly I had access to most of the plane bar the first two rows in economy. When I made it to Platinum, you guessed it, those two rows were mine for the taking.

This can also help on partner airlines and just in general. If you’re in a higher tier and you ask nicely at check-in, you’re more than likely going to get the seat you want.

Strategize seat selection


This is where your Sherlock Holmes skills get a workout. Think about the flight you will be taking and the type of people who will be on board. Will it be solo travelers going on business? Is it more likely there will be a lot of families on board? Perhaps couples traveling together on vacation. This could help you pick a good seat, while avoiding being crushed or surrounded by a lot of noise.

If you value space, heading towards the back generally will offer more in this regard. If traveling as a couple on an aircraft with rows 3 seats abreast, try selecting the window and the aisle to maximize your chance of securing the whole row. It is unlikely someone will select the middle seat voluntarily. And if someone does appear, they’re usually alone and will be more than happy to swap with you so you can sit together, while they gain an aisle or window.

These strategies are hardly certain, but they sometimes do work. At the very least, you might have fun while trying to trick the system!

Know your aircraft

This one is really important and sometimes overlooked. Obviously, it pays to know if the aircraft is a wide-body or narrow-body aircraft. With so many seating arrangements around, there are a lot of different combinations of seats out there. On an Airbus A330-200 for example, you might have 2-4-2 or a 3-3-3 configuration, depending on the airline and even within airlines. Again, this is handy to know. If you’re traveling with a companion, those 2 seats on a row are gold. If traveling solo, however, you have a better chance of having an empty seat next to you in a 3 seat row.

Compare Air Transat A330-200 seat map (top) displaying a 3-3-3 layout in economy, with the Korean Air A330-200 (bottom) seat map, showing a 2-4-2 layout. Images courtesy of the respective airlines.

There are some other factors too. Take the Emirates A380-800. Economy class takes up the entire lower deck. Business on other hand, is up top and stretches from about a third of the way to the very rear of the aircraft. This makes a huge impact in regards to noise from the engines.

It is also worth to note where and how the seats are arranged as the aircraft tapers towards the front or back. This is where sites like SeatLink help you to narrow all this information down. If you have a choice, it might pay to select the flight with the optimal aircraft for your preferences.

Pay to secure a premium seat

Paying for a seat towards the front is the easiest way to secure that favorite seat of yours. However, it bears to keep in mind that others may be willing to do so too. With most airlines charging extra now for the front rows, this is becoming more of a consideration as the aviation industry keeps evolving.


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