Most people don’t like long flights. Not hard to understand why: small uncomfortable seats, and stuck for many, many (many), hours. On every flight, there are some seats that are better than others. Yes, Business Class and exit row, but others as well, and it varies depending on the flight and plane.
So here are 5 tricks and tips to help you track down the best seat possible.
Thinking about a long trip? Check out 10 Tips For The Beginner Traveler, 10 Things To Bring On Every International Flight (And 3 Things Not To), The Best Cellular Plan for Travelers, and Why You Should Always Pack Light.
This is the place to start, and in most cases, gets you about 80% of the way. SeatGuru.com lets you put in your flight number and day, and gives you a seat map color coded for the best seats. Each seat also has an explainer as to why it was rated the way it was.
This gets you most of the way, but there are a few other steps to fine tune even more.
2) Change Days or Times
SeatGuru will help you find the best seat on that flight, but what about other flights? Obviously, a seat you want might be available on a different day, but what I’m talking about is if there’s a different plane. If so, every seat might be better (or worse).
Most airlines use the same plane on a specific route/time, but a larger or smaller plane (or a different layout) might be used earlier/later in the day, or on a different day. Check the specific details on SeatGuru (or occasionally on the airline’s site) regarding seat width.
For example, one flight might have a Boeing 777 with a 3-4-3 arrangement, while another has a 3-3-3 arrangement (i.e. each seat is wider). Yep, the same plane (even on the same airline) can have a different interior layout.
3) Front or Wings
The front of the plane, as far ahead of the engines as possible, is the quieter than the rear.
However, the seats over the wing often have the smoothest ride. In both cases the difference isn’t massive, but if you’re not a fan of turbulence, or you’re hoping to get some sleep, it’s worth considering.
Along the same lines, early morning flights tend to be smoother.
Most planes and layouts have a bit more legroom on the “bulkhead” seats, i.e. the seats at the front of coach at the border to business class.
However, that’s not the whole story. The wall in front of you, while perhaps farther than a seat normally would be, is a wall. So you can’t stretch your toes out under it for a bit of a wiggle. In some cases, this can be less comfortable than a seat would have been. I tend to like bulkhead seats as I’m able to put my feet up on the bulkhead itself. You might not want, or be able, to do this so choose these seats carefully.
Also, the tray is in the armrest, so these seats tend to be narrower than the rest of the coach seats.
Sometimes airlines put babies up against the bulkhead too, though not always. Usually, they’re just mixed in with the rest of coach.
5) Exit Row
The exit rows are often considered the best seats in coach, but that’s a bit over-simplified. On many planes, the exit row does have more legroom, but there are some caveats.
Most airlines won’t let you store items under the seat in front of you. The window seat often has the emergency door protruding into the legroom. And I’m not entirely sure why this is, but I’ve found the exit row window seat is colder than other parts of the plane. The idea of a draft is a bit troubling, but I’ve noticed it many times.
Also, not all exit rows are the same. Some planes and layouts have two exit rows next to each other, on both sides. In this case, the front exit row seats might not be able to recline. Worth considering.
Lastly, and this is rather important, you must be able to speak the native language of the airline you’re flying to be able to sit in these seats. For example, if you’re flying Copa for a South American getaway, you have to be able to speak Spanish to sit in the exit row (for obvious safety reasons).
Check SeatGuru, check alternate times, sit as far forward as possible (or over the wings), pick bulkhead and exit row seats with caution.
You can check out my world wanderings as a digital nomad at BaldNomad.com.