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Choose Airplane Seats

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Choose Airplane Seats

Three across often means misery in the middle.

© Sami Sarkis/Getty Images.
Whether you're flying for the first time or the 500th, choosing the seats the two of you will occupy on an airplane is an important part of the pre-flight process — and it can have an significant impact on your comfort in the air. The following will help in choosing economy-class seats for a plane ride of any duration.
Difficulty: Average
Time Required: 30 Minutes

Here's How:

  1. Choose your seats as soon as possible so that you have the widest selection of locations from which to pick. Normally, you can do this when you buy tickets online. (Exceptions are when your flight is in the distant future or you select a flight on an airline that does not display seats). Before you click "purchase," consider your choices.

  2. Traveling as a couple, your best bet is to secure two seats together on one side of the airplane. Before you choose, decide which of you is a "window" person and which is an "aisle." (Of course, you can switch during the flight.) Window seats offer the best views but make some people feel claustrophobic. Aisle seats offer a little bit more room to stretch out. But it's more difficult to sleep because other passengers may jostle you as they make their way up and down the aisle.

    Alternately, choose two seats across from each other if both of you want an aisle. The drawback is, you won't know who your seat mate will be.

  3. Some airplane seat locations simply are better than others. The better ones offer more legroom; the worst ones are next to the bathroom and don't recline. When you're ready to select your seats, go to Seat Guru, navigate to your airline and then the type of airplane you intend to fly. You'll get a schematic of the plane that lists good seats, seats with drawbacks, and poor seats that can help guide your decision.

  4. Understand that airlines fly different types of equipment, with different seating configurations. Air Canada's modern and comfortable Embraer jets, for example, only have four seats per row, two on either side of the aisle. British Airways' Boeing 737s have six seats per row, with three on either side of the aisle — making one out of every three seats the dreaded center one. Larger jets, such as American Airlines' Boeing 777, have seven seats across with only two aisles separating them. Pity the poor travelers stuck in the middle section, surrounded by crying babies on both sides!

  5. It's important to pay attention to the kind of equipment the airline is using on your flight for another reason: Seat width. One of the most uncomfortable aircraft I've ever flown is a domestic Boeing 737: On most of these planes, the seat width between arm rests is a measly 17 inches across, which squeezes all but the narrowest bottoms. However, Lufthansa's provide seats with a width of 18 inches — and that extra inch of space does make a difference in coach class.

  6. Seat pitch is another consideration, and one that taller travelers ought to pay extra attention to avoid flying in the fetal position. Measured in inches, seat pitch is the distance between the back of one seat and the front of the one behind it. More is better. On any plane, the best seats for long-legged travelers are bulkhead seats, which have no seats directly in front. JetBlue offers "Even More Legroom" seats in certain rows that have a 38-inch pitch. These seats can be reserved for a small extra fee per flight segment. All other seats on this airline have a pitch of 34 inches, still relatively generous.

  7. Exit row seats offer a bit more legroom. Although you can't select exit row seats online, you can request them at the airport. Do so if you have cool heads, are physically capable, and are willing to follow flight attendants' instructions to help out in case of an emergency.

  8. Front or back? That's another decision to make. Travelers who sit closer to the front will exit the plane earlier once it arrives at its destination. If you're changing planes and don't have a long layover, choose seats as close to the front as you can. Travelers who sit in the back usually get to board the plane first, which gives them first dibs on stowing overhead luggage.

  9. Think you picked the wrong seats? Go back to where you purchased your airplane tickets online, log in, and choose another set. At this writing, that was one change airlines still allowed customers to make free of charge.

  10. Despite all the hard work you've put into choosing airplane seats, you may still find them assigned to other passengers! To prevent that from happening, check in online 24 hours prior to your flight. That tells the airline you intend to show up, and the seats you selected will be secured.

Tips:

  1. If you couldn't get the seats you wanted online, get to the airport early on your day of departure and request a change. Some airlines block available seats till the last minute.
  2. Wish you could fly in business or first-class? Airlines that have empty seats sometimes allow coach passengers to upgrade at the airport for less than the regular cost of a premium seat.
  3. For more information, visit Air Travel from About.com.

What You Need

  • Credit card
  • Itinerary
  • Knowing whether you want window or aisle seats
  • Time to check Seat Guru.
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