One of my key travel mantras is to score a seat asap. As you will see below, I am obsessive about getting the perfect seat. If I am flying on a long flight, a decent seat that will accommodate my length becomes crucial. If I am not up the front, then exit rows and bulkheads become way more important.
I always choose my seat at the time of booking. If the airline or booking website won’t let me, I keep re-visiting the website until I can. Or I call, use the agent’s first name and politely ask for their help. Note, however, some cheaper fares do not allow you to choose a seat on some airlines or to only choose the seat at check in. Some airlines charge more for extra leg room seats (see this chart for USA seat fees). The higher your frequent flyer status, the more chance you have of success of getting better seats and/or getting them for no or low fee.
To find the best seats check out:
There are a number of choices to make:
- Check your airline’s pitch (the number of inches between your seat and the seat in front of you). Given a choice between Jetstar’s 28 inches or Malaysian’s 32 inches, might tempt you to spend a few dollars more.
- Front, middle or rear of plane- the front of the plane is generally smoother and quieter and allows you a quick exit off at the destination and I find you get more chance of your meal choice before they run out!
- Aisle or Window? When travelling alone, I eschew middle seats. I love the window for the view but hate clambering over people. On some aircraft, the plane’s curvature assists with sleep on others it’s unpleasant. Aisle seats mean sometimes getting bumped by other passengers or being clambered over!
- Exit or bulkhead? I prefer exit but note you cannot keep hand luggage with you in these rows on many airlines and the airline Entertainment devices often cannot be used until take off as they fold up. Also passengers often end up standing, chatting or exercising in the exit row space
- Lavatory or Galley Both are noisy but one can be unpleasantly smelly!
If the seat options are not brilliant, I select the best of a bad lot unless it is really, really bad. If I leave my seat choice, the more chance I will end up with the middle seat in a row of five, at the back of the aircraft. Then I keep calling and checking on-line in case a better seat emerges. They sometimes do. Especially, seven days, three days and one day before departure. There is also Option town which I mentioned a few weeks ago. They provide access to better seats for a small fee.
Before I check in, if I am not happy with the seat, I always call the airline and see if anything better is likely to open up or has opened up. Sometimes sympathetic staff will get me to a row with an empty seat open next to me. Even if I am not thrilled with the seat, I still check in. At the airport, I ask the check in staff about seats. This is important if an airline has switched aircraft and my exit row has become a regular coach seat. Sometimes airlines have given me the exit row for no fee at this point. If no luck there, I ask the airline lounge staff. Sometimes, they have managed to get me an exit seat (and on a few occasions Business Class).
Even on board, I check to see if the exit seats are taken. Sometimes, at the last minute they go unfilled. Check though, if your airline has a policy of selling Premium seats, they will move you if you do not have a seat allocation for that seat.
I always politely thank a staff member for trying if I cannot. On a couple of occasions, that gate agent has met me at the Gate with a better boarding pass. Politeness does pay!
Of course, none of this applies to Southwest airlines in the USA, which is a whole different exercise as they do not have allocated seating.