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How to land good airplane seats

By Sharyn Alden ... Travel Stories
Published On: Oct 04 2011 10:12:18 AM CDT
Updated On: Dec 31 2013 09:09:26 AM CST
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If you've been cramped in an economy class middle seat in the middle row of five seats across on a trans-Atlantic flight you know how miserable the flight can be.

Selecting the best airplane seat available can make all the difference between a good and a terrible experience.

Where you sit on the plane matters even on short flights because you may be stuck in a bad seat waiting to take off for quite some time.

It's amazing to me how often travelers say they simply don't know how to choose a good seat or, if they do, they don't bother with it.

Here's how to use the strategies frequent flyers use. If you follow these steps you'll find good seats some of the time and get out of accepting bad seats most of the time.

Book Early

When you buy an airline ticket, you'll get an assigned seat if you don't choose your own. However, on some itineraries with more than one flight, you may not be assigned a seat on subsequent flights until you check in with a ticketing agent.

As soon as you make your reservation, book your seat. Keep in mind the further out you book from your departure, the better your seat selection usually will be.

Use Seating Maps

You may have never used an airline's seating map -- similar to the layout of cruise ship cabins that are usually shown in a cruise line's brochure -- you'll probably do so the next time you get automatically stuck in last row of the plane.

Almost every major airline has a map/layout of the configuration of seats that you can view online. Go to the airline's Web site and look at the seating chart for your flight.

You will need to know the type of plane (also known as the "equipment") that you're flying on. Then all you have to do is look over the plane's seating chart and make a selection from those marked available.

Arrive Early

If all else fails, show up at the airport early -- about two and a half hours before an international flight.

Ask your airline representative to try to find you a better seat. Sometimes airlines keep a block of seats for full-fare passengers. On the day you fly, some of these better seats may open up.

Ask the agent to look for better seats, but don't give up the seat you have. If you do, you may find the new seat is the last one available and what's worse, it may be by a bathroom in the back of the plane.

You may learn the hard way that the old adage that grass is always greener can apply to seat selection, too.

Seats To Avoid

Some of the seats that are considered the worst are those that are near the galley or bathrooms, or near cabin steward stations

Those seats aren't considered undesirable just because of noise. You'll find that some seats that are near a lavatory can not fully recline.

Middle seats throughout the plane, running from front to the back of the airplane, are usually considered the least desirable seats in economy coach seating.

So where are the best seats? It depends on the size of the plane, its configuration and your own comfort parameters, but usually the most sought after seats are aisle seats located in the middle of the plane.

Exit Rows And Bulkhead Seats

Some passengers make it a point to get an exit row or bulkhead row seat. Both types of seats usually have extra leg room. But there is a down side to being able to stretch your legs a bit further.

Depending on what plane you're flying on, your exit row seat may not recline. This is something you may not be able to find out online when you're looking at the airplane map. You may have to contact the airlines by phone to ask about reclining seats in the exit row you prefer.

On long overnight flights, bulkhead rows are favored by mothers with children. In fact, the airline may book a family here because it's easier to prop up a temporary crib against the plane in front of the seats.

That may be fine for the family, but nearby passengers may be treated to the cries of small children. If your modus operandi is to sleep across the Atlantic, the bulkhead row may not offer a quiet ride.

Speak Up

On some flights, seats are automatically booked from the back to the front of the plane in that order.

So if you're assigned a seat in the back of the plane, don't automatically accept that 33C seat. Speak up and ask for a seat closer to the front.

You may not get exactly what you want, but you might end up with a far better seat than what the computer had given you.