the Best Seats Are
Row upon row of seats -
all looking the same, but with subtle differences that can
become important on a long journey.
2 of a 3 part series - click for Parts
In part one
of this series
we discussed how to understand which seats were roomier and more
spacious than others - with 'best of breed' for coach class
seating generally going to American Airlines (update - alas this
no longer applies due to AA discontinuing their 'More Room in
In this part, we
look at differences between seats in different parts of the
plane, including the least known 'best place' to sit.
Part three discusses how to get the seats
you want preassigned to you.
Are Seats in the Front or Back
Generally, most people
prefer to sit further forward on the plane, probably because
they'll save a few minutes when getting off the plane. This is a
valid point in favor of choosing a forward seat - but there are
many other factors to keep in mind as well.
There is an advantage to
being seated at the back. People at the back of the plane board
first, which means that you're much more likely to be able to
find plenty of overhead space for your carry-ons.
But there are also some
reasons to avoid the rear of the plane. It can be a bit noisier
if you're behind the engines. If you're in a plane such as a DC9
that has engines mounted to the rear of the plane (rather than
on the wings) it is definitely noisier when you are seated
alongside or behind them.
I try not to sit alongside
the engines, just in case one of them might have a catastrophic
failure such that parts fly out of the engine and into the plane
cabin (mercifully a rare event, but why risk it!).
The back of the plane also
moves about a bit more in turbulence than the front of the
plane, with the most stable part of the plane being close to the
Where is the Safest
It is common to believe that
it is safer in the back of the plane than in the front of the
plane, in terms of surviving a crash. However, detailed studies
suggest that there is very little difference, wherever you are
located. The strongest part of the plane is where the wings join
the body, but there are often fuel tanks around that area which
can be a disadvantage in a crash. There is so little difference
in survivability rates that where you sit is not really a
Exit Row Seating
Most people seem to know the
'secret' of getting exit row seats. The seat rows alongside the
exit window/doors are more widely spaced apart, to make it
easier for people to move from the aisle to the exit in an
emergency. Some airlines will pre-assign the exit row seats (if
you ask very politely), others only assign them at the airport
(due to the requirement that only able-bodied English speaking
people be seated in the exit rows).
Some people like getting a
bulkhead row seat. The good news is that there is no seat in
front of you that might recline and limit your personal space.
The bad news is that sometimes you can't stretch your legs quite
as far in front as otherwise you could, and you have nowhere
other than the overheads to stow carry-on items (although the
flight attendants seem to almost always be able to find a place
somewhere for your carry-ons if you're in a bulkhead row - you
just might not be able to get to them during the flight).
Some airlines have infant
bassinets hung off the bulkheads, so this could mean that you're
sharing a row with very young children - for some people, this
adds to the appeal, for others, ahem, it definitely does not!
Relationship to Movie Screen
If you're in a bulkhead row,
you're either horribly close to the movie screen, or on such an
extreme angle that you can't see it. If you're on a flight that
will offer a movie, and which doesn't have personal seatback
screens, then you might want to ensure that your seat is neither
too close nor too far from a screen, and with a reasonable angle
Where are the Toilets and
If you're seated close to a
toilet or galley, then you will probably have a lot more people
passing your seat, stopping nearby, talking and laughing, than
otherwise. This may not be a problem on a short day flight, but
can be a nuisance on a long overnight flight when you're trying
On the other hand, if you're
a long way from the toilets, on some flights it can seem that
just about the entire flight it is impossible to get to the
toilets due to the presence of serving carts in the aisles
blocking your ability to get there.
Window or Aisle Seating?
You probably already know
which you prefer, and I'm not going to try and persuade you
otherwise! Window seats have a view, and may have a convenient
'side' that you can lean on when sleeping; aisle seats allow you
to spill over into the aisle a bit (but then you run the risk of
being bumped into and trod on!). Aisle seats are more convenient
if you expect to want to get up during the flight.
One thing to be aware of is
that if you want a window seat to enjoy the view, make sure you
don't get a seat that is over the wing. The airlines and travel
agents can usually tell in their computer which seats are over
the wing and will try and give you a seat with a better view if
you specifically request this.
Danger - Seat Back Restrictions
Some seats do not allow
their seat back to recline fully - sometimes they allow a small
measure of recline and sometimes no recline at all. These are
typically seats in the rows immediately in front of emergency
exit rows, and sometimes at the back of a cabin where there is a
bulkhead behind them. Try and avoid these seats at all costs.
The Secret 'Best' Seats
Towards the back of some
planes, you'll find that the blocks of seats start to have one
less seat in them. These rows are often considered to be the
best seats in coach class because you have more room, side to
side, and sometimes more room in front of you as well. It does
place you way at the back of the plane - not otherwise the best
part of the plane to be in - but if you're on a long flight, the
extra comfort is probably worth the several extra minutes to get
off the plane at the other end.
Now that you have a better
idea of what your seating choices may be, next week we'll
discuss how to optimize your chances of getting the seats you
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18 Jan 2002, last update
21 Jul 2020
You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.