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December 15, 2015


How To Choose The Best Economy Seat On The Plane

by Todd Sturm
Virgin Australia Extra Leg Room seating options.

Window? Aisle? First row or exit row? Every flier has a preference when it comes to seat selection, especially on a long flight.

Often times, it’s more than just a simple ‘window or aisle’ question, and as most frequent flyers will tell you, there’s a list of criteria that goes into selecting their most favoured seat on a plane.

Yet like anything, a person’s seat preference is a subjective concept. For a variety of reasons, we like the seat that we like based on key personal criteria.

Ask the Right Questions

Virgin Australia Boeing 777-300ER seat map - Courtesy

Virgin Australia Boeing 777-300ER seat map – Courtesy

What is the leg room? Are there galleys, bathrooms or bulkheads nearby? Will my window seat views be obstructed by the wing? Will my seat recline? All of these questions typically go into the seat selection process.

Of course, an airline passenger must also factor in the myriad of aircraft types, different cabin layouts and multiple seating arrangements found on each aircraft type. Seat 3C may be perfect on one plane or on one airline, but not another.

If that all sounds complicated, don’t worry, there are easy ways to determine the best seat for you.

First off, it’s important to look at the seat map for the aircraft type that will be operating your flight. Thankfully travel agents have this at their disposal and can help with seat selection.

SeatGuru is a handy online reference tool that will help you navigate the best seats on the plane.


Seat pitch on an aircraft

Seat pitch on an aircraft

Not surprisingly, the seats with maximum leg room are coveted most. These include exit row seats over the wing, and usually, but not always, the first row of seats in each cabin. Some airlines charge extra for these seats or they may be reserved for top-tier frequent flyers, but if booked well enough in advance, there is usually an available option that provides a bit more space.

Some airlines may also offer greater leg room in rows situated towards the front of the economy cabin. A handy way to determine this is to ask about the ‘seat pitch.’

The seat pitch is the amount of space between the back of one seat, with the seat back directly behind. This is used as a measurement of leg space. For the tallest of passengers, a seat pitch of less than 32 inches is probably going to feel cramped, while shorter people may find that 31 inches does not negatively infringe on their personal space or hinder their inflight comfort.


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Hawaiian Airlines A330

Hawaiian Airlines A330

Due to noise and passenger and crew movements in the aisle, some fliers prefer to be seated away from galleys and lavatories. These are high traffic areas which may cause annoyance when trying to relax.

On international flights, one important consideration is bassinet placement. Families with babies will probably jump at these seats, but for those who want to reduce the risk of being seated near a crying baby, try a seat that’s far enough away from the bulkhead (wall divider) row where bassinets are placed. Only select rows can be used for bassinets and travel agents or airline personnel can easily identify these rows when referencing a seat map.

Again, each aircraft type will have a different seating arrangement, so it’s always best to ask your travel agent to check the seat map for your specific airline and aircraft type.

How Do I Get the Seat That I Want?

Often times, passengers leave their seat assignments up to chance, waiting until they get to the airport for check-in to find which seat they’ve been arbitrarily assigned. Relying on this method will only lead to disappointment – and a not so great seat.

The first rule is to have your travel agent assign the seat of your choice right at the time of booking. And while for operational reasons airlines can never guarantee a seat assignment, they typically do everything in their power to honour such requests.

Sometimes the most sought-after seats are available for a fee such as the first row or exit row seats.

Virgin Australia Extra Leg Room seating options.

Virgin Australia Extra Leg Room seating options. Image: courtesy Virgin Australia

Next, check in for your flight as far in advance as possible. Depending on the airline and the routing, this can usually be done online up to 24 or 48 hours before departure. This is when your seat assignment should be verified and confirmed.

Lastly, one of the best ways to ensure that you get the seat that you want is to join the frequent flyer program of your preferred airline. Top-tier frequent flyers are given first dibs on seats, but even if not in that elite category, airlines do look more favourably on members versus non-members.

Read more from Aviation, Reviews, Travel Tips

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