Choosing a seat
Published: 05/01/2012 RSS
If you are still deciding between economy seating and premium economy seating, perhaps read our Guide to Premium Economy first, and then return to this page
In general, within each class on an airline, some seats are better than others.
So how do you pick the best seat on the plane?
First of all, ask yourself two crucial (if obvious) questions:
Window or aisle?
Both have advantages. If you like to stretch your legs during a flight, an aisle seat is good for you. Bear in mind, though, that this may be enforced upon you if the person in the window seat wants to get out of their seat. If you prefer to be undisturbed, then the window seat is probably best.
Day flight or night flight?
On a night flight, window seats are preferred by many. You can sleep without being disturbed by anyone wanting access to the aisle, and in economy seats there’s the possibility of resting a pillow or rolled up item of clothing against the side of the aircraft to prevent head lolling.
Middle seats are to be avoided.
So in a 3-4-3 configuration, typically designated A, B, C, then D, E, F, G and then H, J, K (I is omitted to avoid confusion), the set to avoid are B, E, F and J.
Avoid seats at the back of the plane.
In general, the front of the plane is the quietest, because you are in front of the engines (though there will be some noise for a few seconds when the front landing gear is lowered or raised). The middle of the plane is noisier because of the engines, but is smoother. The back of the plane is both noisy and bumpy.
Avoid seats next to toilets
These are noisier, often have people queuing to use them (and so standing over you) and can often be smelly as well.
Avoid seats close to the galley
For a day flight being here may be an advantage, since you can receive service more easily, or in premium cabins, perhaps serve yourself. But on night flights the noise can be a nuisance.
Seats by emergency exits are to be preferred
These give more leg room, though they do come with restrictions, most notably that you are able bodied and so can assist in case of emergencies, and of course you cannot stow your luggage under the seat in front of you. Bear in mind also that these are often close to the galley, and so can be noisy.
The bulkhead is a dividing wall between cabins. If you have a seat facing this, then you will probably get more legroom, but also bear in mind this is where babies often travel in bassinets - and no amount of leg room compensates for a noisy baby on a night flight. Also make sure not to sit in the row in front of the bulkhead, since the recline of your seat may be fixed or restricted.
Airlines that fly the Boeing777 aircraft differ in whether they seat 9-across in economy (3-3-3) or 10-across (3-4-3). This may seem like a small difference. It isn't. That's one extra person being fitted into your row, and a lot of extra people in the cabin.
The positive point is that it allows these airlines to be price competitive (ie: they fit more people in, and so charge less for the tickets). The negative is that you can end up feeling like a sardine, which is bad enough on a short haul flight, but for a flight duration of 8 hours plus, it can be very unpleasant. If possible, avoid.
One other thing to bear in mind is that if you occupy an aisle seat, your head is directly under the overhead lockers.No doubt you've heard the flight attendant at some point say something along the lines of "Be careful when you open the lockers, because the contents may have moved around during the flight and something might fall out and injure you or another passenger." Well if you're sitting in the aisle, that other passenger who might get injured is you. In my view, it's another reason to avoid the aisle seats. I've been hit by everything from full bottles of duty free rolling out to a nappy (thankfully, unused).
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(Last updated, June 2013 by Tom Otley)
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