Best Place to Sit on an Airplane

Does anyone else experience the angst of selecting a seat? Where do you most like to sit on an airplane? Why? What aircraft and airlines have the best economy configruations and amenities?

I usually prefer an aisle seat so I don't have to disturb people in my row when getting out to go to the bathroom or stretch on a long flight. In many ways, the exit and bulkhead rows are best because of the additional leg room they provide, but then often the trays are in the arm rests (awkward) or seats don't recline all the way (especially if there's another exit row behind you). www.seatguru.com has proven useful. When sitting on the aisle, I often feel uncomfortable having to look past my row mate(s) to see out the window. As for airlines, my domestic favorite is Jet Blue because of the spaciousness and Direct TV access. International? Probably British Airways is the best I've flown--haven't had the pleasure of using some of the top-rated Asian airlines.

Posted by Steve
Bellevue, WA, USA
357 posts

I also use seatguru when selecting seats. They don't always have all of the planes/airlines out there, but they've been very useful for the majority.

When we flew from SEA to LHR last year in a 747, we decided to sit in the back of the plane on the side right where the row goes from 3 seats to 2 (row 51). That way we had extra under-seat area in front of us for stuff. It also put us close to bathrooms but not right next to them, since they are behind row 53 and in the middle. The tradeoff was that the entertainment screen and tray table in front of us were off-center a bit since we weren't directly behind the seat. But that's better than a table coming out of the armrest.
For our trip to Italy, we're on A330's which have 2-seat rows on the sides, we chose the middle of the forward section to be near restrooms, but not too near. However I may look to see if there's something near the front of the rear section that may be better. We couldn't reserve our Alitalia leg.

Posted by Flight Attendant
Niagara Wine Country, Canada
808 posts

Check out "To the North" section. This topic was discussed in greater detail there. (Although it probably would have had more exposure posted here in the "Transportation" section as you just did...)

Posted by Nancy
Bloomington, IL, USA
7683 posts

On international flights I like to be seated on an aisle in the middle section of the plane. You stand a better chance of getting several seats to yourself if the plane isn't full, since the center seats fill up last. Center section seems to be less affected by turbulance, IME, and you can't look out the window most of the time anyway because it's dark or the shades are down. On domestic flights I like aisle seats on the smaller side of the place (2 seats across instead of 3 across).

Posted by Jason
Nederland, CO
108 posts

My general rule is: Eastbound (usually at night and I'm trying to sleep), try for an aisle seat - more comfortable for sleeping, and there's nothing to look at outside. I like bulkheads or exit rows so I can stretch out a bit.

Westbound (usually daylight, awake) I get a window seat. Preferably on starboard side so I can look at Greenland, etc.

Posted by Heath
Everett, WA
49 posts

Nancy... you've mentioned this twice now... so again I ask...
I'm trying to figure out why there would be "less" turbulence in the middle sections. Knowing Aircraft structures I can not think of a reason this would be true. If fact, I would think the window seats would have less, if anything...

Posted by Nancy
Bloomington, IL, USA
7683 posts

Heath, I used the wrong term. What I meant was that movements such as rocking when coming in for a landing on a windy day, for instance, are felt less in the middle. I have less problem with motion-related discomfort if I sit in the middle. Perhaps it's the fact that I can't see the landscape moving, I don't know. The question was where we prefer to sit on an airplane, and I gave my opinion. Sorry for the confusion.

Posted by Flight Attendant
Niagara Wine Country, Canada
808 posts

Perhaps some people feel more stable in the middle seats and that somehow gives them the IMPRESSION of less turbulence in the middle section?? Common misconception. Amusing conversation over dinner, though!

Posted by Flight Attendant
Niagara Wine Country, Canada
808 posts

BTW, the best seats on an airplane are the ones at the VERY FRONT! But those are REALLY hard to get! And the view is SPECTACULAR! LOL!

Posted by Karen
Atlanta
800 posts

In defense of Nancy who said there is less turbulence in the middle of the plane - I had always heard I should sit over the wing (which is sort of in the middle of the plane) so as not to feel the bumpiness as much. And I was to definitely avoid the rear of the plane as it was "more" turbulent. A quick google finds the following (including from Fodors).:

"Nervous fliers may want to sit over the wing, where there is less turbulence."

"The front of the airplane is usually quieter and suffers from less turbulence than the back - that is one reason why they house the first class and business class cabins there."

"Seats towards the front of the plane will deliver a less bumpy ride than those towards the back."

Posted by Nancy
Kennesaw, GA, United States
44 posts

I avoid the last 10-15 rows in the back of the plane, because that's where the group bookings are seated. I don't really want to be in the middle of the high school band or the family reunion and have people shouting over me or climbing over me as groups tend to do.

Posted by Heath
Everett, WA
49 posts

FA... For some reason those forward most seats are always booked! I can't seem to get those no matter what I do! ;)

+1 on the pax seats up front and over the wing box. Not only are they quiter. Its the strongest part of the airplane if something bad were to happen. :)

Posted by Karen
Atlanta
800 posts

Heath - regarding your comment "For some reason those forward most seats are always booked! I can't seem to get those no matter what I do!"

At least on Delta they now allocate certain "prime" seats on the plane to medallion level customers. My husband is medallion and I am not. When I go to look at seat choice under my FF# many seats are unavailable. When I go under his FF# those prime (front of plane, exit rows) seats show up as okay to book. I do go back and check my seat assignment several times in case other (better) seats have come available since I originally booked.

Posted by hope
stein, houston
14 posts

I had assumed that the "most forward seats" were a reference to the seats in the cockpit!

Posted by Heath
Everett, WA
49 posts

yeah... its those two seats up front with a forward looking view that we were refering to. ;)

Posted by Christy
Laguna Beach, CA, USA
264 posts

I got this reply once from my friend who has been a ticketing agent for American Airlines for more than 20 years. This comment was related to her help on my booking of an international flight; not sure it it's the same for domestic.
Just to let you now, window seats are the first to be selected by passengers,then the aisle seats on the 2 seat sides. You will have more of a chance for extra room with the aisle seats in the rows of 5.

Posted by Flight Attendant
Niagara Wine Country, Canada
808 posts

Yeah, glad some of us got it! LOL! The absolute best seats on any aircraft are the ones at the very front, occupied by the Captian and First Officer! And you guessed it, they are always occupied! (Well, almost always, sometimes duty does call..!)

Posted by Flight Attendant
Niagara Wine Country, Canada
808 posts

Turbulence is turbulence. I don't think there is any magic receipe for how to avoid it. Turbulence is characterized and affected by many factors.

I have spoken to a number of experienced Pilots in the days following this discussion and they collectively and individually agree with this statement. If anyone would know for sure, it would probably be a Pilot. Their Flight Safety education, expertise and experience trumps us all...

But to each his or her own. Psychological effect is worth something, too. If you are told by someone that a particular area of the aircraft is repeatedly less turbulent, then that becomes your personal reality. I have not observed any such finding.

Crew spend 98% of the Flight in the aisle(s) of various aircraft, various positions, on various routes in a variety of weather conditions. Reported "Bump injuries" due to turbulence have been documented in all sections of the Cabin and not only in selected areas.

Posted by Gela
San Jose, CA, USA
420 posts

I have found using seatguru is very helpful. I am left handed and I have had back surgery and cannot sit for long periods of time without getting up and stretching a bit. So, I choose a "D" or "F" seat (1 or 2 isle planes)so that my left elbow sticks out into the aisle and doesn't bump my seat mate's food out of their mouth. The down side of seat "F" wide body plane is that there is often an electrical box taking up part of the storage in the seat in front, so I can't put too large of a purse/carry-on under it.

I also like to sit as close as I can to the front of the plane in coach because I usually have less than an hour to connect with other flights. This has become almost impossible since these prime coach seats are saved for elite status type passengers (some airlines charge you extra to reserve them as well).

But to me, in the end, as long as I have a seat and have reached my exciting destination intact (life, luggage, etc) I am a happy camper!

Posted by Karen
Atlanta
800 posts

To clarify - those of us who prefer to sit over the wing are doing so to minimize feeling the movement of the plane -sorry to have used the wrong term "turbulence" earlier on. USA Today had a column by Meryl Getline, a captain for United Airlines. She answered the question "Where's the Best Place to Sit for a Smooth Ride" -

"If you're prone to airsickness (which I was, and very much so, when I learned to fly), sit as close to the wing, or as closely in front of the wing, as you can. Think of a see-saw with the fulcrum, or center of gravity, in the middle. The farther from the middle you are, the more you're going to experience movement.

In an airplane, the center of gravity is around the wing area, rather than the exact middle of the plane...Anything over or forward of the wing provides a more stable ride than you'll get sitting much after the wing. The rear becomes more and more unstable the farther you move back you'll feel much more of the aircraft's movements."

Posted by Flight Attendant
Niagara Wine Country, Canada
808 posts

I would suggest selecting seats away from the Galleys (very busy/noisy area), Bulkheads (people like this nifty shortcut), and Lavs (stinky and busy).
If you're travelling with one other person, reserve the window seat and the aisle seat if in a three row section.
Few pax actually prefer/select the middle seat unless they have no choice when the a/c is full.
If someone shows up for the middle seat, just ask to exchange seats. This often works. Sometimes it even works out that the middle seat remains empty...bonus!!

Posted by Elizabeth
Denison, Texas, USA
51 posts

My experience is limited to the cattle car (economy class)of both Continental and Air France. We specifically chose our seats at the rear of the plane because of their proximity to the lavs and galley.

Lavs: We didn't have to navigate the aisles or wait in lines to use the facilities; plus, we had access to facilities even when other passengers were confined to their seats during meal service because our part of the aisle was only briefly blocked. The only odors I noticed occurred during meal preparation, and those were fabulous on both airlines (which was a pleasant surprise).

Galley: We had easy access to snacks and drinks throughout the flights. Plus, we could stretch our legs easily, again without having to navigate crowded aisles.

Boarding: We were the first on (after 1st class) and so we had easy access to the overhead bins. Being last off, allowed us time to gather our belongings in an unhurried way.

It may be the cattle car, but we had the best seats in the cattle car.

Posted by Mike
Lincoln, Nebraska
20 posts

I am an ex Search and Rescue swimmer in the Navy so my seat selection is probably a little more warped then most of you but I always ALWAYS fly exit row and it has nothing to do with the extra leg room.
I do not have any phobias about flying and have flown many many hours without worry but with the training I have had if it ever comes down to it I want that exit and the clean air outside of it next to me.

Posted by Steve
Bellevue, WA, USA
357 posts

Mike,
If I can't have the exit row, than I want you in it! :)

Posted by Flight Attendant
Niagara Wine Country, Canada
808 posts

Mike,
Since you say you always prefer to be seated by an exit row you are familliar with the special pre-flight briefings and responsibilities.
You might consider letting the F/A briefing you know that you are a First Responder, Search and Rescue. You are exactly the sort we like to have on our team in an emergency.

I know I would appreciate knowing that if you were on my Flight. The F/A should then, in turn, alert the Incharge F/A who will pass the info along to the rest of the crew (in case of emergency.)
We also like other First Responders (Flight Crew, Firefighters, EMT's etc.) to make this known to Crew should they be selected as ABP's to control an Exit.
In an emergency, we like to know who our key players might be. It's all about safety...