Of course we all want a cozy seat on the plane without having to pay first-class prices. Because most airlines allow you to choose your own seat when you book, you don't have to play the lottery to get a good seat. You do, however, have to know how to pick 'em. Though coach really has no perfect seat, we've got a few tips for grabbing the seat that best suits you.
To Bulkhead or Not to Bulkhead?
The bulkhead is the partition that divides a plane into different classes or sections. On some planes this is a physical wall, while on others it is just a curtain. In many planes, the bulkhead row offers more leg room. Since this row has no seats in front of it, no one can recline their seat into your space. However, no row in front of you means there is no under-seat storage for your carry-on items. You may be able to put some items on the floor during the flight, but flight attendants will not let you keep any bags there during take-off and landing. Airlines typically like to assign bulkhead seats to families, especially those with babies and small children. On some planes, flight attendants can fasten a bassinet to the bulkhead wall for an infant. Your chances of being seated next to a baby or small child increase when sitting in the bulkhead row.
Window versus Aisle
Window-seat lovers like to sightsee on the flight or prop a pillow up against the wall to snooze. However, it's easier to get trapped in the window seat by your fellow sleeping rowmates. Aisle-seat lovers like the freedom to get up and move about the plane without disturbing anyone. Yet people in aisle seats may be jostled by other passengers and flight attendants traversing the aisles. Keep your elbows and feet tucked in if you're seated in the aisle to avoid run-ins with food trolleys. When passengers open the overhead bins, or if the bins open during flight, carry-ons stuffed up there can fall right on the aisle seat. When traveling as a couple, book the window and aisle seats in the same row, intentionally leaving the middle seat empty. As the middle seats are the last to be booked and filled, you have a good chance that it will remain empty and you'll have the whole row to yourselves. It's also a sure bet that if the middle seat is filled, that passenger will gladly switch seats for the window or aisle so that you two can sit next to each other.
Back versus Front
On the plus side: in general, people in the back of the plane get to board first (and grab the overhead bins to store their carry-ons). On the con side: the bathrooms are typically located in the back and thus the crowded bathroom line snakes past the last rows. You may be disturbed by other passengers standing and talking in the aisle while waiting for the lavatory. Food service generally starts in the front of the plane, so by the time it reaches the back your favorite snack or drink may not be available. The plus side to sitting in the front? Generally these rows deplane first (although some flights use both the front and rear exits), letting you get off the plane quicker. This is a big advantage if you've got a tight layover time to catch a connecting flight. The down side is that the front boards last, meaning overhead bins may be filled up before you board the plane.
The Emergency Exit Row
Coveted extra leg room makes this row prime coach property. The biggest disadvantage to the emergency exit row is that you may actually have to lift the 40 pound emergency exit door. Don't even think of sitting here if you are unsure of your ability to perform this procedure in an emergency. Also be aware that seats in the row in front of the emergency exit row often don't recline (so they won't be in the way in case of emergency), so if you're a recliner, avoid these seats.
In some cases, it doesn't pay to just grab the cheapest airfare you can find. The longer the flight, the more important your comfort is. The old adage is true: you get what you pay for. Some airlines offer larger, more comfortable seats in a slightly upgraded economy section, for an increased fare.
When You Check In
Before you book your flight, go on your airline's website to see which seats are still available. Then check www.seatguru.com, a comprehensive website of color-coded maps of the best and worst seats for that flight. SeatGuru also has information on the location of power outlets, emergency exits, bathrooms, the galley, and seats with extended leg room and limited reclining ability. You can also compare seat pitch and width.
Check your seat one week before you fly. Sometimes airlines substitute a different type of aircraft with a totally different seating arrangement. You might be able to switch your selected seat to an even better one. Check again the day of the flight. Some airlines will only book a bulkhead or exit-row seat the day of the flight. Then, check in with the gate agent. If the business or first class is not full, elite status frequent fliers are often upgraded. Let the gate agent know that you would be happy to get one of the "good" seats if they become available.