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How To Choose And Get The Best Seats On A Plane

Aeroplane Seat And View

Dear Essential Travel

I have heard a lot of conflicting information about where the best place to sit on an aeroplane is. I’ve been told before to take into consideration the length of my flight among other things. However, I am planning on taking two separate trips to Croatia and Peru next year of which flight-lengths will obviously vary, and I haven’t been on a plane in years, so I have no idea what to expect. I would appreciate some advice on what might be considered the ideal seat?

Michelle Robey, Glasgow

Our Answer

That is a really valid question Michelle, and something many travellers wonder or even worry about. As you mentioned, there are many different factors you should take into account when deciding what your preferred seat would be.

Your first step should be to check the seat plan for the plane you will be flying on, which can vary when it comes to the length of the flight. Once you know what the inside of the plane looks like, you can make decisions about where exactly you would like to sit. SeatGuru is a very useful site on which to find maps of the interiors of commercial aeroplanes. Remember to check again just before you fly to make sure that your chosen seat is still available. You can even take a physical copy of the seat map with you to the airport if you want to double check whether you are satisfied with your allocated seat. Here are some aspects to consider when picking a seat.

Interior of aeroplaneMany aeroplane seats to choose from

View

A classic passenger consideration is getting a seat with a view. Holidaymakers are often not in a rush to disembark, and some even love to greet or bid their destination farewell through the window. A window seat also conveniently leaves you in control of the shutter, so a fellow passenger will not be able to shut off your view.

So-called window seats will occasionally leave you without a window though as some rows have off-set windows, so it is advisable to check the seat map of the plane for the perfect window seat. Also remember that if you are flying at night or you are on a long distance flight where high altitudes are often reached, there won't be anything but darkness or clouds to see for hours.

View through the plane windowA window seat offers a view

Sleep

A window seat can allow travellers to snooze propped up against the wall of the plane. In practice though the side of the cabin can often be further away than you may imagine, and unless you have a travel pillow or something similar with you that you can use to lean against, leaning back in your seat is easier. Also the further away you are from the aisle the less likely you are to be disturbed by foot traffic or passing food carts. Make sure to avoid seats close to the loo as these areas also get a lot of traffic which may disturb your rest.

The front of the plane traditionally fills up first and you are likely to find bigger groups of passengers are placed at the back of the plane. This means there are often empty seats in-between giving you the opportunity to easily switch to a better seat once the flight takes off, you may even get an entire row to yourself.

Business man sleeping on planeIf the plane is empty you may find several seats to yourself

Noise

Finding a seat that is a little bit quieter than the rest of the plane, especially when you are on a long-haul flight, is like finding a safe haven, and could leave you well-rested and refreshed at the start or end of your holiday. Aeroplane engines are often situated under the wings or towards the tail of the plane, which means that it is quieter to sit in front of the wing.

Wing of an aeroplaneSeats in front of the wing have minimal noise

Movability

Moving about during long flights improves your circulation and also counters boredom. Although great for a view, if you like to move around, a window seat may leave you feeling trapped. Particularly when you are cooped up in such a small space for a long-distance flight, any change of scenery will feel like a welcome break. The aisle seat will allow you the freedom to stroll up and down a few times during the flight and depending on the airline, it is possible to get a snack from a friendly flight attendant if you go exploring at night. Just remember to always return to your seat when the seat belt signs go on.

Business people who do not travel with check-in baggage often prefer aisle seats, so they can exit the plane quickly if they need to get to a pressing meeting. So if you need to move in and out of your seat quickly then an aisle seat is best.

On some planes sitting at the back can mean you will get off last. But bigger aeroplanes often also have doors at the back which are utilised for embarking and disembarking, so sitting towards the back doesn't necessarily mean you will be last in line to immigration.

Woman in aisle seatIf you like your freedom pick an aisle seat

Legroom

For extra legroom, aisle seats are a good option as you can stretch your legs for a few moments to feel less cramped.

Alternatively, try and snag a sought-after bulkhead seat - the seats located behind the various partitions of the plane. These seats can offer more space for your legs, and nobody can recline in front of you. Here it is imperative to check what plane you will be flying on, because on some planes there is not much difference in space between bulkhead seats and other seats. With bulkhead seats you will also often not be able to stow small luggage in front of you, as you could with most other seats.

Sometimes there is also more legroom on the seats by the exit-row. However, you really do need to be capable and willing to help other passengers in an emergency situation. If you like easy access to your belongings, look at other seats since most airlines will not allow you to store luggage under the seat in front of you on the exit-rows. This is to keep the aisle clear in case of an emergency landing. Also note that on some aeroplanes these seats can also not fully recline.

Legroom on a planePick a seat with legroom

Fresh Air

To maintain the temperature and humidity in the cabin the air that is circulated is usually about 50% fresh and 50% recycled. There are many myths about where the freshest air can be found on planes, but lately airlines have made a point of publicising that the air inside the cabin is filtered and circulates evenly throughout the plane. Of course, since passengers usually embark from the front and the doors remain open for the remainder of boarding, there must be more fresh air towards the front of the plane at the beginning of the flight.

The seats close to the lavatories may not have what you would describe as the freshest air, so you will probably want to avoid those seats. And remember not to keep the air conditioning nozzle above your head pointed directly at your face, since this can cause dehydration.

Air-conditioning panel in planeIt's not so easy to find a breath of fresh air in regulated cabins

Turbulence

If you are a nervous flyer, the seats between the wings are best for you. There is less turbulence towards the front and especially between the wings of the plane, since this area is more stable. For the same reason, if you suffer from motion sickness, it would also be better to be seated close to the wings.

Plane and cloudsSeats between the wings are best for less turbulence

As you can see Michelle, there are a lot of things to consider when picking a seat. The best thing is to decide what you want from your flight, to see which aeroplane you will be flying on and then to make an informed decision based on all these considerations. We hope you have a safe and comfortable flight.

Last Updated: October 2013

Guest Travel Writer

Your Essential Travel Experts can't be everywhere all the time, so we often welcome guest travel writers. This article was written by one such visiting travel enthusiast whose experience of different places and advice for travellers makes for an interesting read. Enjoy!