Are you planning a vacation in the near future? Does it involve air travel? If so, do you think about where you will sit on that flight, or do you let the airlines choose for you?
Don’t let chance and the airlines be in the driver’s seat! Next time you book air travel, consider the following tips and tricks to finding and securing the best possible seats for you and your family. A few moments’ time and thought could make the difference in your seating comfort.
Tips to Finding & Securing Your Best Possible Seat
Over the years I’ve booked quite a few flights. Along the way, I’ve developed my own thoughts as to where I want to sit, and how to go about getting those seats, especially when traveling with my family of four. I have included these insights below to put you in the driver’s seat on your next flight. A little research can go a long way to avoiding a seat with a direct bathroom view! Which, personally, is my least favorite seat.
Know The Aircraft Seating Configuration
Determine the specific aircraft the flight is scheduled to use. Then, research that specific aircraft’s seat configuration with a website such as Seat Guru or SeatExpert. Determine if there are seats you want to avoid, as well as the seats you prefer. Seat Guru can help you identify which seats might not recline, have extra leg space, or are across from the bathroom. Seat Guru also lets you “get technical” with seat specifics – seat pitch, seat width, and even bulkhead space are not equal on all aircraft.
Learn more about how Seat Guru can put you in the driver’s seat at Seat Yourself with SeatGuru by TripAdvisor.
Grab Seats When You Book Your Flight
The optimal time to grab seats is when you book your flights. Some airlines will prompt you to choose seats during the booking process, others will automatically assign seats once booked. Some do neither. In any instance I recommend that once you complete the booking, immediately go back into your reservation and check for pre-assigned seats. Armed with your new-found Seat Guru information, grab the best seats you can. Don’t wait “until later” thinking you’ve got time. Airlines that allow pre-assigned seating only allot so many seats for pre-assignment. Once that inventory is assigned, you probably will have to wait until that 24-hour check-in window to get a seat assignment.
Purchase Early Boarding Privileges
Flying an airline that doesn’t pre-assign seats? Beat the crowd onto the plane by purchasing early boarding privileges. For example, SouthWest airlines does not assign seats to anyone, but does offer a $10 EarlyBird Check-In option that jumps you to the front of the boarding line.
Tip – When my family of four flies with SouthWest, I purchase two EarlyBird Check-Ins, one for me and one for my oldest son. We board early, snag two aisle seats across from each other, and play the odds that nobody is going to crawl over us to get to the middle or window seat until the plane is nearly full. Plenty of time for our remaining two family members to join us. It hasn’t failed us yet!
Use Frequent Flyer or Credit Card Status
Certain frequent flyer cards and airline credit cards include options such as early boarding, pre-assigned seats, and other privileges. Check your card’s status and booking privileges and take advantage of these features. Also consider upgrading to a premium card. Sometimes that upgrade fee is small enough to make it worthwhile.
Book Flights Early
The sooner you book your flight, the more options you will have for seat selection. As mentioned earlier, airlines that allow pre-assigned seating typically only allot so many seats. Once these are gone, you will probably have to wait until checking in to get seat assignments.
Review Your Seats the Week Before You Fly
Airlines often adjust their flight schedules and their aircrafts. An aircraft equipment change means reassigned seats. Check your reservations in the weeks leading up to your flight and verify you are flying the same aircraft. If there has been an equipment change, you might want to review your new seat assignments and make changes if needed.
Seat Selections at Flight Check-In
If you must wait for seat assignment until checking into your flight, then be sure to know exactly when you can check in. Typically it is 24 hours prior to your initial flight. My suggestion? Log into the airline’s website boarding page five minutes before the 24 hour mark. Have all your booking information on hand, including your reservation number. Check your reservation to make sure all the necessary traveler information is already inputted. Then, as soon as that 24 hour mark hits, refresh the page, check in and grab your seats. The closer you are to the 24 hour mark, the better the chances you have of claiming a better seat, as well as a better boarding position.
Know Personal Preferences – both Yours and Your Fellow Travelers!
Do you prefer window seats or aisle seats? Front of plane, or back of plane? Everyone has a preference, and knowing both yours and that of others can help you decide your own seat strategy. According to Skyscanner, the most sought-after seats are the first six rows and the window seats. The least sought-after are middle seats and the rear of the plane.
Knowing this information, and playing the odds, can help land you the best possible seats on that next flight. Here’s three examples of playing off people’s favorite – and least favorite seating preferences:
1. Tail Section – In general, the tail section is the last to fill up. Feeling lucky? Don’t have connecting flights? Grab an aisle or window seat in the last three-five rows. I don’t recommend this if you have tight connecting flights, though. You could get caught with a slow-moving crowd getting off the plane!
2. Middle Seats When Traveling in Pairs - That least desirable middle seat might just be your friend! If you are traveling in pairs, and flying an airplane with a three-seat configuration, book the aisle and window seats. Leave the middle open. Worst case – if somebody sits there, you can offer up either your window or aisle seat, and most people will switch with you. My strategy for our family of four is to book mom + child in the window and aisle of one row, dad + child, in the row either behind or across from us. It’s a rare person that will want to stay in that middle seat between us! In fact, I’ve never had one say no to the offer of switching seats. And we’ve lucked into having that middle seat remain open, scoring an extra space to spread out in.
3. Bulkhead Seat – These seats typically have extra leg room. Sounds ideal, huh! In many cases, these are primo seats. Just check it out first. Some international flights designate bulkheads as bassinet seating. Great if you are traveling with a baby. Maybe not so great if you want to sleep! Check Seat Guru to determine which seats offer what features.
Final Advice – Be Nice!
Last but not least, if you must speak with an airline representative regarding your seat assignment, be nice. Don’t loose your cool or you might just loose your seat!
Do you have a seat strategy when you book flights? Do you use Seat Guru or Seat Expert, or pay extra for early boarding privileges? Let us know how you choose your airline seats in the Comments section below.
Images from Delta Airlines, SeatExpert, Singapore Airlines, American Airlines, Skyscanner