Tuesday Tips: Seat Selection

Do you have a favourite seat when travelling by air? What is the one thing you HAVE to have when it comes to choosing where you sit?

For those who can't afford to fly business or first class on every trip, the art and science of seat selection can become an obsession. But it doesn't have to be complicated: read on for my tips on how to ensure you're sitting comfortably on your next flight.

1. Set the Rules

The first tip in my seat selection masterclass is establishing your own personal set of flying rules. This will help you to pick a good seat for you, even when a flight is fairly full.

This stage is all about priorities. Is peace and quiet more important to you than legroom or vice-versa? Remember, what works for one flier won't necessarily work for the next. For example, do you find it helpful to orientate yourself by looking out of a window, or would you prefer to avoid the vertiginous view at all costs? Does it matter that you are sitting close to your travelling companion or do you value your own space?

Sketch out the most important features of a good flight for you and list them in order of importance - for example, mine would be:
  • Easy to get up and walk around
  • As quiet as possible (on a long haul flight)
  • Least turbulence
  • Room to stretch out, not too claustrophobic
  • Close to exit row 
Yours may be very different, but it's these considerations that most of us take a view on. 

2. Study the seat map

Almost all airlines give you the ability to view a seat map when you book your ticket - if you're booking through a third party you can find this information online on sites such as SeatGuru or SeatPlans.com if you search for your aircraft type - check with the airline directly if you are not sure.

Policies differ from one airline to the next on how much (or if at all) you'll need to pay to reserve a specific seat, and how much prices vary depending on the type and location of seat you decide to go for. Regardless of cost, I recommend all nervous passengers reserve their seat in advance - sometimes just knowing where you're going to be seated in advance of boarding will help to put you at ease, even if it's not an expensive 'premium' seat you've selected.

3. Make your selection

Once you have the plan in front of you, it's back to your personal seating "rules" so you can map your preferences to the available seats. For example, I would work through each item in my list like this:
  • Easy to get up and walk around - pick an aisle seat
  • As quiet as possible (on a long haul flight) - avoid bulkhead seats where there might be babies
  • Least turbulence Book as close to the 'overwing section' as possible
  • Close to an exit row - pay a little extra to sit in the exit row or pick a 'free' seat nearby
  • Room to stretch out, not too claustrophobic - exit row, or check for deals on premium economy
Based on these criteria I can usually find a suitable seat, even if I need to make a few compromises. 

For example, on a long haul flight I will often forego a bit of extra legroom in exchange for some peace and quiet, by deliberately avoiding the roomy bulkhead seats where babies will be seated if there are any travelling tots booked on that flight. 

Of course, we've all had those 'dream' night flights where these 'bassinet' seats were unoccupied, and cabin crew have allowed passengers to stretch out on the roomy row at the front. But this is a risk you may not wish to take (I bitterly regretted doing so on a recent trip to Singapore, where our fellow passengers included a toddler with a case of the terrible twos). 

4. Full flight? Where to compromise

So, you've made your booking and you're off on a much-needed last minute break. Now for the fun part: finding a suitable seat on a flight that's almost entirely booked! But there's no need to panic: remember, a proportion of passengers never bother to reserve a seat, so there will usually be at least some leeway for those who want to book in advance - especially if you're willing to pay. But what should you do if there are only a handful of available seats you can afford?

My main priority is always being able to walk around during the trip, which is great both for in-flight health and for combating claustrophobia. The biggest priority for me is therefore ensuring I book an aisle seat - and I've never failed to secure one, even when booking late. To feel more in control, I recommend you figure out what your no.1 priority is before you select your seat.

With this in mind, I'm interested to know: what's your no.1 priority when booking a seat? If all else fails, what do you always look for? 


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