We've all been there -- the small child kicking the back of your seat, the lack of legroom, the war over the armrest. While there's no fail-safe way to guarantee that aisle seat in the exit row near the front of the plane with no one sitting next to you, we have some tactics that will help. Check out our tips for getting the best seat on the plane -- and then share yours!
What Makes a Great Seat?
Exit rows, aisle or window seats, and seats close to the front of the plane are typically considered the best. On a short business trip, you probably want an aisle seat near the front of the plane so you can debark as quickly as possible on arrival. On an overnight flight, you'll want a window seat so you can rest your head. Nervous fliers may want to sit over the wing, where there is less turbulence.
Exit row seats usually offer a bit more legroom, but they're not appropriate if you're traveling as a family. By federal law, no one under 15 may sit in an exit row, and infants are not permitted in the rows immediately behind or in front of an exit row either.
Many fliers also like "bulkhead seats," which are the seats directly behind the physical barriers (such as walls, curtains or screens) that separate different parts of the plane. Because there are no seats in front of you, you won't get stuck with another passenger reclining into your lap -- and you often get some extra legroom as well.
But be careful: Not all "bulkhead" rows are created equal. On some planes, the first bulkhead row may be cramped and uncomfortable. For more information, go to SeatGuru.com, where you can check out seat maps for nearly every type of plane on every major airline.
Keep an eye on seat pitch, especially if you're tall. This is a measure of how much space there is between a seat and the one immediately behind or in front of it -- so the higher the number, the more legroom you will have. SeatGuru lists both seat pitch and width (when available) for most airlines.
Many passengers are concerned about safety, but unfortunately there's no clear answer about where you should sit in order to fare best in a plane crash. One study suggests that you may have a higher chance of survival during a plane crash if you're seated in the rear of an aircraft. However, another more recent study contradicts those findings, indicating that the safest place to sit is near the front of the plane within five rows of an emergency exit.
The middle seat in any row is generally undesirable. Rows near flight attendant areas and restrooms may be noisier and experience more traffic, and seats very close to cabin movie screens can be uncomfortable, or bright if you are trying to sleep. SeatGuru also identifies other potential problems on its seat maps, such as limited recline or reduced seat width.