Airline seat secrets revealed


Which seats are worth paying extra for? Which should be avoided at all costs? Here is a quick guide to the best and worst seats on your next overseas flight.

Back in the glory days of commercial air service savvy travellers realized that they could get a ton of extra legroom by arriving early and sweet-talking their way to an emergency exit seat. Those were the days. The airlines soon realized that such preferred seats have value and now we have to pay extra for every extra inch we get.

Most airlines are now charging an additional $40 to $60 to book a preferred seat in economy class on a transatlantic flight, so the stakes are higher. Luckily, there are now websites such as and to ensure that you’ll never have to make your seating decision alone. Each site has tons of useful information on the drawbacks and benefits of every seat on the plane. You just have to enter the details of the aircraft you’re booked on, or in many cases, just the airline and flight number.

Even those flying in first or business class can find useful tips, as it turns out there are bad seats even in the best classes. That’s because there’s a pecking order to first class seat selection, with the top choices going to paying customers, and the remaining seats allocated to frequent flyers and airline employees. You could pay top dollar (or spend more points) and find you have no overhead storage, no view, or your flight is marred by unpleasant sounds and smells.

If you want to make your next red-eye as pleasant as it possibly can be, grab your flight info and let’s take a tour of the best and worst in airline seating.

Avoid the last row
The seats in the last row of each seat class have limited (or no) recline and the proximity to the toilets can be bothersome.

Armrest vs. legroom
You paid for the seat with extra legroom in the emergency aisle, but did you know that you may get stuck with in-flight entertainment screens that fold out of immovable armrests?

Red-eye flights
If you’re catching a red-eye you may want a window seat so you can rest your head. For overnight flights avoid seats too close to the toilet or galleys as they’re extra noisy.

Vacant seat strategy
If you’re a couple and you’re flying on a plane with a three-seat row, then take a chance and select the two outside seats leaving the middle seat vacant. This middle seat is the least popular and hardest to fill on any airline, so you could end up with a row to yourselves. But, if you want to take advantage of this strategy, you’ll have to book separate reservations. That’s because airlines will automatically allocate adjacent seats to people booked on the same reservation.

Avoid seat kicking
If you absolutely detest having the back of your seat kicked, then the last row may be perfect for you. You could also try the row immediately in front of the over-wing emergency exit, where the distance to the seat behind is large enough to minimize seat kicking.

Not all seats are equal
Exit rows and bulkhead seats are not all the same. Some offer less legroom, or no overhead storage.

Do you have cold feet?
Do your feet freeze every time you fly? Then avoid the emergency aisle seats. The area around these seats is always colder because of the proximity to the emergency exit.

Avoid the bumps
Aisle seats at the end of a row jut out and run the risk of getting bumped and jostled by the snack cart whenever it goes by.

Motion sickness
To minimize motion sickness get seats close to the pilot’s cabin at the front of the plane. While the entire plane will experience turbulence to some degree, the rear of the plane tends to get more of the side-to-side movement, which aggravates motion sickness. The further forward you are, the less motion you’ll experience.

Best seats
The most desirable seats, and the seats you’ll pay a premium for, are usually located in exit rows. Other desirable seats are window seats near the front of the plane.

Originally published in MoneySense Magazine in April 2011

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