In this 2 part article we will look at some considerations for finding the best seat on your flight.
Before booking on your designated airline you should first consider which aircraft will be flying on the route – you may have a choice of aircraft available. An example is Singapore Airlines which currently uses an Airbus A380 and a Boeing 777ER on their London to Singapore route.
Check the aircraft layout on your airline website seat maps which will give you an initial overview. You should then refer to the more detailed seating maps at SeatGuru and SeatExpert – which are available for most of the major airlines’ aircraft. They will illustrate the good and bad points of many individual seats and from this you will have a very good idea where exactly you would like to sit in your class.
Seat Expert also has the facility to put in your flight number and date to get back the exact aircraft that operates on the day, although this is not 100% accurate.
Now seating location is always a personal choice – you may prefer the window seat (for the view, or to lean against), the aisle seat (for easier access out), a seat at the front of the plane (for less turbulence or to get out more quickly at your destination), an exit row (for more legroom or just to feel “safer”), a bulkhead row (if you have small children), the upstairs on a Boeing 747 (for a quieter cabin)… etc.
Your choice will also depend whether you are travelling alone, as a couple or in a larger group. And what type of configuration is available on the aircraft.
If you are travelling as a couple in economy class long-haul you may wish to sit in a 2 seater row – these are commonly available on the window rows of Boeing 767s and Airbus A330s and A340s. The last 3 or 4 window rows at the back of many Boeing 747s also have 2 seaters (which can be popular).
If considering travel in business class then do check the cabin layout.
British Airways has 50% rear facing seats in Club World which some travellers dislike. Others are not so keen on the “herringbone” angled seat arrangement on Vigin Atlantic, Cathay Pacific and Air New Zealand.
Some of the newer generation on biz class cabins may be more suited to single travellers where each seat is a separate suite with its own aisle access. For example, biz cabins of Etihad and on Emirates’ A380 have the following config:
This means couples wanting to sit together are limited to the 1 middle seat pair – which is fine unless you really want a window seat. Etihad’s window seats are very private (excellent for solo travellers) but you would be quite separated from your travel partner.
In that case the more traditional 2-2-2 config would be more suitable for couples wanting to be near the window and each other – such as Qantas Skybeds on many of their aircraft.
Options for choosing your seat
Some airlines (example: Virgin Atlantic) will allow any passenger to choose their seat immediately at booking. Others will give that choice only to elite status passengers (Cathay Pacific, British Airways) and then open up the seating fully when online check-in (“OLCI”) opens usually 24 to 48 hours before the departure.
Note, British Airways has yesterday made an informal announcement that from October it will be possible for non-status passengers to select seats between 10 days and 4 days before the flight. Club World seats will cost £60 per flight, exit seats in economy/premium economy cabins will go for £50, other seats £10-£20. While this new policy will probably annoy some status passengers it does open the door for anyone to pick the exit rows if available.
Air France/KLM have a similar option at online check-in where “preferred seats” in exit rows or 2 seaters cost between €20 and €70, depending on the flight distance. Gold and Platinum Flying Blue members get this for free.
Low cost airline Air Asia offers advance seat assignment for around £5 for a standard seat and £20 for a “Hot Seat” in the front or exit rows. The likes of Monarch Airlines, Air Transat, Aer Lingus and JetBlue all offer similar advance seat selection for purchase.
United Airlines has extra legroom “E+” economy seats available at extra cost – from $9 to $109 depending on the flight (top tier elites are not charged). An annual option is also possible for $349.
Most major airlines still offer free OLCI but in the current economic climate seat selection is increasingly being seen as an extra revenue stream – especially when you consider that some economy exit seats have business class legroom.
In general you should try to do OLCI as soon as it opens which will give you the widest possible choice of available seats. That still may mean that the best seats could already have been taken by either elite passengers, passengers who have paid or those checked in due to having an earlier connecting flight.
While doing OLCI at home is easy it may be more difficult on your travels – you may need to investigate hotel business facilities or internet cafes with printers – and these could be closed if OLCI opens very early or late in the day.
How to Get the Best Aircraft Seat – Part 2