How To Get Your Airline Preferred Seat

Portrait of a man in a plane

How airlines assign seat is often a puzzle even for frequent fliers. Some small airlines that are able to avoid the joys of computers at check-in counters have left this process transparent by letting you choose your seat when you check in. The boarding passes are arranged according to the way the seats are arranged in the plane, so it is easy to choose. Other airlines allow you to print your own boarding pass and give you selection on the internet.

But, however it is done, the real issue is to increase your odds of getting the seat you want. Different people have different strategies. Often though, seats in the middle of a row, or those close to the washrooms or service areas, or seats with the movie screen right on top of you with its glaring light... are seen by most as the seats to avoid. And if you don't take some action, the odds are you will get one of these! To be close to getting your preferred seat, here are some things you can try:

Step 1

Book early. Some airlines have allotted seats for different levels of bookings. When you book early, you may be able to reserve seats. You will also have a better chance of getting seats in the price level you want to book in. Some airlines limit the seats in some of the promotions and other packages. If you happen to book later and you are left the seat you would rather not have, frequently check the airline internet site -- there might be seats that come up free and you would rather have that than what you have already booked.

Step 2

Enroll in the frequent flyer program. Choose the airline with a frequent flyer program linked with several other airlines you are most likely to use. Always try to fly with the airline group you have chosen, so each time you fly you get points. When you have enough points, you can use these for upgrades or if you fly often, you may get their gold or elite card and be given upgrade certificates. You will also get the privilege to request upgrades when you fly again with these airlines.

Step 3

Check out the seat map. Find out the type of airplane you are taking and go to internet sites that show you exactly the way the seats are configured. Even if you’ve been on that model of aircraft before, airlines line seats up differently…so check your airlines web site.

Think about aisle traffic. Try not to get between the entire cabin and the lone toilet…especially on a longer flight. Babies will be on bulkheads!!!! Avoid bulkheads anyway…no place to put stuff under the seat. If it’s a long flight, do you really want to be trapped in a window seat? A little planning is worth it!

If you are flying steerage (economy class) and you are over 6 feet tall, look at the seat pitch of the plane the airline is using on that route. Seat pitch is the measure of how much space there is between your seat and the one immediately behind or in front of you. An inch difference is a lot. You may decide to ask for an upgrade or book a business class ticket when you figure out how much knee room you will have! If you have not much of a choice, get an aisle seat. At least, in between services, you can stretch out in the aisle. Some internet sites even tell you the seat numbers they prefer in some airlines; if you are on a long trip, doing some digging and finding this out will mean a lot of difference.

You might also think that the economy seats closest to business class are great. If you go to the washrooms frequently, forget it. You will only get the smell of the business class growlers and have an even longer march to the ones you are allowed to use. In the dark or in a bumpy ride, it can be discomforting.

Step 4

Look for exit rows. Usually, these rows next to an emergency exit have more leg room and sometimes the seat back in front of you has a restricted movement backrest.

Step 5

Check in early and go to the boarding gate on time. You can talk to the staff on duty and they may find you a better seat. If not, you can at least make your desire known so if a passenger fails to turn up, you may be the lucky one. If you really like to suffer, get on the plane late after all the overhead storage is gone! You now have NO place to put your feet! Wasn’t that last drink at the Lounge Bar a great idea????

Step 6

Ask if the plane is full when you check in. If it is not, chances are there will be rows of empty chairs available. Once you are on the plane, watch out for these as you are not the only one watching out. Talk to the flight attendant…very quietly…and ask if it’s possible to move after the door closes. Once the plane's doors are closed, go for it… if you see an empty spot that is better than your seat. Move and move fast. Don’t take all your stuff -- you can go back for it. Even if the flight staff sends you back, and say, "Wait till after take off"…leave some of your stuff there to show the others, “THAT SEAT IS NOW MINE”. Some real aggressors will even crawl on the floor to get to a favored seat when they are not allowed to stand up as the plane is taking off. Please don’t do this! Most of the arms on plane seats can be swung up and you will have a good enough bed to stretch during your flight.

Step 7

Purchase a better seat. Some airlines offer economy plus seats at slightly higher prices than economy. This is often true of long flights to Hong Kong or Singapore from, say, New York. Book first class or business class tickets and you will surely like your seats. Some of the airlines now offer beds with privacy so that sleep will no longer elude you especially in flights lasting more than twelve hours. If this is business and you are expected to perform when you arrive…insist on this. A blown deal because you were flopping around is infinitely more expensive than a business class seat!

Whatever you do to secure good seats, don't forget to check the level of service in the airline you are getting your ticket from. If the service is good and friendly, they will go out of their way to give you a better seat. If the service is terrible, even with a good seat, you will still have a terrible flight. Unless you plan to cover yourself and snooze, find this out and have a great flight.


Share this article!

Follow us!

Find more helpful articles:



Now Singapore Airlines has also offered preferred seat option to purchase a specific preferred seat. This is probably good as you are assured of a seat you prefer for a fee. Don't anymore expect much freebies from airlines.

By Mary Norton

Recent News: The airlines are now going to get better returns for some of those preferred seats that used to be free. Depending on domestic flight segments, US Airways is charging $5-15 for better seats. Jetblue is offering 36 better seats in each of its A320's for a price, of course. You can now relax and just pay extra. Still, if you prefer a window or an aisle seat, you still have to try to get it.

By Mary Norton

Solid advice. Can't use the business class - too expensive. I usually go for a window seat and if available - the one where the emergency exits are located.

By Enid Sevilla

Great article! Usually, I just sit wherever. But this could be a pain when the journey is long. Maybe I should try that.

By Cherry Ozoa