How to get the best seat in economy



David Whitley looks at how you can fly in relative comfort in the cheap seats.

If you’re flying economy, then you really don’t want to be stuck in the middle seat for hours. Here’s how best to avoid it and get the best seat possible

Pick your airline wisely: The variation in space between airlines is perhaps bigger than you might think, although in long-haul economy most airlines offer between 31 and 34 inches of pitch (ie. distance between seat backs), and between 16.5 and 19 inches of seat width. Obviously, you want the bigger number on both scores. Seatguru has a handy comparison table, comparing pretty much every airline and the planes they use. If there’s little difference in price between two airlines, the amount of space offered might be a crucial deciding factor.

Work out what the best seats are: Seatguru is also very useful for finding out the best and worst seats on a plane. It colour codes in green, amber and red for distinguishing features such as having extra legroom, being near the toilets, not having overhead locker space and not having a window. This, again, is broken down by airline, plane and even flight number if you want it to. 



Pick your seat as soon as possible: Airlines are increasingly stingy about letting people pick their seats in advance – many only allow it only 24 hours beforehand now – but doing it in advance can be the difference between getting an aisle seat and a middle seat. And no-one wants the middle seat.

Or… as late as possible: The other, extremely risky tactic is to leave it until you get to the airport and check in at the desk. That’s where you can ask how full the flight is, and work the charm to request a seat that currently has an empty seat next to it. This approach has significant drawbacks if it’s a full flight and the only seats left are middle seats. Or, for that matter, if you’ve got all the charm of a fungal infection. 

Use reverse psychology: The best way of getting a free seat next to you is choosing to sit next to the seat you’d least want. And the last seats most people want are middle near the back of the plane, in the middle of the plane. Therefore, if you pick an aisle seat near the back, in the middle section, you’ve got a much stronger chance of not having a neighbour and being able to spread out. Simply put, that neighbouring seat will be one of the last to go.

Or get sneaky: If you’re travelling as a couple, then it’s possible to make one seat on the plane significantly less appealing. If one of you picks the aisle seat in a bank of three, and another picks the window seat, then no-one’s really going to want to sit between you. If some unfortunate soul does end up there, then you can always ask if they want to swap rather than be between you. The other couple’s tactic is to pick two aisle seats opposite each other – ideally ones that haven’t got occupants for the neighbouring middle seats yet.