Revealed: The secret to securing the perfect seat on a plane
From the best views to the smoothest flights and speediest exits, here's our guide to getting the best seat on the plane.
If you want the best service
First of all, as soon as you step onto the plane, smile and make proper eye contact with the cabin crew who greet you. According to JetBlue flight attendant Amanda Pleva, who penned an article for Flyertalk, being blanked by passengers upon entry is surprisingly common and is likely to tick them off.
"To have someone clearly see me and ignore my 'hello' and walk on by is the most dehumanizing experience", she says.
And if you want the fastest service?
Order a slightly different meal (vegetarian or no fish for example), as these always come out first. And sit at the back of the plane rather than the front.
Flight attendants are less keen to respond to requests at the front because they have to parade whatever item you've requested - a pillow, or second drink, say - all the way up the gangway. This often prompts other passengers to notice and ask for the same thing, setting off an irksome chain reaction.
For the best view
In some cases this depends on which airport you're taking off from. For example, a seat on the left side of the plane is best for catching a great view of the Hollywood sign from LAX, and the same goes for Sydney if you want a prime view over the harbour.
More broadly speaking, if you're partial to a spot of window gazing, you always want to avoid a window seat that's located over one of the wings, where your view will be blocked entirely. Websites like Seat Guru can provide you with a map of your particular aircraft if you plug in your flight number, so you'll be able to see which seats are located over the wings and steer clear of them.
If you’re safety conscious
Airlines and plane manufacturers will tell you that all seats are equal when it comes to matters of safety. However, Popular Mechanics believe some seats are more equal than others.
A 2007 study conducted by the periodical found that passengers sitting near the tail of a plane were 40 per cent more likely to survive a crash than those sitting in the first few rows. Verdict? Sit as far back as possible if you’re safety conscious.
If you want a speedy exit
You’re on a city break to Europe and you’re travelling light with just a small carry case in the overhead locker. You want to maximise the amount of time you spend at your destination and minimise the time spent on the plane. Verdict? You need to grab a seat at the front of the plane on the left, which is where the exit is located and where passengers leave the aircraft from.
If you want to sleep
Sleep is hard to come by at 35,000 feet, where many things are conspiring against you nodding off: the hum of the engines; the passenger next to you needing the loo; the lack of neck support in your seat. Some places, however, are better than others for getting some shut eye.
Window seats give you control of the window shade and a place to rest your head; they also mean you don’t need to be woken up every time the passenger next to you needs the toilet. The verdict? A window seat at the front of the plane, where it is also quieter.
If you want a better dining experience
According to Professor Charles Spence – author of Gastrophysics: The New Science of Eating – plane food tastes better at the front of the aircraft, where it is quieter and the air is more humid.
“Dry cabin air and the loud engine noise all contribute to our inability to taste and smell food and drink,” he says. Verdict? Sit as close to the cockpit as possible if you want to make plane food taste better. More often than not you’ll also get served first.
If you don’t like turbulence
Turbulence does, of course, shake the entire aircraft, but experts claim there are some seats on a plane where lumps and bumps will feel less intense. The verdict? Sit in the middle of the plane, above the wings, which help keep the plane steady when the going gets tough.
If you need more legroom
Seats in exit rows have more legroom than most, as do seats at the bulkhead. Such seats are, however, in high demand and can come with caveats: passengers in exit rows, for instance, must be willing to assist in the evacuation of the aircraft during an emergency.
Some airlines charge for seats with extra legroom. The verdict? A seat at the bulkhead, ideally in the middle, which means fellow passengers won’t have to step over you en route to the loo.
Failing that, an aisle seat.
If you're travelling with kids
Travelling with children, especially young children, can be something of an unknown quantity. Will they cry, will they be excitable, will they sleep like a log, will you need to accompany them on multiple bathroom visits? Perhaps all four of those scenarios will play out if you’re going long haul. The verdict? Get a seat at the bulkhead, which has more room and is near the bathroom.
If you want to spread out
Flights will often take off with empty seats and there are ways to increase your chances of sitting next to one of them. If your airline has not yet replaced its check-in staff with computers, ask the person over the counter how busy the plane is. If it’s not busy, ask politely if they’d be kind enough to put you next to an empty seat.
It works surprisingly often. If you’re dealing with a computer, check in late and choose your seat manually before printing off your boarding pass. Be warned, though: this leaves you more exposed to delays going through security and in extreme cases could result in you missing your plane.
If you are flying with a companion, try booking both the aisle and the window seat. You will often find that the middle seat – as it is the least favoured by passengers travelling solo – has been left empty by the time you come to board. Relax and enjoy it.