Newbie Guide to Airline Seat Selection

Imagining yourself in front of pristine beaches of Bali, picturesque skyscrapers of Hong Kong or historic temples of Ayutthaya helps in finding your next destination. But making it a reality entails lots of thinking, trouble and time.

Expensive tickets, fully booked schedules and travel warnings have become a common challenge to an aspiring traveler. And as if that’s not enough, bad weather, crying children and cramped seats are there awaiting travelers who have secured their plane tickets and granted permission by the human resources staff.

But let’s accept them as part of the adventure and must therefore be dealt with squarely. However, with proper guidance — especially for newcomers — excitement often prevail over stress levels.

Now, the questions:

Window seat or aisle seat?
Just in time when the attendant at the counter asks you this question, be prepared with an answer. Not that they are impatient, but this preference must have already been decided long before embarking on a flight, especially on a long haul.

Boeing 747-400 ER

Window seat has advantage that you are less likely troubled by someone heading to the toilet or making a customary break in the middle of the flight. In fact, it will be you who will bother your economy class seatmates in case you do the same. This is best if you are bound to sleep during the flight. Aisle seats work best if you wish to access to overhead bin, toilet or do simple stretching, but you may find it hard to sleep as people jostle as they make way up and down the aisle. During night flights, however, window seats are best especially when you are expected to sleep most of the time.

For your convenience, as a rule of thumb:

  1. Seats in front row are best. They are the quietest, since you are actually in front of the engines, and with its relative position to the front, is less bumpy in times of air turbulence. You’ll also be among the first to deplane in your destination and be assured of available meal menu, if service crew begins serving from your area. It’s not a wonder many airlines charge extra to passengers who prefer to occupy the first few rows.
  2. Seats in the middle row are likely just above the engine, which makes them a bit noisier but is more stable in times of air packets. So they make an ideal place for a rainy day trip. But passengers in this section may be among the last to deplane, especially if exits are only located at the rear ends of the aircraft.
  3. Seats at the back rows are the worst. They are the noisiest and tend to get more bumpy during rough stretches in the journey.
  4. Avoid middle seats. While each of aisle and window seats have advantages, the same can’t be said of middle seats. You need to give way to window seat occupants but don’t get the slight legroom advantage of aisle seat occupants. For bigger aircraft with 3-4-3 seating layout (designated as ABC-DEFG-HJK), avoid seats B, E, F and J.
  5. Avoid seats next to toilets. You may have the fastest access if you need one, but you don’t expect to visit that tiny cubicle every 20 minutes. Not to mention the beeline of people queuing for their turn and unpleasant odor you’ll inevitably encounter on a long-haul flight.
  6. Seats located near emergency exits offer great legroom. Although you’ll also be responsible for emergency procedures should something go wrong, in virtually all cases, you have the privilege of much-needed legroom. Yet, be aware that with no seat just in front of you, placing your hand-carried luggage is only possible at the overhead compartment. Also, you may not have the access to the best views of in-flight entertainment features.
  7. Bulkhead seats are are located immediately behind a solid cabin divider. Although they seem to offer more legroom, there are also significant drawbacks. For example, since there is no seat in front of you, placement of extra carry on luggage can be an issue. Also, the armrest becomes your tray table and you may feel uncomfortable when left in that position for a long time.

Not all airplanes have the same seating configuration. Smaller ones like Airbus A319 have one aisle that it’s simpler and easier to decide which seat you’d like to occupy. For bigger ones like Boeing’s 747 you have more flexibility — with more toilets or exit doors — but you’ll also have to deal with more passengers on-board. Choosing the right seat could be an auspicious way to start your journey. If once you deplane and feel refreshed, you have enough energy to start your holiday. If you’re grumpy and sleepless, you might want to spend more hours on your hotel bed than outdoors.