Knowing which seat to pick on a plane is not always an easy task since a lot more can go into the decision than you probably think. You’ve got to think about things like getting sleep, catching the views, leg room, and a lot of other considerations.
In this article, I’ll give you some specific tips for finding the best seats on a plane based on where you’re sitting (economy, business class, first class, etc.) and also give you some tips based on your specific travel preferences and needs.
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1. SeatGuru and seat maps
You can find a seat map for virtually every aircraft operated using SeatGuru. These seat maps will show you a diagram of every seat on the plane and will have notes so that you can see if other passengers have complained about certain seats or if seats have issues like limited recline, noise issues, etc.
Make sure that you are viewing the exact aircraft that you are flying since there can be multiple versions of the same type of aircraft. Use Google Flights to help see what aircraft you are flying on and contact the airline you’re flying on to verify the seat map.
Tip: If you’re using miles to book a partner flight, you’ll usually need to create a frequent flyer account with that partner airline to view the seat map and select your seat online. Typically, you’ll be given a booking reference/record locator from the airline you booked the flight with that can be used on the partner airline’s website.
Business and first class tips
2. Go with bulkhead seats
Bulkhead seats in business class can sometimes offer a dramatic difference in leg room. I’ve experienced this first hand on the Singapore A350, Qatar A350, and a few other business class seats. When you’re taking a long-haul flight, getting a bulkhead seat can make a world of a difference.
One issue is that these seats are not always easy to select, though. Sometimes you may need to call and make a special request for them but other times they will be available for anyone to select.
3. Seek out “mini-cabins”
A lot of aircraft have “mini-cabins” which are cabin areas (usually for business class) that only sit a few rows of seats that are not connected to the main business class cabin. This allows you to have a much more private and less noisy experience in business class. It can also make it easier to get attention from the crew since you’ll be able to stand out more in a smaller area.
Here’s a look at a mini-cabin on the Cathay Pacific A330.
You can find these mini-cabins for economy, too. Check out the seat map below for the Qatar A380. It not only has a smaller economy mini-cabin but the economy seats are in a 2-4-2 configuration instead of the dreaded 3-4-3 that the remainder of the aircraft has.
4. Sit in the back
Sitting in the back of a business class cabin is often a way to avoid the most foot traffic during a flight and maximize privacy.
But you need to pay attention to the seat map to make sure this will work out. Sometimes a plane won’t have any lavatories in the front of the plane and in that case you might want to sit closer to the front. By avoiding the routes to the lavatories, you’ll usually be able to cut down on traffic significantly.
The other thing to be aware of the noise factor. If you’re close to a galley, noise can be an issue. Another noise issue can arise by sitting next to a rattling wall in the back which I’ve encountered before.
5. Choose the “right” aisle
Some business class and first class cabins are configured in such a way that one aisle has much more privacy than other aisles. A great example of this the Virgin Atlantic Upper Class product. Another good example of this is the first class cabin for Cathay Pacific.
Take a look at the Virgin Atlantic 787 photo below and you’ll see how one aisle has passengers looking toward each other while another aisle is looking toward the back of a partition. Not only do you have more privacy, but you’ll also have less foot traffic to contend with if you choose the right aisle.
6. Factor in bar access
A number of A380s have really cool bar and lounge areas that you can hang out in during your flight. But these lounges and bars like the Qatar A380 can get jam-packed with passengers, making it hard to enjoy them and difficult to get photos.
If you’re seated near the bar you can keep an eye on the bar or just quickly check on it throughout your flight. Otherwise, you’ll have to traverse the entire plane only to find that the bar is too crowded to enjoy and you might have to do this multiple times.
Checking on the bar will be easier to do from business class since the bars are often located farther from first class. Just watch out if sitting too close to the bars because the bar areas can be a little noisy on some planes like on the Virgin Atlantic 787.
7. Consider the front rows in first class
Sometimes the very front row in a smaller first class cabin can offer the greatest amount of privacy. This was the case when we flew first class on the British Airways 747. The front row seats are blocked off for elite members but if nobody ever picks them up you can select them at check-in.
8. Check for backward-facing seats
Some business class and first class cabins will have seats that have you facing backwards. For me personally, it doesn’t bother me if I’m facing backwards though it does feel a little odd during take off and landing. But some people don’t like it at all and might even get motion sickness so always keep an eye out for those cabins like the British Airways business class cabins that do this.
9. Think twice about “Honeymoon seats”
People often refer to the business class seats in the middle as “honeymoon suites” since they are often ideal for couples to share them. These can be great seats but you should think about a couple of things before you choose them.
First, the window seats are going to usually feel much more private. You might not want to separate from your partner but consider how much you’ll really be talking to each other during the flight. Between the movies you’ll be watching and sleep you’ll be catching, you probably will be occupied during your flight.
Second, some of these seats can get cramped. Take a look at the Etihad business class below and you’ll see how close the seats can be to each other. I can’t stand the pic of me below but it’s the only pic I have that shows just how tight the fit can be for these seats — the armrest room looks like an economy seat!
If you choose the middle seats that are more divided, you won’t have to worry about that issue.
10. Get conjoining suites
Some of the new first class products have configurations that allow only some of the suites to be conjoined so that you can enjoy your first class experience with another travel partner.
The Etihad Apartment on the A380 is a great example of this and the Singapore A380 (both old and new) is a another great example. By choosing the right suites, you’ll be able to enjoy a much more spacious feeling suite and perhaps even share a double bed with your partner.
But it can be difficult to find availability with conjoining suites. One solution to this is to call the airlines and see if they can get other passengers to switch their seats around. This sounds very bold and needy but this worked for me when we flew on the new Singapore A380 suites.
I simply called up and explained that other passengers were currently “blocking” shared suites and explained that they probably wouldn’t mind switching to another suite if they weren’t trying to share that suite. Singapore agreed and somehow got the passengers to switch their suites. This won’t work every time but it’s worth a try.
11. Get extra leg room in the emergency exit rows
Some seats in the emergency exit rows will usually allow you to have a little bit of extra leg room which is great for taller folks or just for people who like to stretch out. You’ll need to make sure you do a seat map check on these seats though because some of the seats in the emergency exit rows many not recline at all.
Keep in mind there are usually restrictions for the emergency exit rows and certain passengers (like those in pre-boarding) are not allowed to sit there. Also, the emergency exit rows can be colder than other areas of the plane due to the proximity to the doors, so keep that in mind.
Economy Plus can be a another great option if you need extra leg room. You’ll have to pay extra for these seats though. These will get you a little extra leg room and economy plus is also where you’ll often find empty economy seats, so it can also offer you a little bit more privacy.
12. Know how to get the best views
If you’re into views, you know it’s a no-brainer to sit in a window seat. But how do you know which side of the plane to sit on and which area?
The first thing to do is to avoid the wings because they will interfere with your views. Some avgeeks might want to still sit near them so they can get the engines in their view/shots (which do look nice) but if you want the widest view, avoid sitting directly above the wings.
Use FlightAware to see what the flight paths look like for your flight and then try to predict which side will give you the best views by using something like Google Maps. These flight paths can change based on unpredictable factors so you’ll often have to depend on a little bit of luck, but many times this will set you up with the best chance of getting those fantastic views for your photographs.
13. Best seats for the quick exit
If you’re trying to get out of the plane as quickly as you can then obviously sitting near the front of the plane will often be the place to sit. And if there are two aisles on your aircraft, the left side of the plane (where the door is located) should move quicker.
However, some planes will have passengers deplane from the front and from the second exit in the rear of the cabin. The latter is less common and I wouldn’t count on it unless I was very familiar and/or experienced with the deplaning process for that aircraft/location.
But if you really need a quick exit to catch a connection or something, you might want to avoid the middle of the plane since you could end up being the last person to get off the plane if both sides of the plane are used to exit. This happened to us one time on a trip down to the Caribbean and as a result, we found ourselves at the every end of a slow-moving immigration line!
14. Best seats for families
You’ll want to probably lock down a bulkhead seat if you’re traveling with very small children who might need to move around during a flight, though sitting in the back near the lavatory might be needed for diaper changes.
If you’re flying on Southwest with a larger family you might want to sit in the back of the plane where you can more easily save your seats without any issues.
15. Best seat for sleeping
If you want to catch some shut eye on a plane then you’re probably going to want a window seat, possibly on the left side. This will allow you to have the best experience since you won’t have to worry about others climbing over you and you’ll be able to control the window and use it for neck support.
Just watch out for which row you select because if you’re very close to a galley or a lavatory then noise can become an issue and you might struggle to fall asleep. You might also want to pick a row far from the loud engines, so you might want to look for a window seat right between the galley and the engines in the middle of the plane.
16. Best seat for bigger passengers
If you’re on the larger side of the passenger spectrum, you probably don’t want to take the middle seat and you’re probably best off with taking the aisle seats so you can lean into the aisle. But keep in mind that if you protrude too far out into the aisle, you’re going to get knocked by passengers making their way through the plane. To avoid that, you can board the plane a little late but make sure that you’ll have space for your carry-on if you do that.
17. Best seats for the neurotic
If you’re a passenger who hates turbulence then consider taking a seat closest to the wings where the plane should be the most stable. If you’re afraid of crashing and won’t to maximize your chances of survival, then sitting in the back of the plane is said to the safest area. You might want to also snag an aisle seat so you can quickly exit the plane.
These tips should give you some helpful considerations when choosing your seat on your next flight. But if I missed anything let me know!
Daniel Gillaspia is the Founder of UponArriving.com and creator of the credit card app, WalletFlo. He is a former attorney turned full-time credit card rewards/travel expert and has earned and redeemed millions of miles to travel the globe. Since 2014, his content has been featured in major publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, Forbes, CNBC, US News, and Business Insider. Find his full bio here.