How To Get the Best Airline Seats

If you have ever been trapped in a middle seat between two bodybuilders or pinned beneath the seat of the woman in front of you who wants to lean all the way back, you might wonder how to get yourself into a better airline seat. Here is a collection of our best tips for FareCompare readers to score a decent airline seat.

First Class
First class seats are issued with priority going to people who have bought a first class ticket. Seats left over are allocated to frequent fliers and “best” customers. Airline employees traveling on free tickets will have higher priority for available first class seats. In the rare event of a first class seat being available, your chances are best if the seat you reserved is already a premium economy seat. If you see someone upgraded from premium economy to first class, you can ask the gate agent for their vacated seat.

How to get the best seat on a flightBusiness Class
Again, frequent fliers get first crack at business class upgrades. If you are a frequent flier with an airline-branded credit card, you will gain upgrade credentials fairly quickly if you travel often. There are occasions, though rare, when bribery works. If you have extra cash on hand and have good rapport with a gate agent, you can ask what it would take to get an upgrade. If you are well-dressed and “look the part” of a business class traveler, you will have better odds.


Get the best seats on an airplaneThe Best Airline Seats in Economy Class

Exit Row
There are many strategies for claiming an exit row seat. Most airlines do not even open these seats for booking until 24 hours before departure. Set an alarm for five minutes earlier than 24 hours before departure and be ready to pounce. But be aware: some airlines charge extra for exit row seats. If you book through a travel agent, you may have a better chance at getting an exit row seat. Rarely, you may happen upon an empty exit row seat when you book. If so, grab it immediately. But be aware that since it is an emergency exit row seat, the airline can give the seat to someone else if you are too young, have physical limitations or do not speak the same language as the flight attendants.

Learn More about How to Snag an Exit Row Seat

Aisle Seat
Grabbing an aisle seat also is a matter of acting quickly. If you are allowed to select your seat when you book, do not delay; after exit row seats, these go quickest and you can easily be stuck with a window or aisle seat.

General Airline Seat Upgrade Strategies
If you are traveling without much carry-on luggage and have a lousy seat, consider boarding last. Go to the back of the plane and search for vacant rows in coach. Take one of these seats and hope that the rugby players who booked them do not show up late. At best, you will get a better seat. At worst, you will end up back in your awful seat.

Here is a chart compiled from data gathered on and  showing “good” coach class seats on common aircrafts used by airlines in the U.S.


Airline Aircraft “Good” Coach Seats
 AirTran Boeing 717-200 11C (part of a 2-seat pair with no middle seat; near front of cabin)
 American Airlines Boeing 767-300 24C/G (movies easily viewable; not near galley or lavatory; have power ports)
 Delta Boeing 767-300 Row 17 (part of “mini-cabin”; quieter than rest of plane)
 Delta Boeing 747-400 (long haul and international flights) 64A/K (in back, but extra space to the side of window seats)
 Frontier Airbus A319 11A/F (just behind exit row; extra legroom)
 JetBlue Airbus A320; Embraer 190 Row 3 of the “extra legroom” seats (which cost extra)
 Southwest Boeing 737-300/700 12F (exit row seat with relatively generous legroom)
 United Boeing 777 Worldwide 2 21H/J (extra legroom; behind crew napping seats; away from galley and lavatory)
 Virgin Airbus A320 6C/D (extra legroom because of cutouts in bulkhead; however, no floor storage)


Published: September 8, 2011