5 Ways to Find a Better Seat on the Plane

We may be getting bigger, but airplane seats sure aren’t. If you’re tired of squeezing your posterior (or legs) into a space seemingly designed for a toddler, this will help.

Warning: Bigger or better seats usually come with a fee but some fees are worth the money. We help you get a better seat for less.

LISTEN: Travel expert Rick Seaney hates the ‘seat squeeze.’

Where to Find the Better Seats

The more you know about seats, the easier they are to find. A good resource:

SeatGuru: You can learn all about seat widths and seat pitches (the amount of space between your seat and the one in front of you) on SeatGuru. Here you’ll find every aircraft flown by every airline with detailed information on size. Sometimes the difference in seats varies by just an inch or two but even a single can make a big difference in comfort.

Bigger and Better Seats for Less

Five ways to get more comfort without paying first class prices.

1. The free seat

Southwest: This freebie is limited to large passengers who can’t fit in a single seat. How it works: Southwest’s Customers of Size policy allows a big traveler to book two seats, pay for them both, then apply for a refund after the trip (and refunds will be given even if the flight is sold-out). These passengers are allowed to board early and second seats are saved with ‘reserved’ cards. It’s a good deal.

2. The cheap seat

Some airlines allow you to pick seats in advance, while many of the cheapest airlines do not. You can usually improve your chances of getting better-situated seats by paying a few bucks more for an aisle or window; more legroom is generally more expensive, though not out of reach. Before dinging your credit card, click ‘seat selection’ to see what’s available and what it costs and here are a few example of some of the fees (but please note that prices rise, based on length of flight and/or destination):

  • American: Better positioned seats from $4.
  • Delta: Better seats on cross-country flights from $19.
  • JetBlue: Even More Space seats start at $10.
  • Southwest: The $15 EarlyBird fee allows passengers to board in the first group so there’s a better chance of scoring a seat you really want.

3. The not-so-cheap seat

Many airlines have variations of roomier seats – look for descriptions like choice, preferred, or in the case of Spirit the Big Front Seat. These can be reasonable depending where and when you fly but prices can zoom, too. Some examples:

  • Spirit: The discounter airline’s big seats range in price from $1-$199.
  • United: Its Economy Plus seats cost an additional $9 to $299 and there is a subscription for frequent flyers that costs $499 to $1099.

4. The hunt-for-it seat

Sometimes during the booking process there is nothing but middle seats but don’t give up. Return to your reservation from time to time specifically to check for better seat options but you may have to wait until check-in (24 hours before departure) to find any. If you still have no luck, check the kiosk at the airport and/or speak to a gate agent; you might get lucky.

5. The miles method

If you are enrolled in your airline’s miles program, check the airport kiosk to see if you can improve your position with miles. Good luck.


Updated: April 19, 2016