A plane flies in a starry sky.

Best – And Worst – Flights to Snag a Spare Seat Next to You

14 March 2017
Read Time: 2.0 mins

Leg-room may be a valuable commodity on international flights but you don’t necessarily need to pay an arm and a leg to secure some extra stretch-out space.

Australia’s Bureau of Transport, Infrastructure and Regional Economics (BITRE) says airlines achieved 79.3 per cent seat utilisation on international outbound flights during 2015/16.

While there are no guarantees that you'll end up neighbourless on any given flight, this means that there are likely to be several empty seats on most international services departing Australia.

Flight Centre’s airfare experts have analysed the BITRE data to find the flights that came closest to needing the full house sign.

Cathay Pacific’s Hong Kong services had the fewest empty seats, with 89.8 per cent seat utilisation achieved over the year.

A plane passes over residential buildings in Hong Kong, as viewed from below. You're not likely to gain any extra elbow room on certain Hong Kong flights. Image: Getty

Other busy flight sectors included Qantas’ services to Thailand (88.2 per cent), the Philippines (87.6 per cent) and Canada (87.3 per cent), Qatar Airways’ flights to Qatar (87.7 per cent), Eva Air’s services to Taiwan (86.8 per cent), Delta’s US flights (86 per cent) and JAL’s flights to Japan (85.7 per cent).

On Virgin Australia, spare seats were relatively hard to come by on the Vanuatu and US services (82.8 per cent and 82.5 per cent seat utilisation respectively).

If you are looking for extra space, you’re in with a decent chance of landing a spare seat next to you on Qantas and Virgin’s services to Papua New Guinea (about 50 per cent seat utilisation).

If you're flying Jetstar, your best chance is on services to China (66 per cent seat utilisation).

Your chances of finding some extra space also vary from airport to airport.

Of the major capital-city airports, your best chance to land a spare seat next to you is if you fly from Darwin (72 per cent seat utilisation), Perth (76.5 per cent) or Brisbane (78.6 per cent).

You’re most likely to be sharing your in-flight armrest if you’re flying internationally from Adelaide (81.7 per cent) or Sydney (81.1 per cent).

“Unfortunately, there’s no way of ensuring you are one of the lucky ones who takes off with a  spare seat next to you,” Greg Parker, the head of the Flight centre Travel Group's air business, said.

“The best advice is probably to ask at check-in or to try selecting a seat in the middle aisle and towards the back of the plane, as most people will tend to select window or aisle seats closer to the front.” 

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