Insider Tips: How You Can Go About Scoring The Best Seat

Lady relaxes with her seat reclined while a man reads next to her in flight

3.74min read

Published 19 April 2015


Whether you are flying for just a few hours within Australia or setting off on the long trek to London, a good seat on the plane can make all the difference.

The good news – or the bad, depending on how you look at it – is that not all seats are created equal.

Even on the same plane, flown by the same airline, some seats will boast extra legroom, more room for your carry-on bags, and even make for a quieter, more relaxing flight with less noise to disturb your sleep.

At the other end of the scale, some seats – especially in economy class – rob you of room to stretch out and peace to enjoy your flight.

They can be located too close to the toilets or the crew’s galley kitchen, which makes for plenty of noise and traffic along the aisle next to your seat. Or they could be adjacent to baby bassinets, so you risk sharing your trip with an unsettled infant.

Here are seven tricks to finding the best seat, or at least avoiding the worst.

1. Get Seat-Savvy

One of the best tools in the traveller’s arsenal is the website. Created by frequent traveller Matt Daimler in 2001, the site is a guide to the best – and worst – seats on more than 700 aircraft used by airlines around the world.

Each seat is colour-coded: green for a good seat, red for poor and yellow for ‘caution’, meaning there are some factors which may or may not be a concern.

The reasons for each rating appear as pop-up boxes when you hover your mouse over the seatmap.

When booking your flight, keep SeatGuru open in your web browser so you can try to grab a good seat or at least avoid one of the worst ones.

2. Be Prepared To Pay Extra

Airlines have, of course, cottoned on to the secret habits of seat-savvy flyers.

They’ll usually charge you extra to select your seat online before you travel, or to sit in a row with more legroom such as the emergency exit row.

Sleeping passenger sat on a window seat in an airplane
That window seat can be good - or not so good (Image: Getty)

That cost depends on the airline and how far you’re flying.

On a Qantas Airbus A380 superjumbo to the USA, Dubai or London, for example, an economy exit row seat will cost you $90.

On the Airbus A330 jets, which Qantas mainly flies between east coast capital cities and Perth, the same seats cost an extra $60.

But not all seats in the emergency exit row are a gift to the long-legged. Some are located smack against the bulky part of the door that contains the escape slide, leaving you folded up like a pro basketball player in the back seat of a Mini.

This is where websites like SeatGuru can help. If you do snare an exit row seat, know that these can be a bit chilly once you get to 30,000 feet – so pack a pashmina, scarf or light jumper in your carry-on bag.

3. Up Against The Wall

Another good location for economy class flyers is the very front row of seats in the cabin, facing a wall or ‘bulkhead’ partition.
The bulkhead may back on to the business class section, a galley or just another smaller economy cabin.

The upside is that there is nobody in front who can recline a seat into ‘your’ space. However, these bulkhead seats don’t always deliver. In some aircraft, the cabin partition is so close that your knees remain awkwardly angled throughout the flight.

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4. Tactics To Deliver More Room

A number of airlines have created special zones within the economy cabin designed for maximum legroom – if you are willing to pay for the privilege.

These are created by spacing out several rows of economy seats to add an extra few inches between each row.

Airplane seats with screen displays attached at the back of each one
Inside the A380 economy cabin

For low-cost airlines this is yet another way to reach into your pocket along with charging you extra for meals, checked luggage and even watching inflight movies.

United Airlines has a special ‘Economy Plus’ category flights between Australia and the USA with the same seat and meals as economy but three inches (seven centimetres) more legroom and more recline.

5. Into Space On The A380

Several airlines flying the Airbus A380 superjumbo have a small economy cabin located on the upper deck, as well as devoting most of the lower deck to economy.

Those upstairs seats are the pick of the bunch. As the plane’s upper deck is narrower than the main deck, the seats by necessity aren’t packed as close together.

 Lady relaxes with her seat reclined while a man reads next to her in flight
Many airlines now offer a premium economy option - at a price

Passengers with a seat by the window will find a handy bin built into the sidewall where they can pack away a purse, small backpack, toiletries kit or even their shoes.

It’s also useful for keeping your pillow and blanket out of the way until you need them.

6. Peek Under The Seat

Sitting under some economy seats is a large metal box which powers the in-flight entertainment screens in each row or block of seats.

If you are in the seat behind that one your legroom will be severely cramped, with no room to even slide your purse or a small bag under the seat.

Choosing a seat to either side might be all it takes to guarantee more space for your feet.

Again, this is where the informative SeatGuru website comes in very useful!

7. The Good & Bad Of Business

Most of our observations have been about economy seats, but business class travellers should also choose their seats wisely. Avoid the toilets and galleys if you favour peace and quiet during your flight.

In some aircraft, the last row of business class is located directly ahead of economy where the first row is given over to the baby bassinets.

On Emirates A380s, the last rows in business class are closest to the in-flight cocktail bar which can get a bit noisy on long flights to Dubai and beyond.

Flight passengers making use of the onboard bar
A great social gathering point but it can be too close for comfort

If you are flying a Boeing 747, the jumbo’s upper deck is typically used for business class and preferred by many frequent flyers. It’s a smaller and quieter cabin which feels more exclusive.

There are also storage bins under the window where you can stow a purse, laptop bag or other smaller carry-on items.

Visit your local Flight Centre or call 131 600 for more advice and the latest travel deals.

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