Scoring the Perfect Seat on Your Next Flight

By | January 14, 2012
Celebrating Premium

Image by Jack Zalium via Flickr

Everyone seems to want the perfect seat on a plane. Assigned seating is very important to travellers. But airlines have never guaranteed seating. At times it seems we are lucky if they successfully transport us from point A to point B.

A few years ago, bulkhead seats were often held for people with a medical condition. But the days of giving preferential seats to families and those with medical assistance are gone. First, exit and bulkhead seats became a premium even aisle and window seats are now premium options. Preferential seating is now for the elites…or those willing to pay for the privilege.

The truth is, there aren’t enough people with true medical needs to fill these seats all the time, and airlines have recognized people are willing to pay for the privilege. Legally, if we understand the Air Accessibility Act correctly, the only two groups that are required to be given a bulkhead no matter what if it is requested is a passenger with a service animal or a passenger with a fused leg.

The best advice if you want a preferred seat for medical reasons is to call early. But what if you do not have a medical condition, or you have something that isn’t covered? You are tall, for example? you had knee surgery a decade ago and it isn’t medical necessary that you have a better seat, but it could mean a much less painful flight.

If you are interested in getting an exit row seat, check out this Airfarewatchdog chart, showing various airlines and their exit row seating policies.
There is a tool that came out last year that tries to monitor seating availability for you, called Expertflyer, which offers a single free seat alert, with additional alerts available for a charge.
But, fee paying isn’t for everyone. To quote the Middle Street Terminal Blog, “Seat assignment fees continue the still-evolving debate over what you actually get when you buy an airline ticket. A lot of service used to come with the transportation – baggage, food, seat assignments, standby opportunities. Now all you get is a sometimes broken promise of transportation from A to B. Want more? There’s a fee for that.
If you want to avoid it:
  • The biggest secret to getting the perfect seat, if you aren’t going to pay, is to book your seat when you make the reservation.
  • If you cannot get a seat at that time, keep following up until you can.
  •  If you don’t like the seats that are available, check back a week or two before the flight.
  • After that,check in online as early as possible to get the seats that are often released at the last moment.
  • At the airport, ask an airline representative if anything better is available. Some airlines offer last minute deals on upgraded seating.

If you want to look at seating maps and try to figure out what the best seats might be, check out Seatguru if you haven’t already. It does its best to give you the most accurate information, but as there are occasionally variations even in aircraft of the same model, you could be setting yourself up for problems.

If you are on Southwest, an airline that doesn’t do preassigned seating, you can always try the technique of trying to look unappealing to sit next to in order to get more room. However, this only works if there will be empty seats to spare, and doesn’t produce the best results.

We hate to say it, but if you don’t pay, even on Southwest, then you could find yourself separated from your loved ones, in a seat with limited recline, in a middle seat between two sumo wrestlers…namely, a less than pleasant flight.