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Airfare Q&A: How can I get the best seat when I fly?

SmarterTravel

No one wants to spend an entire flight cramped into a middle seat in the back of an airplane, trying to sleep while fellow passengers linger outside the restroom. Fortunately, with a little preparation you can score yourself a better seat without forking over hundreds of extra dollars for first class.

Q. What are the best seats?

On most large planes used for long flights (when your seat assignment is particularly important), you?ll have the option of an aisle, middle, or window seat. Most travelers prefer either an aisle or window seat.

Over-wing exit row seats are also desirable, as they offer extra legroom. However, because passengers in exit row seats must be able to assist the flight crew in the event of an emergency, not all travelers will be eligible to sit in an exit row. And, larger planes often have two exit rows, but it?s wise to avoid the first exit row, as the seats often will not recline.

Bulkhead seats, or seats behind the partition separating the plane into sections, are usually considered good seats. Because there aren?t seats in front of the bulkhead seats, on some planes there will be extra legroom with no one reclining into your knees. However, bulkhead seats have less space for carry-on luggage, can be uncomfortably close to the television screens, and are often close to restrooms and galleys. Also, some planes offer bassinets for babies at the bulkhead wall, so you could be forced to spend the flight face-to-face with a crying child.

Q. What are the worst seats?

The middle seat is considered the least desirable seat. Seats near the restrooms or galleys are also less attractive.

To ensure you get a good seat, and that you aren’t stuck in one of the worst seats on your flight, use the helpful website SeatGuru.com. The site features the layouts of hundreds of planes from different airlines, and color codes each individual seat: green for good seats, yellow for questionable seats, and red for seats to avoid. By checking with SeatGuru before booking, you?ll know which exit row doesn?t recline and which bulkhead seats have a bassinet, which will help you choose your seat wisely.

Q. How do I get the best seat?

In most cases, airlines allow passengers to reserve specific seats when booking. However, if for some reason seat assignments are not available, you will receive your seat assignment when you check in. Even if you do make a seat reservation, however, if you don?t check in early enough, the airline might cancel your seat reservation. And, if you book through an opaque-pricing site (Hotwire, Priceline) or a consolidator, you may not have the option to choose your seat (although it never hurts to ask once you check in at the airport).

Exit-row seats usually cannot be reserved ahead of time, because passengers in these seats must be at least 12 to 15 years old (depending on airline), speak English (or another language used by crew members), and fulfill several other requirements.

If you don?t have a pre-assigned seat, or if you?re unhappy with your assignment, be sure to ask for a specific seat (as specific as ?26C,? for example, or as general as ?a window seat?) at check in. Airlines hold a number of seats until the day of the flight to accommodate passengers? needs, and travelers can cancel tickets at any time before take-off, so it can?t hurt to ask for the seat you want. If all else fails, ask the gate agent before you board the plane. Sometimes gate agents are able to reassign seats at the last minute.

If you?re still unhappy with your assignment after you board, there may be a chance to change seats if your flight isn?t full. After the flight attendants shut the plane?s doors, you should be able to move to a different, unoccupied seat. On flights that aren?t completely filled, the last rows in the plane are often empty. It?s your decision whether sitting close to the restroom and galley is worth having two or three seats to yourself.

All in all, the best way to get the seat you want is have a few desirable seats in mind ahead of time and reserve your seat assignment when you book. On the day of your flight, be sure to get to the airport with plenty of time so you can check in early and confirm your seat assignment.

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