Choosing the Best Airplane Seats & Avoiding the Worst: A Traveler's Guide

Choosing the Best Airplane Seats & Avoiding the Worst: A Traveler's Guide

Airplane seats can greatly impact your travel experience, influencing comfort, convenience, and even your ability to rest during a flight. Whether you're a frequent flyer or embarking on a long-awaited vacation, understanding which seats are the best and how to secure them can make a significant difference. In this comprehensive guide, we'll explore the best and worst airplane seats and provide tips on how to book the optimal seats for your journey.

Aisle seat on Airplane window with a view. Photo by Tove Liu:

What are the Best Airplane Seats?

1. Aisle Seats:

  • Pros: Aisle seats offer easy access to the aisle, making it convenient for stretching your legs, accessing the lavatory, and moving around without disturbing other passengers.
  • Ideal for: Passengers who prefer freedom of movement or have a tendency to get up frequently during flights.

2. Exit Row Seats:

  • Pros: Seats near emergency exits often provide extra legroom, offering more space to stretch out.
  • Ideal for: Tall individuals or those who value legroom and are willing to assist in case of an emergency evacuation.

3. Bulkhead Seats:

  • Pros: Located at the front of the cabin or between sections, bulkhead seats often offer additional legroom and a sense of more space.
  • Ideal for: Passengers who prefer more legroom or families traveling with infants (as these seats often offer bassinet facilities).
4. Window Seats:
  • Pros: You get a great view and a wall to lean against if you're trying to catch a nap before landing
  • Ideal for: Passengers who don't need to get up frequently for the bathroom and like to look out the window during flights

MB Packing backpack by Arden Cove fits under the airplane seat as a personal item bag

MB packing backpack as personal item on airplane

For a quick exit, pick an aisle seat and take a personal bag that fits under the seat like the MB Packing Backpack

What are the Worst Airplane Seats I should Avoide?

1. Middle Seats:

  • Cons: Lack of easy access to the aisle and limited space can make middle seats less desirable, especially on long-haul flights.
  • Avoid if: You prioritize ease of access and prefer not to be sandwiched between other passengers.

2. Seats Near Lavatories or Galley:

  • Cons: Seats adjacent to lavatories or galleys can experience more noise, foot traffic, odor, and potential disturbance throughout the flight.
  • Avoid if: You seek a quieter and more peaceful environment during the flight.

3. Seats Near Wing Exits:

  • Cons: While providing extra legroom, these seats often lack recline due to safety regulations and can be less comfortable for longer flights.
  • Avoid if: You value the ability to recline your seat for added comfort.
Seats on an airplane. Photo by Vitaliy Todo:

Which are the Safest Seats on an Aircraft?

Safety is often on many people's mind when traveling, but which seats are the safest on the plane? 

1. Seats Near Emergency Exits:

  • Pros: Seats near emergency exits often offer more space and are closer to exits, potentially allowing for quicker evacuation during emergencies.
  • Note: Passengers seated in these rows may be required to assist in case of an evacuation, and they need to meet certain criteria set by the airline.

2. Seats Near the Rear of the Aircraft:

  • Pros: Studies and analyses of past incidents suggest that seats toward the rear of the aircraft might have slightly better survival rates in certain types of accidents.
  • Note: This conclusion is based on statistical analysis and can vary depending on the type of incident.

3. Seats in the Middle of the Aircraft:

  • Pros: The middle section of the aircraft is often considered more structurally stable during accidents, offering a more reinforced area.
  • Note: While statistically advantageous in certain scenarios, this does not guarantee complete safety.

Tips for airplane travel with kids and families with children

Which are the Best Seats for Families with Kids:

Airlines will often allow families with babies or young children to board earlier. For flights were you select your seats once boarding, like Southwest, this is the perfect time to pick the most comfortable seats for your family. 

1. Bulkhead Seats:

  • Pros: Bulkhead seats often provide additional space, ideal for placing a bassinet for infants or allowing kids more room to move around other than running up and down the aisle.
  • Consideration: Some bulkhead seats might lack storage due to the absence of a seat in front, so items may need to be placed in the overhead bins. 

2. Aisle or Window Seats:

  • Pros: Aisle seats provide easier access to the aisle, facilitating movement without disturbing other passengers. Window seats offer a view that might entertain children during the flight.
  • Consideration: Window seats may limit movement, while aisle seats might be prone to passing service carts.

3. Seats Toward the Rear:

  • Pros: Seats toward the rear of the aircraft might offer a quieter environment and are often closer to lavatories, which can be convenient for families. If the flight is not full, the empty seats are likely in the back, giving your family more space to move around and distance from neighbors if you're nervous about a crying baby disturbing others. 
  • Consideration: Rear seats might experience more engine noise, and they may be subject to more passenger traffic near lavatories.

4. Rows with Empty Middle Seats:

  • Pros: On less crowded flights, selecting seats with an empty middle seat provides extra space for children to spread out and reduces the likelihood of disturbing neighboring passengers.
  • Consideration: This option may not always be available on full flights.

5. Avoid Emergency Exit Rows:

  • Consideration: While emergency exit rows offer extra legroom, these seats typically come with specific age or capability restrictions, which might not be suitable for young children due to safety regulations.

View outside airplane window at night

Tips for Booking the Best Seats on an Airplane:

1. Book Early:

  • Try to book your seat as early as possible, especially if you have specific preferences, to have a better selection of available seats.
  • When booking with points you may not be able to select seats in that portal, but you can then contact the airline to select seats depending on the airline. 

2. Use Seat Maps:

  • Utilize airline websites or third-party booking platforms that offer seat maps to view available seats and choose the ones that suit your preferences.

3. Consider Seat Selection Fees:

  • Some airlines charge extra fees for seat selection. Evaluate whether the additional cost is worth securing a preferred seat.

4. Check SeatGuru or Similar Sites:

  • Websites like SeatGuru provide detailed seat maps for different airlines, highlighting the best and worst seats based on traveler reviews and specifics about each seat's features.

5. Check in on Time

  • Especially for airlines without assigned seating, check in exactly 24 hours before your flight to get your first pick. 

6. Join Loyalty Programs:

  • Loyalty programs often provide early access to seat selection or complimentary seat upgrades, making it advantageous for frequent flyers.

Selecting the best airplane seats is a subjective decision influenced by personal preferences, flight duration, and individual needs. While certain seats offer more comfort and convenience, what constitutes the "best" seat can vary from person to person. Understanding the layout of the aircraft, using seat maps, and considering factors like legroom, access to amenities, and potential disturbances can help you make an informed choice when booking your next flight. Ultimately, planning ahead and being mindful of your preferences can enhance your in-flight experience and contribute to a more comfortable journey.


Karin is the co-founder of Arden Cove and co-creator of the Anti-Theft Waterproof Crossbodies - bags created for women who want all the practicality and safety features without compromising in style. Shop

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