If you’ve ever flown, you know that a good seat can mean the difference between an enjoyable and painful flight. But what seat should you reserve? Aisle or window? Front, middle, or rear?
Every traveler is different. Some of us fall asleep before the plane takes off, and others travel with children, or struggle with long legs. Or you might easily get airsick or have anxiety about flying. So, there isn’t one best seat for everyone.
Here’s a summary list of the best seats on a plane by category:
Best seat for a smooth ride: A seat over the wing of the aircraft
Turbulence is virtually unavoidable while flying, but choosing a seat near the middle of the plane, over the wing, will make a bumpy ride less noticeable. The further away you sit from the wings, the more noticeable turbulence will be. If you picture the airplane’s movements in response to turbulence as pivoting around a central spot (the center of gravity), you can imagine folks near the nose or tail will move up and down more than if you’re seated near to the pivot point.
If you have a choice between multiple aircraft on the same route, picking a bigger plane usually means a smoother ride. Heavier airplanes typically react less to bumpy air. Most airline sites display the aircraft type next to the fare prices.
Best seat for sleepers: A window seat near the front
If you like to sleep away a plane ride, pick a window seat near the front, and preferably on the left side of the plane. Being on the window means people in your row don’t need to wake you up to go to the restroom, and the flight attendant doesn’t need to reach over you to give refreshments to the other people in your row. Plus, leaning against the window is just more comfortable and you can control the lighting (lower the shade).
The front of the plane is less noisy, and the left side windows tend to be off-center due to the front door’s positioning. This allows you to rest your head against the column between windows, for a more comfortable rest.
Best seat for most legroom: An aisle seat in the 2nd exit row
If you’re a tall person, you want to try to get yourself a seat in the emergency exit row, preferably an aisle seat. Many planes have two over-wing exit rows, and the second row is best because the first exit row will not be able to recline in front of you.
Best seat for fastest plane exit: Any seat close to the front of the plane—on the left side for dual aisle aircraft
You might have already spent hours on the flight, but sometimes the last 15 minutes while you wait to get off the plane can feel like the longest of it all.
Selecting a seat near the front of the aircraft will mean the quickest time to deplane. If you are flying on a plane with two aisles, choose a seat in the front with access to the left-hand aisle. The plane’s boarding door is always on the left, so that aisle tends to move quicker than the right-side aisle.
Best seat for the safety conscious: A seat towards the back of the plane
Popular Mechanics recently conducted a study that examined every commercial jet crash in the United States, since 1971, that had both fatalities and survivors. The study concluded that where you sit in a plane actually significantly impacts your chance of survival in the extremely unlikely event of a plane crash.
The study found that in US airline crashes, passengers who sat in the back of the plane had a 69 percent chance of survival, compared to 56 percent chance for those who sat over the wing, and 49 percent for those in the (front 1/4 of the plane). The study concluded that the passengers in the back of the plane were the safest.
Best seat for traveling with kids: A bulkhead seat with the kids by the window
If you travel with kids, you know the dread of getting stuck in the center seat, with kids squirming and fussing. Then there are the last second emergencies to the bathroom. It can be embarrassing, but the right seat can make things easier.
When traveling with kids, try to get a bulkhead row. These rows offer extra space in front, so kids can stand up to get the occasional wiggles out (when the seatbelt light is off, of course). This also means kids aren’t bothering the row in front of you, which cuts down the number of glaring looks you get.
The bulkhead seats are also often near bathrooms, making last-second bathroom emergencies a bit easier.
Once you have a bulkhead row, it is best to position kids against the window or middle seat (when traveling with two kids), avoiding the aisle seat (or reserving it for yourself). The window is a healthy distraction for kids, and more importantly it avoids them from being hit by beverage carts, passengers rushing to the bathroom, or tumbling into the aisle.
Best seat for A/C power – varies based on airline
You will want to look into each airline for how they offer A/C power on their planes if you are planning on using it. Some airlines, like Alaska Airlines, offer an individual power outlet and USB plug for each seat. Other airlines like United Airlines have one shared A/C outlet per row.
For airlines with shared outlets, you will want to focus in on the middle seat, since the shared power outlet is usually under this seat, against the chair leg closest to the aisle. If you or a travel companion have the middle seat, then using this outlet becomes a lot less awkward.
Best seat for larger passengers – select an aisle seat
Selecting an aisle seat is your best bet as it allows you to lean out into the aisle so you aren’t compressing the person next to you. What most people don’t realize is that the aisle armrests lift up, making for a much more comfortable ride. When you first sit down, feel for a small button or lever, located under the armrest, almost against the seatback. Holding this down will unlock the armrest, allowing you to lift it all the way up and giving you a lot more space.
Every passenger is going to have certain flying and travel styles that will make different seats a better choice for them. Reserving the best airline seat ahead of time can take a lot of stress out of traveling.