The Best Seats on the Plane: Ranked

PHOTO: Matthew Hurst / Flckr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The definitive guide to where to sit when you’re going to be stuck.

Airlines have introduced so many seating options that it’s hard to know what the best seats on the plane are. Given the option to choose, this handy guide can help you learn which seats are the best on the plane–and which ones you should always avoid.

Up Front

Generally speaking, a seat in a premium cabin will always be better than a seat in economy class. You’ll usually get a wider seat and more legroom. However, some airlines sneakily stretch the definition of premium. “Premium Seat” or “Premium Row” isn’t necessarily the same as a premium cabin—it may just be an economy class seat closer to the front. Make sure that you’re booking into first, business, or premium economy when you pay extra (or use extra miles) for a “premium” seat.

Exception: Spirit offers a “Big Front Seat.” This is a larger seat with more legroom, but the service and cabin are economy class.

flyvancity (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Empty Row of Seats

While it’s rare to score an empty row of seats on a domestic flight these days, it might be possible on off-peak international flights. Most people pick seats toward the front, so your chances are best if you choose a seat toward the back of the aircraft.

Window or Aisle

It’s almost always better to select a window seat or an aisle seat than a middle seat. One trick to potentially get a window or aisle seat when only middle seats are available on the seat map: don’t choose a seat at all. Airlines start to upgrade their elite members 24 hours prior to departure, so if you check in right after they’ve been upgraded, you’ll have your pick of the (excellent) seats they left behind.

Exit Row

A lot of people will rush to book an exit row, but not all exit rows are the same, not everyone benefits from an exit row, and not everyone is qualified to sit in an exit row. Be sure that you’re picking an exit row for the right reasons and you meet the qualifications (age and physical abilities).

The primary reason to book an exit row seat is if you are tall. These seats have a lot of extra legroom. If you’re super extra tall, it might even be worth sitting in the middle seat in exchange for the extra legroom.

Exit row seats do come with trade-offs. If there are two rows of exit row seats, the forward row will typically not recline. Also, tray tables are stored inside the armrest, making the seat a bit more narrow.

Bulkhead Row

Usually, although not always, the bulkhead row has a bit more leg room than other seats. And without a seat in front of you, the area around your knees is less constrained. While not as good as an exit row, this can be better for taller people. The downside is that all of your carry-on items have to go into the overhead bin, and seats are a little narrower because the tray table is stored inside the armrest.

Quieter or Smoother Rides

Seats toward the front of the plane will have a quieter ride. Seats over the wing, meanwhile, offer a smoother ride.

Avoiding Bad Seats

You couldn’t believe your luck that you scored an exit row seat until you discovered the catch: a giant door protruding into the cabin, eating all of your legroom. After take-off, while you’re sitting with your feet off to the side at an odd angle, you discover that it’s also the coldest spot on the plane. Only 13 hours and 59 minutes to go…

You thought you booked a window seat. Technically, you did. Unfortunately, your window has a view of the engine, and nothing else. Or you booked a window seat—and there isn’t a window (yes, this is absolutely a thing)!

You booked the last aisle seat on the plane—all the way in the back. Unfortunately, it doesn’t recline because it’s wedged up directly against the toilet. For the rest of the flight, you hear a loud “whoosh” every three minutes or so, and you have an endless parade of people right next to you while they stand and wait to use the lavatory.

All of the above scenarios could have been avoided by researching obstructions on the specific aircraft that you plan to take. One of the best sites to do this is SeatGuru. You can find out the benefits and drawbacks of each seat on the plane. Note that airlines often operate multiple aircraft of the same type in different configurations, so be certain to enter your flight number so the right seat map comes up. Also, compare the SeatGuru seat map to the airline’s seat map to make sure they agree.