I was once assigned a seat in the middle of a row of five on a Boeing 777 on a full flight that also turned out to be my longest flight ever: strong head winds extended the flight time of the flight from Kuala Lumpur to Amsterdam to 14 hours 15 minutes!! During the flight, I couldn’t help but think how I got myself into that seat (or rather, predicament) in the first place. On any plane, there are the best seats and the worst – this was definitely the worst! I can’t remember ever feeling so elated to get off a plane. Since then, I’ve made it a point to do some research and book a specific seat in advance to ensure I get a good seat on the plane.
The best seats on a plane – factors to consider
Your choice of seat, especially on long-haul flights, is crucial for your comfort during the flight. Not all seats are the same. Even in Business Class, there are seats that are better located than others.
Bulkhead seats are located at the front of the cabin or the first row after a dividing wall and offer more legroom. Many airlines charge extra for these seats. For airlines with a Business Class product, it’s becoming increasingly common to offer these seats as a Business Class+ seat (for an extra charge or reserved for frequent flyer members with elite status). Examples include JetBlue’s Mint Studio and Virgin Atlantic’s Retreat Suite. Airlines such as Air France and Singapore Airlines often reserve these bulkhead Business Class seats for their highest tier frequent flyers (releasing these seats to other passengers only a few days before departure).
However, if the seats are located near the galley or toilets, it could be noisy as the crew prepare meals or chat with each other in between service times, or when passengers utilise the toilets. The light emanating from the galley could also be a nuisance when the cabin is dark (eye shades are a quick fix).
If you like window seats (like I do), you’ll want to check if there really is a window (it could be a blocked window or wall). In the case of Business Class, some airlines have staggered seats which mean that some seats are further from the window (with a storage cabinet between the seat and the window) than others. This is troublesome if you enjoy the plane views like I do.
I much prefer seats located directly next to the window. In addition, these seats will have the storage compartment on the outer side of the seat, thereby creating more distance between the seat and the aisle.
To identify the seats directly next to the window, look up the seat map of your flight – many airlines show the seat map during the booking process (where you can make your seat selection).
Exit row seats
Seats in the Emergency Exits rows usually offer more legroom – and many airlines charge extra for these seats – but beware of the window seats. On wide-body aircraft, the bulky compartment protruding from the door that houses the emergency slides may inhibit your legroom. In addition, this area also tends to be colder than the rest of the cabin.
Beware of seats located in the row directly in front of an Emergency Exit row as these won’t recline. This is because a reclined seat may cause an obstruction during an emergency.
Seats in the back
Seats in the last row often have limited reclining space because of the wall behind. Aisle seats close to lavatories and galleys may also not be a good option as you’ll have people bumping into you throughout the flight as they head for the lavatories (or galley for snacks) and back.
The best seats in Business Class
In Business Class, I’ll always book a window seat (with the seat next to the window) at least one row away from the galley and lavatories. Bulkhead seats offer more room but I would only choose these if they have doors.
One exception is Singapore Airlines’ Business Class, where you can only stretch your legs or sleep in a diagonal position due to the footwell’s location to the side of the seat in front. If you’re flying Business Class on Singapore Airlines, book the bulkhead as these seats provide the most legroom and you don’t have to sleep at an angle as there’s a large ottoman instead of a footwell to rest your legs.
The best seats in Economy Class
On shorter flights in Economy, I’ll typically choose a window seat (for the views) and pay extra to sit in the front of the cabin or at the bulkhead for more legroom.
On long-haul flights, I’ll consider an aisle seat located about 4-5 rows from the back. These seats offer direct aisle access and there’s sufficient distance from toilets and galleys. In addition, as airlines often fill up planes starting from the front, if the flight isn’t full, there’s a bigger chance that you might have a whole row to yourself. These aisle seats in the back are often recommended by cabin crew as some of the best seats on a plane.
Finally, one resource I use to look up pros and cons of a specific seat is SeatGuru.