The Best Seats on a Plane for Every Situation

Choosing the best place to sit on a plane when booking a flight to go on a trip by plane depends on many different factors. Are you flying alone or with friends or family? Is it a long-haul flight or just a short business trip? Are you tall so need a seat with extra legroom? Are you a nervous passenger or someone who suffers from airsickness?

I have probably sat in just about every position it is possible to fly on a plane, including sitting in the jump seat in the cockpit a few times – probably my favorite seat. Some were great positions while others were simply a bit of a nightmare.

So how should you make your seat selection? It is largely a matter of personal preference but if any of the following apply to you then they may help you choose.

The Best Seat on an airplane for Every Situation

Best seats on a plane in economy

If, like me sadly, you are generally going to be traveling in coach then the preferred seats to choose in economy class in my opinion are, in order of preference:

  1. Window seat in an extra legroom row (perhaps in an emergency exit row seat)
  2. Aisle seat in a legroom row
  3. Window seat in a bulkhead row – ie. a bulkhead seat immediately behind a bulkhead so no seat in front of you
  4. Aisle seat in a bulkhead row
  5. The first row aft of a main door (so plenty of room in front of you). These often don’t have a window so it doesn’t matter if you choose a window seat or one of the aisle seats.
  6. Middle seat in a legroom row
  7. Middle seat in a bulkhead row
  8. Then a seat by a window in any row
  9. Then an aisle seat in any row
  10. If the last seats available are one of the middle seats then you just have to go with that. On a wide-bodied aircraft there will be a whole row of probably 5 middle seats so you could select one of the aisle seats in this block.

If there is a Premium Economy option then it is usually best to pay the extra and choose one of the premium seats based on the criteria above.

Try to avoid selecting any seat in the very last row, particularly if it is a long flight, as these seats often cannot be reclined, or have limited ability to do this. The seats in many budget airlines do not recline at all.

If you have been unable to book the type of seat you want online when you booked it may be worth asking at check-in if any are now available. It costs nothing to ask.

Best seat number on a plane

Best seat number on a plane

Seats do not have a number as such as they are identified by the row number followed by the seat letter. For example, the left-hand window seat in row 17 would be seat 17A.

You could say that any seat number such as 1A, 1B or some other low row number is best as if your flight is not all-economy then you will be seated in First-class or Business-class. Even if it is an all-economy class flight then at least being seated in row 1 would mean you will be amongst the first to disembark at the end of the flight.

A seat with the letter A will always be a seat by a window on the lefthand side of the aircraft. The letter for the window seat on the righthand side of the aircraft will depend on the aircraft type. If it has 6 seats abreast then it will be F but on a wide-bodied aircraft it could be K.

If you have a lucky number then a seat number in that particular row might be best for you. Some airlines do not have a row 13 as superstitious passengers wouldn’t want to sit in them.

Best seats on a plane – front or back?

If you are in coach then there is little to choose between front and rear seats. The one advantage to choosing a seat near the front of the plane is that you will be able to disembark earlier than those at the back of the plane, assuming that only the front door will be used.

It may seem stupid to think that when you have been on a long flight trying to save a few extra minutes makes no sense, But if you are in a seat at the back of the plane the 5 minutes or so you may spend standing up waiting for those in front of you to start moving will seem like a lifetime, particularly of some of your fellow passengers take forever to get their stuff together.

Some airlines charge extra for the first few rows.

Best seat on a plane for a view

Best seat on a plane for a view

Obviously, the only seats with a view on any plane are window seats although the captain and first officer have the best seats with a view.

The best window seats to get a good view are any seat that is not over the wing, or at least not close to it. In an over-wing seat by a window you will still be able to see the ground but it will be partially obscured.

Best seats on a plane for legroom

Best legroom seats on a flight
Ariana Business class Seat – plenty of legroom there

A first or business class seat has the most amount of legroom and larger seat width, but that is no surprise really.

For us mere mortals, who must fly cattle class, there are some areas of the cabin where you can get a seat with more legroom than the majority, although you will usually end up paying extra for these seats.

When you book online you will be presented with a seat map to choose your seat and this seat map will highlight any empty seats that have more legroom and extra space. These are often the two exit rows over the wing as well as bulkhead rows and the main exit row.

At 6ft 2in with long legs sitting in a standard seat my knees are pressed against the seat in front so it is always worth it for me to pay extra to get some more legroom.

If none of these are available then a seat next to the aisle will at least give you a little more leg space and allow you to stretch rather than trying to get your legs under the seat in front.

You can use the very useful website seatguru.com which will show you for your particular airline/flight and aircraft type the seating plan so you can see which seats have the most legroom.

Best place to sit on a plane for motion sickness

The best place to sit in an aircraft to avoid a bumpy ride and experience as little motion as possible is in the middle of the aircraft over the wings. The center of lift (center of gravity) of an aircraft is normally just in front of the center of the wings. This means that if an aircraft pitches, rolls or yaws it moves around this center of axis.

The further toward the nose or tail of the aircraft the more you will move if the aircraft pitches.

The further from the centerline of the aircraft you sit, in a window seat for example, the more you will move if the aircraft rolls.

When an aircraft yaws (moves sideways relative to the direction of travel) this will be felt to a greater effect at the front or the rear of the cabin.

You will also suffer the effects of turbulence a little less if you sit in the middle seats over the wing.

Best place to sit on a plane for anxiety

I think everyone who suffers from flying anxiety has different fears.

Some want to be able to see outside as they feel claustrophobic so sitting next to a window is best but others may suffer from a fear of heights so being able to see how high they were flying would make their anxiety worse so they should choose a middle or aisle seat.

Similar to the answer above for those that suffer from motion sickness, sitting in a seat over the wings in the middle of the aircraft will help reduce the feeling of moving or any turbulence which some with flying anxiety may find worrying.

Others worry about catching an illness from others so if possible, having an empty seat next to them might help.

Other passengers with anxiety will want to sit near the front of the plane or close by another emergency exit if they are worried about being in a plane crash.

Best place to sit on a plane with a baby

Best place to sit on a plane with a baby

On some flights, particularly long haul, there are a few seats with the ability for flight attendants to fit bassinets on the bulkhead in front of the seat.

If you can get a bulkhead seat with this facility then they would definitely be the most ideal as your baby could sleep comfortably. This will not only make the flight more enjoyable for you but also the other passengers around you.

These are very limited though so you should make your seat selection early to ensure you get one. They may not be shown on the seat maps when you book so you may have to call your airline to secure one.

You can read my post about flying with a baby for other tips.

Best place to sit on a plane with a toddler

If you are flying with a toddler or other young child then selecting bulkhead seats (seat directly behind a bulkhead so no seat ahead) would make a great deal of sense.

This way you can sit the toddler by the window so they are less likely to annoy other passengers and there will also be enough extra space on the floor between the seat and the bulkhead for them to play with some simple toys.

If they are 2-years-old or more they will have to have their own seat – Does a 2-year-old need a plane ticket? but under two they can sit on an adult’s lap but won’t, therefore, have their own seat.

TIP: If you are a couple flying with a toddler who will fly on one of your laps it is worth booking a seat by the window and an aisle seat, leaving the middle seat empty. A single empty seat in the middle of three is always the last to be booked so if the flight isn’t fully booked it may remain empty so during the flight your toddler can sit in a seat. If someone does book the seat then you can guarantee that they won’t want to sit between you so will be happy to swap for the one in the aisle or by the window.

You may find my posts best seats to book when flying with children and 20 things you need to know if flying with a Toddler useful.

Best seats on a plane to sleep

Best seats on a plane to sleep
ANA First Class seat made up as a bed

Undoubtedly the right seat to choose if you want to sleep in on a plane is either First or Business class seats. With many of these, particularly the “pod” seats, you can now almost lie flat. That is obviously the best way to sleep on a plane if you can afford it.

Not everyone is fortunate enough to be able to fly that way so have to make do with an economy seat and as airplane seats go they are not great for sleeping. If that is the case then the best seat to choose would be a seat with extra legroom next to a window. This has two advantages:

  1. You can lean against the window/fuselage using a pillow which can be more comfortable
  2. You will not be disturbed by a passenger sitting next to you asking you to move so they can go to the restroom, which can happen if you are in the middle seat or an aisle seat.

There are other tips and tricks you can use to aid sleep in an economy or even a premium economy seat. Read my post How to sleep on a plane in economy class.

Of course, some people, like an old friend of mine, could “sleep on a clothesline” so it may make little difference where you sit.

Where is the safest seat on a plane?

Where is the safest seat on a plane?

In the unlikely event of an emergency situation requiring you to exit the aircraft quickly then undoubtedly the safest seats to be in would either be in an exit row seat or in one of the main exit row seats. That way you would be one of the first out of the aircraft and down the emergency slide.

As far as whether it is safer in the front or the rear of the aircraft there is little to choose between them. There was an old joke which said it was safer in the rear as “you have never heard of an aircraft reversing into a mountain” but, although that is just a joke, there is actually a little truth in it.

There have been a few studies that have shown that there is a statistically slightly lower risk of death in a serious air crash for those sitting towards the rear of aircraft in the middle seats.

Best seats for long haul flights

There is no doubt that if you can afford it then flying in the business class section of the aircraft for a long flight can be worth the money. That way you will get a much better airplane seat as well as lots of space and good food. You will definitely feel better at the end of the flight than being cramped up in economy.

Best seats for long haul flights
Definitely better food!

Worst seats on a plane

These include:

  • a middle seat in a row
  • a seat by the aircraft restroom/s (you will often have people queueing right by your seat)
  • a seat opposite the galley (noisy and much busier)
  • a seat close to noisy or crying children (children are not permitted in exit row seats so you may avoid them there)

At least these days smoking is banned on a plane. Back when I first started flying there were smoking areas on each aircraft, that were normally located at the rear. More than once the only seats available to me were in this section and, let me tell you, as a non-smoker sitting surrounded by smokers in such a small space for 8 hours across the Atlantic was awful. Definitely the worse setas on the plane then.

Worst row on a plane

The seats in the last row of the cabin on some aircraft have a fixed seat pitch so you cannot recline them or at best they have limited recline ability. This is because the rear bulkhead seats normally do not allow any room for them to recline.

I have had the unfortunate experience of having to sit in that last row a few times, once on a 10-hour overnight flight when I hoped to get a few hours’ sleep. I had to sit bolt upright for the entire flight so I got no sleep and, to make matters worse, the passenger in front reclined his seat as far back as it could go meaning I was totally cramped.

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