The secret to securing the perfect airplane seat

The best seat on an airplane? Well, that depends on your preferences as a passenger. For example, if you value safety more than a quick exit, or close your eyes while dining in-flight, you will almost certainly want to sit in a different part of the plane.

With that in mind, Telegraph Travel has gone through the research to reveal the best places to park your derriere, depending on your needs. Once you’ve found the perfect seat, take our quiz to find out what your airplane seat preference says about you.

If you want the best service

Wherever you sit, as soon as you board the plane, make sure you smile and make eye contact with the cabin crew as they greet you. Not only out of politeness, but because it can also lead to better service.

At least that’s what New York-based flight attendant Amanda Pleva says.

“You’d be surprised how far politeness and kindness go,” she wrote for the website Flyertalk. “Even if you think we don’t notice, we do. And where possible, it’s given back – maybe it’s a free drink, maybe we tap you on the shoulder and shoo you into an empty queue. Or maybe it’s just extra attentive service! But we always appreciate a friendly face, and word usually spreads among the crew when people are particularly friendly.

As for positioning on the plane, for the best service you should sit at the back, as some flight attendants, we’re told, are more reluctant to respond to requests from the front. This is because they have to parade the item you requested (e.g. a pillow or a second drink) all the way to the gangway. This often causes other passengers to notice and ask the same thing, creating an annoying chain reaction.

For the best view

A window seat, right? Not necessary. Some airlines – including Ryanair, British Airways and American Airlines – have window seats that lack the basic feature that makes them a window seat, leading irritated passengers to think of a plastic wall panel instead.

The offending seat in Ryanair’s fleet of Boeing 737-800s is 11A, which has been dubbed ‘Europe’s most hated airline seat’. According to the Seat Guru website, seats 12A and 12F also have misaligned or missing windows. Of course, Ryanair tries to tout the lack of a window as a virtue, suggesting the seats are “perfect” for passengers who want to sleep.

It’s not just Ryanair. According to the website Seat Guru, Wizz Air’s A320s have the same problem (avoid seats 20A and 20F), as do Air Lingus’s A330s (stay seats 13A, 13K, 26A and 26K).

It’s not just budget airlines either. According to Seat Guru, American Airlines 737s also have windowless seats (12A and 12F). Just like BA’s A380s: 70A and 70K, in economy, and 12A, 12K, 50A and 50K in Club World. Yes, even premium passengers are not immune.

If you prefer landscapes, you’ll also want to avoid a window seat that’s located above one of the wings. If you are unsure, enter your flight details into Seat Guru. You will then be given a map of your specific aircraft so you can see which seats actually have windows and which are above the wings.

Which side of the plane you sit on obviously also makes a difference to the view. For example, a seat on the left side of the plane is best for a great view of the Hollywood sign from LAX, and the same goes for Sydney if you want a fantastic view of the harbor.

Better service would be more likely at the back of the plane

Better service would be more likely at the back of the plane – ISTOCK

If you are safety conscious

Airlines and aircraft manufacturers will tell you that all seats are equal when it comes to safety. However, a Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) study looked at crashes between 1985 and 2020 and found that survival rates differed slightly depending on where in the plane the passengers sat.

However, there isn’t much in it. While among those in the center the death rate was 39 percent, among those at the front the figure fell by only one percent. At the rear, the mortality rate was 32 percent.

Other studies have also shown that the rear of the plane is safer. In 2012, Channel 4 produced The Crash, a program in which a Boeing 727 equipped with cameras, sensors and crash test dummies with fragile ‘bones’ was deliberately dumped in Mexico’s Sonoran Desert.

After it hit the ground, the front of the plane and the first eleven rows of seats – usually reserved for first-class, business-class or premium economy passengers – were ripped off. A force of 12G was recorded in this part of the aircraft. Further back the force dropped to about 6G. Experts concluded that none of the plane’s first-class passengers would have survived, but 78 percent of the other passengers did, with the chance of survival increasing the closer they sat to the rear of the plane.

Despite such research, the world’s two largest aircraft manufacturers, Boeing and Airbus, insist that no conclusive evidence is available.

If you want a quick exit

You’re on a city trip to Europe and travel light with just a small carrying bag in the overhead bin. You want to maximize the amount of time at your destination and minimize the time you spend on the plane. Game plan? Take a seat at the front of the aircraft on the left side, where passengers exit the aircraft.

Window seats are better if you value shuteyeWindow seats are better if you value shuteye

Window seats are better if you value shuteye – ISTOCK

If you want to sleep

Sleep is hard to come by at 35,000 feet, where many things conspire against falling asleep: the hum of the engines; fellow passenger who needs to go to the toilet; the lack of neck support in your chair.

However, some parts of the plane are better than others for taking a break. For example, window seats give you control over the hatch and provide you with a place to rest your head; they also mean you don’t have to wake up every time the passenger next to you has to answer a call of nature. The seats at the front of the plane are also quieter.

If you want a better dining experience

According to Professor Charles Spence – author of Gastrophysics: The New Science of Eating – airplane food tastes better at the front of the plane, where it is quieter and the air more humid.

“Dry cabin air and loud engine noise all contribute to our inability to taste and smell food and drink,” he told Telegraph Travel. If you sit as close to the cockpit as possible, you are also more likely to be served first.

If you don’t like turbulence

Turbulence, of course, shakes the entire plane, but experts say there are some seats on a plane where lumps and bumps will feel less intense. Those seats are located in the center of the plane, above the wings, keeping the plane stable when the going gets tough.

If you need more legroom

Exit row seats have more legroom than most, as do bulkhead seats. However, such seats are in high demand, usually cost more, and often come with caveats: for example, passengers in the exit rows must be prepared to help evacuate the plane during an emergency. Nevertheless, those with long legs are probably best off opting for a bulkhead seat – ideally in the middle – which means other passengers don’t have to step over you on the way to the toilet. If that doesn’t work, an aisle seat.

If you are traveling with children

Reserve a few seats near the bulkhead – there’s more room and they’re close to the bathroom for those inevitable toilet trips.

If you want to spread out

Flights often leave with empty seats and there are ways to increase your chances of sitting next to one of them. If your airline hasn’t replaced check-in staff with computers yet, ask the person at the counter how busy the plane is. If it’s not busy, blink and politely ask if they would be kind enough to seat you next to an empty seat. It works surprisingly often.

Of course, many airlines now charge for seat selection. If you choose not to pay this in advance, airlines will assign you a seat at the airport. If you are lucky, do this and make sure you are the last person to board the plane. Once on it, you purposefully step over to a row of empty seats and plop down there.

If you’re flying with a companion, try to book both the aisle seat and the window seat. You’ll often find that the middle seat – because it’s the least favored by solo passengers – is empty by the time you get on board, leaving you to divide up the unclaimed real estate. If not, you may have to negotiate a seat swap with the stranger sitting between you. Ah, the joys of flying in the modern age.

This story was first published in June 2019 and has been revised and updated.

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