Q: I’m flying to Germany in the new year and the flight time is approximately eight hours. How can I choose the best seat in order guarantee a comfortable flight? – Jim Scoble, Edmonton, AB
A: If you’re not flying first-class, choosing the best seat for a long-haul flight depends on a number of factors, but be warned–wherever you sit will have its pros and cons. Many airlines now allow travellers to choose their own seat at the time of booking (sometimes with an added cost) or during check-in. For instance, depending on availability, WestJet won’t charge a fee for seat selection, but passengers wanting to guarantee their seat can pay a small fee, between $3 – $15 depending on flight time. Air Canada charges for their “preferred seats” (i.e., more leg-room), which can run as high as $100 on international flights. While Southwestern in the United States doesn’t charge passengers a fee at all.
If leg-room is a priority, it’s a little known secret, but seat-pitch, or the distance between seats, tends to increase near the back of the plane. But remember that the rear of the plane almost always houses a lavatory, which is highly trafficked throughout long flights and can get especially noisy if there is a line-up of chatty flyers. Not to mention the constant flushing and light intrusion from the opening of the door. The rear of the plane tends to be a little colder than the rest of the aircraft as well.
A good bet are also the bulkhead seats, which are typically the first seats in a row with a divider in front of them. This means that there is often ample leg-room and no one in front to recline their seat into your comfort zone. But be warned, if noise is an issue, bulkhead seats are usually sought out by families with babies hoping for a bit more room. These seats don’t allow travellers to store carry-on luggage in front of the seat, and the extra space is sometimes used as a gathering point for travellers looking to chat or those simply wandering around for a stretch.
Travellers with a fear of flying should sit near exits or the rear of the plane for some peace of mind, although the rear happens to be the bumpiest part of the plane when turbulence strikes.
Window vs. Aisle
As for window and aisle seats, they are simply a matter of preference. A window seat can be better for rest, but getting out of the seat can be a difficult, especially if your fellow passengers are asleep. If panoramic views are your thing, avoid a window seat over the plane’s wing, you won’t be able to see much. While those hoping for a good view of the television screen should avoid middle seats.
Aisle seats are a good choice for taller travellers, as they allow a bit ancillary leg-room, but run the risk of a rude awakening by a wayward meal cart to the elbow or the constant back-and-forth marching of the flight staff.
If you’re travelling with a large carry-on bag, try to reserve a seat near the back of the plane, as the overhead storage tends to fill up closer to the front.
A happy medium is often near the front of the plane in the economy class, these seats tend to be the quietest, just in front of the aircrafts engines is best, also these are the seats that get served first during meal time.
There are many seat-selection resources online, including www.seatguru.com and www.seatexpert.com, which have tips and comprehensive seating plans of nearly all the aircraft that different airlines use, in order to help passengers find the seat that best suits their needs.