Joining The Mile High Club Part 2: 10 Steps to the Best Seats on Your Economy Flight

15 October 2008
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"Ok sirs, enjoy yourselves."

In Part 1 of this 3 part series of "Joining The Mile High Club", we discussed the experience of flying in a bad economy seat.  And most of you agreed, having been in worse situations.

So in the 2nd part of the series, my aim is to share some less known strategies and delve into more specific techniques on how to land better economy seats.  All with just a little bit more preparation.

The following 10 different steps and strategies are not an exhaustive list, but aim to cover various aspects including researching from Flyertalk, SeatGuru, various airlines, and more.

If you have other methods you've used that work well, we'd love to hear about them. Simply leave a comment below.

10 Steps/Strategies to Make The Most of Your Economy Flight

1. Know your Airlines

Not all airline seats are created equal.

So if it's an extra $100 to fly Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific over Phuket Airlines or Air India, it may be worth considering.  Both SA and CP have been consistently ranked by 3rd party surveys as the best for economy class service. Singapore airlines even offers a footrest on their 747s, for those with small feet.  And for those that shy from public displays of affection, twosome seats are available on their standard 3-4-3 configurations for (that would be Seats 66 A and K on Cathay and seats 61 A and K on Singapore).  Aren't they adorable?

2. Know the people

In the same way as airline seats aren't created equal, neither are humans.  Especially the Virgin rejects that joined NWA.

The people working on your flight are often more important than your seats.  They determine the atmosphere, and environment.  They give you that lovin' feeling. So unless you really don't care much about service, certainly airlines like NWA and NWA should be on the AVOID list. Even their 'first class' seems to be pretty sub-par.  But if you're one of the HUKDers who recently got US flights for under £200, I suppose it's worth putting up with their burnt out tantrums.

Yes, it's a cruel, unfair world but as editor Paul Smith pointed out, there may be a good reason why.

3. See Your Seat

Every flight is different, and so is every plane. A seat that 'looks' good may be the seat from hell, so this is an essential step for me. Check SeatGuru.com for starters. Matthew Daimler, founder and CEO of SeatGuru, said he is "aware of what one to two inches of leg room can do -- it makes the difference between being able to open my laptop all the way or being able to cross my legs comfortably." Other sites include LoveMySeat, SeatExpert, and SkyTrax.

On SeatGuru, for those short on time, simply avoid everything in red, half red, or yellow.  They usually have problems like limited recline, being a bit too close to the toilets for comfort, or have some other reason you may not be able to visualse.  And you wonder why Row 22 on the NWA Boeing 757-200s are available when they are next to the emergency exit.  Ha, don't say I didn't warn you.

4. Listen to Yoda

The guys over at FlyerTalk are kind of subhuman.  They mostly spend their lives flying, and for that reason, may be worth listening to.  At Flyertalk, you can get feedback from frequent travellers. Tripso also gives you feedback from holiday-makers.  And here's a few tips aggregated from their forums:

Aim for the front section (less engine noise), avoid the lavatories (smell) and the very back of the plane (sway and decrease in oxygen levels).  However, take note with bulk head seats. As BW reader Lam mentioned in part 1 of the series, "if their are passengers with babies you will be bumped out the seat even though you’ve already started to warm it." Oh, the lucky baby.

5. Check Your Airlines

Remember to check your own airlines website, since they always have the latest configuration layouts. Calling up the phone agents also help, as I recently did, and picked up a change in seat confirguration.

Make sure you scan for the different configurations also when you look at sites like Seatguru, because most planes have different layouts. For example, NWA operates 4 different Boeing 747s (most of them FYI are a ver. 2 config). The airlines site may not tell you all this, and the only way to find out is to scan the first and last row when choosing your seats on the website, and cross reference it with the layouts on one of the seat layout sites listed above.  If you still can't figure it out... then it may be time to take a wild guess.

6. Check in online

Many airlines allow you to choose your seat when you check in online. Even if you have luggage to check in at the airport, you can check in online before you get to the airport.

For short haul budget airlines in Europe like Easyjet, something I'm sure many of you already know about, is that checking in online without luggage gives you an immediate 'upgrade' to Group A boarding, which means right after those people buying 'speedy boarding' to feel special, you get to go next.

Checking in online without luggage also obviously cuts down on time required to get to the airport in advance by an extra hour or two. The recommended average minimum time however is at least 90 minutes before departure for international departure. Check with your airlines.

7. Submit your frequent flyer number

The online check-in often presents extra options to loyal customers. These include bulk head and emergency exit rows. On NWA (Northwest Airlines) flights, simply by clicking through with the 'upgrade' purchase option for bulk head / emergency exit seats, and then cancelling, occasionally lands you the seat for free. The system seems to remember you, in case the seat doesn't fill up. And should the seats not be purchased by someone else, you will find yourself being upgraded at the airport.

This has occured for me on a number of occasions, and who knows, may work with other airlines. If so, I'd love to know about it.

8.  Recheck in offline

I know.  It's counterintuitive.  But something very few people know about is that most long haul carriers have kiosks at the airport, where if you swipe your passport again, you would be able to 're-check in' and pick a different seat.

Often, the seats that are blocked out online for elite customers become available when you check in at the airport. And if you are flying an indirect segment, you would be able to check-in ahead of time from everyone else. This means, as I recently did, I managed to swap a middle seat (as the online database showed no available window/aisle) seats for an entire emergency exit row.  Until half way through, I shared it with the pretty girl in the limited recline row behind.  Just because I'm nice.

9. Speaking of pretty women...

Looks can be deceiving. Often, it is not the line that divides first class from economy that determines how comfortable or uncomfortable your flight is (what a way for those of us who can't afford £5k to rationalize).

The best seats on a plane that even frequent business travelers on Flyertalk would agree are the best seats on the plane are those in the exit row of economy. Not business.  Why?  Because not only are they guaranteed to be child-free, but they often have even more legroom than a first class/ business class seat.  Otherwise,

10. Worst case scenario

As a final thought... minimum security convicts are occasionally transported in the back of the plane (cuffed, of course).

You're unlikely to run into them, but it's another reason to avoid the back, if you get paranoid about this sort of thing.

Worst case scenario, if you're sat next to him, be nice. Heck, he may even be innocent. He's probably having a worse time than you.

And unlike him, you've only got 8 more hours to go (or 30, in which case, God speed).

TOPICS:   Travel

1 comment

  • Lam
    brilliant read - thanx for the tips and seat pitch sites. For legroom pick the emergency exit. Though you can't reserve it online for safety reasons. So remember at check-in to say " Yes" when asked if you will be able to open the exit in an emergency ....... don't roll your eyes and dribble.

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