It used to be that all you needed to do to get a good seat on an airplane would be to show up at the airport an extra 15 minutes in advance; now in an age of absolute air travel commodification, scoring a great seat is becoming quite a feat – complete with requirements in deviousness and talent if you need to get anywhere. Airlines are running their flights packed closer to full capacity more often than ever before. This past month in June, Delta had the busiest month of the season, and North West sold out about 90% of all its seats. And every one of those people on those flights would rather have had an emergency exit seatsfor better legroom or an aisle seat for more freedom.But since there are possible seats to covet too if you know where to look. A 737 airliner for example, is somewhat ovoid in shape – it bulges out in the center along its length; and the window seats on the rows that famm at the center, lengthwise, of the plane, have the most shoulder room. More and more, people buying seats on an airline flight appear to prefer the airlines’ own booking sites, or booking websites like Priceline.com that will offer them the facility of putting down dibs on a seat in advance.
And ever since the airlines began to notice that there was real value that passengers attached to certain kinds of seats, they’ve begun to charge for them; and not a day too soon to some passengers, who really would like those special seats, no matter what. Northwest for instance, has been charging $15 for some of its coach seats with certain advantageous qualities. Southwest doesn’t assign seats; you just have the option to check in 24 hours ahead of your trip, and you’ll be called in to board the flight if you are among the first 40 or 50 passengers to have logged in online. And if you don’t have the time to do this on your own, you can pay boardfirst.com a $5 fee to do it for you. To most people taking an airline flight is hard enough on their poor nerves without having to be jammed into a middle seat or one that won’t recline. If there’s a way, they’ll pay.
The trouble is, there are dozens of different kinds of airliner out there, and each airline company will configure each model of plane differently. And there are different policies they use to number seats and assign them.Most airlines for instance will give out exit row seats only to their frequent flyers; and JetBlue offers them to every passenger right after they buy their ticket. You can’t learn a rule or two and find your way around the system; each airline has its own. But still, if you are fanatical enough about scoring the best seat on an airline flight, there are a few things you can do.
With the exception of a few holdouts like Southwest, most airlines will absolutely allow you to select a seat when you buy a ticket. They give you a diagram of the whole plane with pictures of seats that are empty at the moment; you can look up seat information on SeatExpert.com, find out which the best seats are for the most leg room and reclining pitch, and put your name down when you buy. If you are looking for an exit row seat on certain flights for instance, seat expert will helpfully remind you that it can get really drafty (funny, isn’t it – considering that flight cabins are hermetically sealed) and you can avoid it if you will want to.
Major travel booking websites like Expedia and Orbitz allow you to pick your seat as soon as you get started with the purchase process; but it will only work if you buy a ticket before the airline flight in question is somewhat full. Airlines will only allow advance seat reservations until the plane is half-full to maintain a bit of seating flexibility when they need it. But all the foresight in the world won’t really help in certain cases; sometimes, an airline will switch airplane models for a specific airline flight, for reasons like delays and interruptions from maintenance schedules. You may have to actually check back even after you make your seat selection, to make sure that they haven’t decided to sign you up to a game of musical chairs. That’s not your only reason to keep looking in either. Seats can open up all of a sudden after you make your booking. This can happen when a frequent flyer in coach gets a free upgrade,and frees up his original assigned seat. The best travel experts know when exactly each airline decides on its upgrades – some airlines do it exactly 24 hours before a departure, and others do it three days before.
United, Northwest and Continental have their Economy Plus section with extra legroom on the front of the plane, but you can only get them if you are one of their frequent flyers; and sometimes, you’ll suddenly find that an airline flight has a much larger plane like a jumbo jet, pressed into service on your route – all without warning. When that happens, you know that all the business class seats are open to coach fares. You get them if you are a frequent flyer. Make sure that you ask the person manning the counter right before you board a flight; everything is all in flux and up for grabs. It isn’t over until it is over.