Below are some of the factors to consider when choosing your aircraft seat.

Window or aisle?

Both have advantages. If you like to stretch your legs during a flight, an aisle seat is good for you. Bear in mind, though, that this may be enforced upon you if the person in the window seat wants to get out of their seat. If you prefer to be undisturbed, then the window seat is probably best.

One other thing to bear in mind is that if you occupy an aisle seat, your head is directly under the overhead lockers. No doubt you’ve heard the flight attendant at some point say something along the lines of “Be careful when you open the lockers, because the contents may have moved around during the flight and something might fall out and injure you or another passenger.”

Well, if you’re sitting in the aisle, that other passenger who might get injured is you. In my view, it’s another reason to avoid the aisle seats. I’ve been hit by everything from full bottles of duty free rolling out to a nappy (thankfully, unused).

Day flight or night flight?

On a night flight, window seats are preferred by many. You can sleep without being disturbed by anyone wanting access to the aisle, and in economy seats there’s the possibility of resting a pillow or rolled up item of clothing against the side of the aircraft to prevent head lolling.

Middle seats are to be avoided

So in a 3-4-3 configuration, typically designated A, B, C, then D, E, F, G and then H, J, K (I is omitted to avoid confusion), the set to avoid are B, E, F and J.

Avoid seats at the back of the plane

In general, the front of the plane is the quietest, because you are in front of the engines (though there will be some noise for a few seconds when the front landing gear is lowered or raised).

The middle of the plane is noisier because of the engines, but is smoother. The back of the plane is both noisy and bumpy.

Upper deck or lower deck?

If you’re travelling on the A380 superjumbo you have two decks to choose from – upper or lower deck. Generally, sitting on the upper deck is preferable because of the usually smaller cabin and lower density configuration (2-4-2 vs. 3-4-3). It’s also quieter sitting upstairs.

Avoid seats close to the galley

For a day flight being here may be an advantage, since you can receive service more easily, or in premium cabins, perhaps serve yourself. But on night flights the noise can be a nuisance.

Seats by emergency exits are to be preferred

These give more leg room, though they do come with restrictions, most notably that you are able bodied and so can assist in case of emergencies, and of course you cannot stow your luggage under the seat in front of you. Bear in mind also that these are often close to the galley, and so can be noisy.

Bulkhead seats

The bulkhead is a dividing wall between cabins. If you have a seat facing this, then you will probably get more legroom, but also bear in mind this is where babies often travel in bassinets – and no amount of leg room compensates for a noisy baby on a night flight. Also make sure not to sit in the row in front of the bulkhead, since the recline of your seat may be fixed or restricted.

Nine across vs ten across

Airlines that fly the Boeing 777 aircraft differ in whether they seat nine-across in economy (3-3-3) or ten-across (3-4-3). This may seem like a small difference. It isn’t. That’s one extra person being fitted into your row, and a lot of extra people in the cabin.

The positive point is that it allows these airlines to be price competitive (ie: they fit more people in, and so charge less for the tickets). The negative is that you can end up feeling like a sardine, which is bad enough on a short haul flight, but for a flight duration of 8 hours plus, it can be very unpleasant. If possible, avoid.

Reader suggestions

We are constantly updating this page with suggestions sent to us by readers. If you have any, email us at talktous@businesstraveller.com. Here are some of the tips we have received so far…

  • If the flight is likely to be undersold and If pre-selection of seats is allowed, sometimes it pays off to strategically select a middle seat in a three or four seat set. Doing this leaves single seats on either side of your seat (in the case of a three seat set) or a single seat on one side and two on the other side (in the case of a four seat set) that are less likely to be filled by other passengers. So you could end up with the entire set of seats to yourself, or in the case of a four seat set perhaps three seats together with you in the middle seat. It’s a gamble, but I’ve done it a few times with success.
  • If you intend to sleep take a window seat so you won’t be disturbed. If you don’t intend to sleep, take an aisle seat so that you don’t have to bother anyone beside you if you need to use the bathroom.
  • Sit as far away from toilets as possible for a number of reasons: to avoid loud toilet flushing noise, doors slamming, more traffic in the aisle from people walking to the toilet, and worst of all people standing in the aisle beside your row (with their butt in your face) waiting to use the toilet. If there are toilets on both sides of a cabin, try to get a seat half way down the cabin.
  • If you like looking down at the ground, keep in mind that if you sit over a wing your view will be obstructed.
  • Seats towards the front of the plane disembark first, which can be a consideration if you have a tight flight connection to make (for example if your first flight arrives late).
  • Aisle seats in the center section on wide body aircraft which are ahead of the transition to fewer seats in each row (for example near the tail of the aircraft where the seat configuration goes from 3-4-3 to 3-3-3) are often bumped from behind by people and food carts. These are bad seats.
  • For daytime flights if you prefer a window seat choose a seat on the side of the aircraft facing away from the sun. These are generally preferable to avoid bright sunlight, which might be too warm, too bright or directed into the eyes when the aircraft is banking.