We all have our essential items for making a flight more comfortable. But nothing ups your comfort like a better seat. Here’s how to snag one with more legroom.
- When choosing between flights, pick the aircraft with the roomier seats.
Seat width and pitch (a measurement of leg room) vary by airline and aircraft, as well as within the plane. So, when you’re picking a flight, it’s smart to compare the seat sizes on the aircraft you’re choosing among. Coach-seat width is usually 17 or 18 inches, and pitch is usually 30 to 31 inches, but it can vary considerably, especially internationally. JetBlue has some of the comfiest seats in the air because they are often 18 to 18.25 inches wide, with a pitch of 32 inches or more. (JetBlue seats also have individual TV screens and 36 channels of live TV.) The easiest way to suss out seat sizes (as well as in-flight amenities and entertainment) on the airlines and aircraft you’re considering is via SeatGuru’s comparison charts.
- Select your seat at the time you book your airline ticket.
Don’t just accept any seat assignment. Look at the seat availability map for the flight you’re booking. At the same time, go to SeatGuru and pull up the airplane seat map for your flight so you can look into the pros and cons of the seats that are still available. If you are not able to select a seat, call the airline and try to get a seat assignment via the phone agent.
- Pull up the airline’s seat availability map again periodically before your flight.
Seats may open up, especially within a couple of days of your flight, as some business travelers cancel and as others with elite status get upgraded to business class, leaving behind preferred coach seats. Look also for seats that open up next to empty middle seats; you might switch to one, hoping that the empty middle seat will remain empty.
- Check in online as early as you can.
Check in as close to 24 hours ahead as possible. That’s because 24 hours ahead is when even more passengers with elite status get upgraded, leaving preferred coach seats empty. It’s also when certain seats with more legroom—e.g., exit row and bulkhead—can be booked. That exit-row seat may cost you, but by now you may well have decided it’s worth the $50.
- Ask at the gate if a better seat is available.
A lot of last-minute seat changes happen at the gate. Elites get upgraded, leaving behind preferred coach seats; families with children get moved so they can sit together; and sometimes the entire aircraft gets switched, resulting in everyone’s seats being reassigned. If your flight has empty seats, the gate agent often has the ability to move you next to one. Whenever I ask to be moved next to an empty seat, I find it helps to point to my laptop and explain that it’s crucial I get work done on the flight and that I need the elbow room as well as the ability to raise my laptop screen upright (which is something you can’t do in back-of-the-plane seats when the passenger in front of you reclines). It’s a rare gate agent who doesn’t care about helping a business traveler stay productive in flight.
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