Getting a good seat on a flight, particularly on a lengthy international one, can really make a difference in your overall enjoyment of a trip. In the old days, it was simply a question of being able to select a window versus an aisle seat, or one closer to the front of the plane, but in these days of seat maps, the savvy traveler has a lot more tools at his/her disposal. However, an airline-provided seat map tells you little beyond the general configuration of seats and their location in relation to restroom facilities. Fortunately, this information gap has been filled by websites such as SeatGuru, an excellent traveler’s resource. Let’s say that you have an upcoming trip to Tokyo. There are two flight segments—one from Austin to Dallas and one from Dallas to Tokyo. When you are making your seat selection, note the aircraft type and then go to SeatGuru to find out what information is available on that type of aircraft for the particular airline you are flying. Because seat configurations vary between airlines for the very same plane, you need to first select which airline you are traveling on, and then select the type of aircraft. So, if I am flying on an American Airlines S80 in economy class from Austin to Dallas, SeatGuru gives me the following invaluable information of seats to avoid.
- Seats 19 A, B and F don’t recline all the way
- In rows 22-27, the AB seats are less roomy than the DEF seats on the other side of the aisle
- Row 28-31 DEF seats have the smallest amount of legroom (called seat pitch) on the whole plane, and row 32 DEF doesn’t even have a window. These seats are also extremely noisy due to the fact that the engine is at the back of the plane.
However, I can also see that some prime economy seats are to be had in the exit rows and the bulkhead, but not all the exit row and bulkhead seats are good. SeatGuru says that on that particular aircraft configuration, only seat 7D in the bulkhead row is good—the others all have limited legroom. And in the two exit rows (rows 20 and 21), 20A and 20F should be avoided because they do not recline.
Now, while a non-reclining or extra cramped seat might not make or break things on a 45 minute flight from Austin to Dallas, seat selection on a 13 and a half hour flight from Dallas to Tokyo can be crucial. Noting that this flight segment is also on American Airlines, but this time on a Boeing 777, you go to SeatGuru where you learn the following:
- Seats 26C-G all have limited recline.
- All the seats in rows 43-45, which are at the very back of the plane, should be avoided as they are noisy and bright from the nearby galley and lavatories. In addition, the seats in row 45 have limited recline.
- On the positive side, seats CDFG in row 41 have a little extra room and have extra wide armrests. (This is because the aircraft, which normally has a 2-5-2 configuration, narrows toward the back and comes to a point where 5 seats in the middle section will no longer fit, but there is still a bit more room than is needed for 4 seats. American Airlines compensates for this extra room by putting in extra wide armrests which house the tray tables and personal video units so that passengers don’t have to put up with them being misaligned with the seats in the row of five in front of them.)
- Exit row seats 31 B and H are good, but seats 31 A and J in the same row are not as comfortable because the emergency slide compromises their legroom.
Seat assignments are not the only thing that SeatGuru can help with. The site also has data comparing the seat width, seat pitch (or legroom), video type, and power port information between various airlines for domestic economy, domestic first class, international economy, premium economy, international business class, and, for those lucky enough to be traveling this way, international first class. These comparison charts can be very informative. They are sortable by each of the columns of data, so you can sort by airline, aircraft type, seat pitch, seat width, and power port type/availability. Looking at the international economy chart, if seat width is your primary consideration, you might want to avoid ANA, whose seat width on its Boeing 777 planes is a mere 16.5 inches, as opposed to the 17 or 18 inches offered by many airlines on that aircraft. (American Airlines offers the widest seat for that aircraft, at 18.2 inches.) If legroom is of the most importance to you, you might want to consider Thai Airways’ Airbus A340, as it offers a whopping 36 inch seat pitch, as opposed to the 31,32 or 33 inches offered on that aircraft by other airlines. Of course, that assumes that you are traveling somewhere that Thai Airways flies…
SeatGuru also has informative articles such as Bulkheads Explained: the Pros and Cons, a review of Noise Canceling Headphones and an informative look at TSA Baggage Restrictions. All in all, it is a great site for both the frequent and infrequent traveler and well worth a look.