Cracking the Code: How to Snag the Best Seat on Any Flight with SeatGuru

Post originally Published December 23, 2023 || Last Updated December 24, 2023

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Cracking the Code: How to Snag the Best Seat on Any Flight with SeatGuru - Know Your Aircraft

Cracking the Code: How to Snag the Best Seat on Any Flight with SeatGuru

Not all planes are created equal. When it comes to comfort and amenities, aircraft can vary widely even within the same airline. That's why one of the most important things you can do when booking a flight is get to know the different planes in an airline’s fleet.

With SeatGuru, it's easy to identify the specific aircraft for your flight. Just enter your airline, flight number and travel dates and SeatGuru will show you the plane model along with a detailed seat map.

Understanding the features of different aircraft types can help you choose the best seat possible. For example, Airbus A320s and Boeing 737s are standard single-aisle planes used for most short-haul flights. They tend to have cramped rows with 32 inches or less of seat pitch. Moving up to an A321 or 757 on the same route can give you much more legroom and recline in economy.

Knowing aircraft size also gives you a sense of how crowded the flight might be. A smaller Embraer E-175 with only 12 rows will feel more spacious than a chunky Boeing 767 jet with 30-plus rows. Similarly, checking the specific layout of a plane is useful if you need to be near the restroom or prefer aisle access.
When it comes to long-haul widebody jets, the differences are even more pronounced. Older Boeing 767s offer a 2-3-2 configuration in coach, allowing aisle access for every seat. But many airlines are phasing out 767s in favor of more modern twin-aisle jets like the 787 Dreamliner and A350 with tighter 3-3-3 seating in economy.
The aircraft can also impact your inflight entertainment, WiFi connectivity and power outlets. For example, United's 787 Dreamliners have personal entertainment screens and AC outlets at every seat. But on domestic 737-800s, you'll need to use your own device for entertainment and there are no power plugs.
Beyond legroom and amenities, the plane model also determines overhead bin space. Newer 787s and A350s have larger bins that accommodate more carry-on bags than older 777s and 767s. This is useful to know in advance if you want to avoid gate-checking your roller board.

What else is in this post?

  1. Cracking the Code: How to Snag the Best Seat on Any Flight with SeatGuru - Know Your Aircraft
  2. Cracking the Code: How to Snag the Best Seat on Any Flight with SeatGuru - Choose Seats Near the Front
  3. Cracking the Code: How to Snag the Best Seat on Any Flight with SeatGuru - Pay Attention to Seat Width and Pitch
  4. Cracking the Code: How to Snag the Best Seat on Any Flight with SeatGuru - Find Seats with Extra Legroom
  5. Cracking the Code: How to Snag the Best Seat on Any Flight with SeatGuru - Consider Exit Row Restrictions
  6. Cracking the Code: How to Snag the Best Seat on Any Flight with SeatGuru - Check for Seat Features
  7. Cracking the Code: How to Snag the Best Seat on Any Flight with SeatGuru - Seat Maps Vary Between Airlines

Cracking the Code: How to Snag the Best Seat on Any Flight with SeatGuru - Choose Seats Near the Front

When boarding a flight, most passengers naturally head for the back. But seasoned travelers know that sitting near the front can make a big difference in comfort and convenience. Here are some of the key benefits of grabbing a seat in the first few rows.
First, you’ll avoid the dreaded battle for overhead bin space. With early boarding privileges, you can stow your bags and settle in while everyone else stresses about finding room for their carry-ons. This gives you time to relax or catch up on emails before takeoff instead of standing in the aisle and jostling for position.

Sitting near the front also means you won’t have to traverse a long line of passengers when using the restroom. This privacy and quick access is especially appreciated on red-eyes or turbulent flights. Similarly, you’ll be among the first served drinks and meals and can nod off just after eating rather than being kept awake by rattling carts.

For frequent flyers, the real appeal is being closest to the exit upon landing. Deplaning from the front allows you to sprint through the terminal and beat the crowds to baggage claim, immigration, or your connection. This might gain you an extra 5-10 minutes but that's often enough time to make that tight transfer.
While bulkhead seats have the most legroom, they also have restricted underseat storage. So for shorter flights, I actually aim for the exit row or row immediately in front of the bulkhead. This gives you the legroom plus room for a backpack under the seat in front of you.

Another pro tip is that the front few rows on the A320 family planes have perfectly aligned windows, allowing epic views on takeoff and landing. You really feel like you are floating when seeing the runway zoom by beneath you from the front corner window.
Now the one downside of sitting upfront is increased noise from the engines and galley activities. But I gladly accept the tradeoff. Earplugs help with the engine drone and most airlines are good about waiting until cruising altitude for meal service.

On a recent trip from London to Singapore in business class, I chose Seat 2A on the 787 Dreamliner. With this spot, I could work and move around without disturbing a sleeping seatmate. During meal services, the crew served me first and I got as much rest as possible on the long haul flight.

Cracking the Code: How to Snag the Best Seat on Any Flight with SeatGuru - Pay Attention to Seat Width and Pitch

When it comes to comfort in the air, size matters. This is why it’s critical to pay attention to seat width and pitch when choosing your spot on the plane. SeatGuru provides these key dimensions for every aircraft and seat, allowing you to find space that fits your needs.
Pitch refers to the distance between your seat and the one in front of you. This determines how much legroom you’ll have to stretch out. On widebody jets, premium seats upfront tend to have pitches over 60 inches. But in standard economy class, pitch has shrunk in recent years to as little as 28-31 inches on some low-cost carriers. This leaves tall travelers with knees jammed against the seatback.

Meanwhile, seat width ranges considerably from around 17 inches to 22 inches on long-haul flights. Bulkhead, exit row and business class seats are on the wider end of this spectrum. But slimline models are increasingly common in economy, leaving little wiggle room for your hips and elbows.
When booking, I always try to select seats with at least 32 inches of pitch and 18 inches in width for a comfortable fit. If legroom is limited, I’ll gladly book an aisle seat with a few extra inches of width to avoid feeling squeezed between other passengers.

On regional jets, narrower seats are more likely to have curved walls that angle in as you recline. So even if pitch is acceptable, the actual space gets tighter the more you incline. That's why I often pick a standard straight-backed seat with an inch or two less pitch but more functional room when leaning back.
Experienced fliers caution that listed dimensions can be misleading. Some airlines seem to exaggerate pitch while others install cushions that reduce usable width. Comparing photos and crowd-sourced reviews on SeatGuru helps uncover discrepancies between advertised and actual measurements.
When possible, I’ll select seats in the same row to have shared armrests. For solo travelers or couples, this allows you to spread out a bit more laterally. Just be courteous if your neighbor also wants to rest their elbows.

Cracking the Code: How to Snag the Best Seat on Any Flight with SeatGuru - Find Seats with Extra Legroom

Scoring a seat with ample legroom should be a top priority for taller travelers or anyone who values comfort in the air. While most airlines are cramming more rows into economy, there are still ways to stretch out on longer flights if you know where to look. A few extra precious inches can make all the difference between arriving well-rested or with peg-leg syndrome.

The golden spots are bulkhead and emergency exit rows, prized for having unlimited legroom. But they come with tradeoffs, like no underseat storage on bulkheads. Exit rows can also have challenges like cold air blasting from the door and attendants bumping your shoulder as they pass. Still, the ability to fully extend your legs makes the downsides worthwhile. Pro tip: Some exit row seats don’t recline, so check dimensions carefully.
Another option is choosing Economy Plus or similar premium economy sections. For a fee, these provide up to 5 inches of extra legroom over standard seats. While not as spacious as exit rows, they do allow crossing your legs and come with perks like priority boarding. Upgrading is an easy way to guarantee more space without splurging on business class.
For sneaky savings, look for hidden gems with extra inches like rows 10-14 on 737s or behind the wing-exit row on A320s. On widebodies, upper deck seats can have ample 41+ inch pitch due to emergency equipment underneath. But avoid seats with entertainment boxes which restrict foot space.

When booking basic economy, pay close attention to "Preferred" options that provide legroom for a small upcharge. Even just 2 inches can prevent joint pain on long flights. Similarly, look for less desirable red-eye flights with unsold exit rows. There’s a chance you can snag those seats at check-in for free.
Be ready and willing to pony up for length. Selecting the roomiest seat possible, even if it costs extra, is worth every penny on flights over 6 hours when you need to be refreshed upon landing. Compare costs between various offerings as Economy Plus upgrades are sometimes cheaper than "Preferred" seats.

Trust user reviews on SeatGuru to uncover which seats truly have extra space versus ones that seem roomy on the map. Photos and comments from experienced travelers help pinpoint zones with plentiful legroom. Beware of red flags like misleading measurements and seats with boxes limiting foot room.

Cracking the Code: How to Snag the Best Seat on Any Flight with SeatGuru - Consider Exit Row Restrictions

Sitting in an exit row can be a game changer when it comes to legroom. But before you grab those coveted seats, it's crucial to consider the restrictions. Exit rows come with extra rules and requirements that not all travelers can or want to accommodate.

First, exit row occupants must be willing and able to assist with opening doors in the event of an emergency. That means you'll be asked to confirm you're capable of operating the exit and would be willing to help others off the plane. Travelers with conditions that might hinder this are often barred from the exit row.

Most airlines prohibit children under 15 from sitting in exit rows, even with a guardian. The concern is kids would struggle to open doors or get flustered in an evacuation. Some carriers allow lap infants if held by an adult, but most ban infants altogether. Check carrier policies before booking.
Certain exit row seats don't recline due to their proximity to exit doors. This can be a rude awakening on red-eyes when you expect to snooze back but can't incline more than an inch or two. Exit row seats may also be narrower than regular economy due to the tray table being in the armrest. So check dimensions if you need width.
Expect colder temperatures near exits as chilly air can flow in around door seals. Dress warmly in layers and bring an extra blanket if prone to feeling cold. Also expect noise and bumps from passengers and crew passing by frequently. Exit rows are also where flight attendants prepare beverage carts.

Light sleepers should especially note that exit rows don't have windows to block light when window shades are open. Combined with activity near the doors, don't expect much shuteye. If rest is a priority, better to choose a non-exit aisle or window further back.
Beware that passengers seated next to you may need to pass by frequently to access bathrooms, which are often located directly behind exit rows. Repeated climbing over you can be annoying on long flights. Similarly, expect crew to lean across you when disarming doors before arrival.

Cracking the Code: How to Snag the Best Seat on Any Flight with SeatGuru - Check for Seat Features

When it comes to choosing the optimal seat for your flight, don’t forget to consider the additional features that can impact your in-air experience. From power outlets and USB ports to inflight entertainment and WiFi, you’ll want to select a seat that offers the amenities you’ll actually use.

According to seasoned travelers on SeatGuru, access to power can make or break long-haul flights. Being able to charge your phone, laptop or tablet allows you to stay productive and entertained inflight. Check seat maps to see if your airline offers AC and USB power at every seat or only in certain sections. For example, Delta’s A330s have power ports throughout economy while United’s 777-300ER only has shared outlets in some rows.
Seatback entertainment is another key factor on lengthy flights. Make sure to choose a seat with a working screen if planning to watch movies and shows. Comments indicate some airlines have higher failure rates for seatback systems, so pick seats intested by other users to avoid dead monitors. Alternatively, look for seats with easy access to shared screens in the bulkhead if you came prepared with your own devices.

Don’t forget to check for availability of inflight WiFi if you need to stay connected. But keep in mind that satellite-based internet inflight can be painfully slow and unreliable. For real work, it's better to download material in the lounge pre-flight. Seats closer to the mid-cabin antenna tend to get marginally better signals if WiFi is mission critical.
When traveling with a companion, opt for seats with adjacent consoles to share food, drinks and elbow room. Pairs of seats without a divider are fairly rare but found on some A350s and 787 Dreamliners. For families, look for rows with multiple windows so kids can all see out during takeoff and landing.
If prone to feeling cold inflight, avoid seats directly next to bulkheads which can feel drafty. Proximity to galley and doors also leads to frigid temperatures for some passengers. Scope out reviews to pinpoint which seats require blankets even on so-called “hot” aircraft prone to heat issues.
For smooth rides, the consensus from aviation buffs is that seats over the wings experience less turbulence thanks to stabilizers located on the rear edge of each wing. Physics dictates the smoothest place is right at the center of gravity near the adjoining fuselage. Sitting forward or aft of the wings supposedly causes more bouncing.

When traveling with infants or pets, bulkhead seats have more room for bassinets, carriers and strollers during flight. But keep in mind these rows lack underseat storage which limits your ability to stash diaper bags and other essentials.

If prone to motion sickness, consider choosing seats closer to the front which experience less movement than the rear. But for those who prefer feeling every minor jet bump, the back of the bus provides more pronounced feedback. It all comes down to personal preference and sensitivity.

Cracking the Code: How to Snag the Best Seat on Any Flight with SeatGuru - Seat Maps Vary Between Airlines

When searching for your perfect seat, it's essential to realize that seat maps differ significantly between airlines. You should never assume layouts are standard, even for the same make and model of aircraft. Taking the time to study each airline's unique cabin configuration is key to making the right choice.

According to frequent flyers on SeatGuru, failing to check the seat map can lead to disappointment. For example, the same Boeing 777 may have some rows with 9 seats abreast in economy on one airline but 10 seats crammed across on another carrier. This vital inch of width makes a huge difference in comfort for broad-shouldered fliers.
Similarly, the presence of premium economy cabins can drastically reduce the legroom in regular coach seats. While the same plane without this mini-business class might have 32 inches of pitch, installing premium economy can shrink pitch in the back to a knee-cramping 30 inches or less.
When it comes to seat features, availability can also vary wildly. Don't assume your preferred airline will offer universal power outlets or seatback screens. You need to inspect each individual aircraft's amenities list to be sure you'll have the features needed inflight. I once erroneously booked a 13-hour flight expecting outlet access and ended up with a dead phone before we even crossed the Pacific.
Particularly on older jets, seating configuration evolves over time as carriers try to increase capacity. Longtime passengers bemoan the shrinking economy class footprint as more rows are added and pitch decreases incrementally. Just a few years can bring noticeable changes, so don't rely on your memory. Always investigate the current layout.
Region also impacts seat maps, as foreign carriers modify jets to fit local needs and preferences. European charter planes often have less lavatories but quicker meal services. Asian airlines cater to gadget-loving business flyers with universal power while Latin American jets focus on spacious seating for leisure travelers.
When it comes to specialty seating like bassinets, premium economy or extra legroom rows, availability varies as well. Just because you enjoyed a certain seat on one airline doesn't mean their competitor will offer something similar even on the very same aircraft. Digging into the details is a must.

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