Snag the best seat on the plane


It’s a question we’re often asked: how do I get the best seat on the plane? This week, in a break from our usual style, we’ve asked travel guru Kay O’Sullivan if there’s a definitive answer to this query. Turns out, she has a no-fail strategy to ensure that you get the best available seat and a decent night’s sleep on a long-haul flight. Here it is …


Step 1
Immutable law of long-distance flying: When you select your seat/s, the last cabin should be your first choice. 


Why? Because the front cabins fill first, the last cabin fills last, so if there are going to be spare seats on a flight, the last cabin is where you will find them. 


Exactly why the forward cabins fill fast eludes me. Sure, you might get off the plane five minutes before the bods at the back, but where’s the advantage in that? Everyone has to wait for the transit bus to the terminal to fill up, then queue for immigration, and then wait for luggage … you get my drift. 


And fear not that you will starve because you are down the back of the bus. Gone are the days when the meal trolley was hauled up to the very front and then slowly inched its way towards the back with the greedy hordes taking the best of what was on offer before it got to you. Today, the crews roll out multiple trolleys to get mealtimes done and dusted as quickly as possible. 


One final thing before I divulge step 2 of my cunning plan – can I say again you absolutely must select your seats as soon as you pay for your tickets. Even if your quest for space is stymied because the plane is full, you do not want to be the piggy in the middle of a row. 



Step 2
Big planes are boarded from the back to the front to avoid traffic jams of people; so if you are sitting up the back you will be ‘invited’ to board first.


Ignore the call. Don’t move at this point. You have to hold your nerve and board only when there are less than 10 people left to get on. This is crucial, as you will see later.


Step 3
Once on board, you have to look as if you know exactly where your seat is. A nonchalant stroll is how I’d describe my MO on boarding. The thing is, if you are at all hesitant or obviously searching the cabin, a helpful attendant (yes, they exist) might ask to see your boarding pass to take you to your seat. That’s game over.


Airlines are happy for passengers to claim empty seats but prefer us to sit in the seat we are assigned until the plane levels after take-off. Loads of people know this, and they are the ones you need to outwit to secure extra space.


There are increasing numbers of bolshie ones who will make a bolt for the spare seats as soon as they can, often when the pilot asks the crew to lock and alarm the doors. You’ll see them as you stroll past, they’ll be bobbing up and down in their seats to see what is available. But here’s the thing. Human nature being what it is most people fear the embarrassment of being evicted if the rightful owner of the seat comes to claim it.


Which is why it’s crucial – repeat crucial – you are one of the last to board. That way you will be able to carefully survey the entire cabin for the pick of the spare seats and know that you will be safe from eviction.


Step four
Once you spot the space you want to nab, and hopefully it’s a row on its own, don’t dicker around. Plop yourself down like you belong and set about making it your own by spreading your stuff around. If you’ve got a row of three, claim the middle seat as no one would bother asking you to move to either side.


Because I don’t want to risk someone taking adverse possession of my territory while I’m in the toilet changing into comfortable clothes for the flight, I’m always dressed to fly. A tad obsessive? Yes, indeed. 


But the results – a row to myself on four different long-haul flights recently – suggest my plan works.


It will for you too. Happy flying.


Do you have a travel question for Kay? If so, email your Travel SOS to [email protected]


Related articles:
A travel hack to find the cheapest flights
The best seat for nervous flyers
Safest seat on a plane

YourLifeChoices Writers
YourLifeChoices Writers
YourLifeChoices' team of writers specialise in content that helps Australian over-50s make better decisions about wealth, health, travel and life. It's all in the name. For 22 years, we've been helping older Australians live their best lives.
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