Consumer Wise: Best and worst seats on a plane

By Angie Moreschi, Consumer Wise Reporter
Last Updated: Tuesday, November 14, 2017, 4:51 AM EST

Window or aisle.  Back or front. What about the middle?  

When you travel, where you sit on a plane can make all the difference between a good flight and a bad one.  

“The front is preferable,” said Kimberly Pennington, an airline passenger waiting to board at Tampa International Airport. “You get to load first and get off first, so it’s easier.”

Passenger Shandra Washington likes to be close to the emergency exits.

“I don’t mind sitting towards them,” she said. “Something happens I know I’m out quick.”

For safety

Actually, for safety, it’s best to pick an aisle seat towards the back.  According to an extensive study by Popular Mechanics, passengers who sit behind the wings— not over them — are 40 percent more likely to survive a crash than people in the first few rows.

“Wow, ok. So maybe we should start sitting towards the back,” said Pennington, the passenger who likes to sit up front.

Also, aisle seats are considered safer, because you can exit more quickly in case of an emergency.

“Yes, I prefer the aisle,” said airline passenger Aneil Naik. “I feel like I’m in more control.”

For a smooth ride 

Many passengers hate turbulence, so knowing which seats offer the smoothest ride is important.  If you’re hoping to avoid a bumpy ride, choose seats over the wings.  They tend to bounce less than seats in the back.

“Yes, anywhere over the wings is good,” said passenger Errol Miller.

For quiet or sleep

Most of us long for peace and quiet when we fly.

“The quietest seat, hmmm,” pondered Aneil Naik, “Whatever’s not nearest my two toddlers,” he finally said, laughing.

Yes, some things are in our control and others are not.  While you can’t always choose who sits around you, you can at least pick the quietest part of the plane.

For that, choose the front of the cabin, because you avoid the loud engine noise. It’s also best to choose an aisle seat, which is generally several decibels quieter than a window seat.

If you want to sleep, however, you’re better off in a window seat — to avoid passengers who need to get up and go to the bathroom. Also, pick a seat on the left side of the plane, because windows on the left are slightly off-center, so they give you a better spot to rest your head.

Warm or cold 

“I’m always cold on a plane, especially during the winter time,” Washington said.

If you’re like many, you get cold when you fly on a plane.  To avoid the chill, stay away from window seats, which are often several degrees colder. And exit rows make it even worse, since they are drafty.

Of course, the opposite is true, if you get hot on a plane. Choose a window seat in the exit row.

Most leg room

For leg room, always go with an aisle seat.

“Oh yes, you get to stick your feet out toward the aisle a little,” Washington said, “definitely not the window seat.”

Exit rows also give you more leg room, so if you’re tall, and don’t mind the responsibility, go for the emergency exit rows.

Worst seats

Finally, the worst seats on a plane are considered the very last row for many reasons. Not only do you have the roar of the engines, but often the smell of fuel, burning off from the engines.  Also, you have to deal with flight attendants going back and forth from the galley and people going in and out of the bathroom.

And topping it all off, the back seat on most planes doesn’t recline, either.

“Ooh, I didn’t even think about that,” Naik said.

“Noooo,” Washington said, shaking her head. “Somewhere I don’t want to sit!”

 “I think that would be pretty awful,” Linda Miller echoed.

Pennington remembered a time she was in the back row on a long flight back from California last year.

“It was terrible, actually. I was stuck in that back seat, in the middle, the entire way,” she said. “You can’t move. It was very uncomfortable.”

How to choose

To check out the seats on your next flight, you can go to several different websites — like SeatGuru or SeatExpert — that show you seat maps for different planes.

For example, on SeatGuru you actually input your flight information and a map pops up of the seating plan for the type of plane you’ll be flying on — complete with color-coding for both good and bad seats.

Good luck!  Here’s wishing you a peaceful and safe holiday travel season.

A seating plan on SeatGuru. (Photo: Angie Moreschi, staff)