Choosing the Best Airline Seats Together

Couple on plane

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Whether you're flying for the first time or the 500th, choosing seats that the two of you will occupy on an airplane is an important part of the pre-flight process, and it can have a significant impact on your pleasure in the air. Although traveling in premium economy or business class is certainly ideal, those larger seats may not be affordable. Make sure you are selecting the best economy-class seats as a couple in order to fly with maximum comfort on a plane ride of any duration.

getting the best airplane seats
TripSavvy / Emily Mendoza 

Paying for Seats

Different airlines have various policies on choosing seats, from letting passengers choose freely where they sit to a strict assigned seat policy. How much you are willing to pay for comfort is up to you. If you can fork out the cash for two business class seats, then, by all means, enjoy that luxury.

Some airlines allow you to pick your own seats, but charge more for "premium economy" seats, such as exit rows or seats near the front of the plane. On other airlines, you are randomly assigned a seat and have to pay to change it to any seat. The strictest airlines may even separate passengers who booked their tickets together. In any of these cases, weigh the costs of changing with your flight needs. If you are seated in a middle seat or separated from your partner on a one hour flight, it might not be a big deal. But if you're flying across the country or internationally, it might be worth paying to change.

Seat Location

Not all seats are created equal, as anyone who has ridden on a plane is well aware of. You have to decide between the front and back, window or aisle, near the bathroom or far away, and more.

Travelers who sit closer to the front of the plane will exit earlier once it arrives at its destination. If you're changing planes and don't have a long layover, choose seats as close to the front as you can so you can depart quickly. Travelers who sit in the back sometimes get to board the plane first, which gives them first dibs on stowing carry-on luggage overhead.

If you're on a plane where there are only two seats per side, then your only objective is to make sure that both of your seats are together. On a plane with three seats, however, try reserving in a row that is completely open and select the window and the aisle seats, leaving the middle seat between you open. If the plane isn't full, it's more likely that a lone passenger will avoid choosing a middle seat, possibly giving you and your partner the entire row to enjoy. And if the seat ends up being taken, you can just offer to switch. You can be sure that the unlucky person sitting in the middle will be thrilled to give it up for an aisle or window seat.

Some airplane seat locations simply are better than others. The better ones offer more legroom; the worst ones are next to the bathroom and don't recline. When you're ready to select your seats, go to Seat Guru, navigate to your airline, and then identify the type of craft assigned to your flight. You'll get a schematic of the plane that lists good seats, seats with drawbacks, and poor seats to help guide your decision. 

Seat Size

Different aircraft have different sized seats, measured in width and pitch. Seat width is the distance between your left and right armrest. One of the most uncomfortable aircraft to fly anywhere is the Boeing 737. On most of these planes, the seat width between armrests is a measly 17 inches across, which squeezes all but the narrowest bottoms. Even when flown on a short hop, most 737s are misery-inducing. However, Lufthansa's economy class seats provide a relatively generous width of 18 inches—and that extra inch of space does make a difference.

Seat pitch is another consideration and one that taller travelers ought to pay extra attention to in order to avoid flying in the fetal position. Measured in inches, seat pitch—also known as legroom—is the distance between the back of one seat and the front of the one behind it. More is better. On any plane, the best seats for long-legged travelers are bulkhead seats, which have no seats directly in front. JetBlue offers "Even More Legroom" seats in certain rows that have a 38-inch pitch. These seats can be reserved for a small extra fee per flight segment. All other seats on this airline have a pitch of 34 inches, still relatively generous.

You can also check the seat width and pitch on Seat Guru or Google Flights.

Seat Picking Tips

Especially for long-haul flights, you'll want to make sure you and your partner are seated together and sitting comfortably. Apart from researching airlines beforehand to see which have the most legroom or most flexible seat selection process, follow these additional tips to fly painlessly:

  • Choose your seats as soon as possible so that you have the widest selection of locations from which to pick, ideally when you purchase the tickets. If you have to wait until check-in time, try and check-in as soon as you are allowed to (usually 24 hours before your departure time).
  • If you couldn't get the seats you wanted online, get to the airport early on your day of departure and request a change. Some airlines block available seats until the last minute.
  • Wish you could fly in premium, business, or first-class? Airlines that have empty seats sometimes allow coach passengers to upgrade at the airport for less than the regular cost of one of those seats. Let the gate agent know if you're interested.
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