Some people like to sit in the aisle, others prefer the window, but nobody likes the middle seat. Unfortunately, with the airlines cramming more seats on their planes, and most of us unable to pay the premium prices for business or first-class seats, it's likely that a middle seat is what you're going to get if you're traveling on the cheap. Some airlines offer free seat selection, but many will charge you for the privilege, and the competition is fierce to secure those aisle and window seats, which are often pre-booked by the airline's most loyal frequent flyers.
However, it's not impossible to get a window or aisle seat without paying extra for the upgrade.
Ask During Booking
If you are given the option to choose your seat when you book your ticket, do so immediately. Don't wait for later. You can check where the best seats are by looking at the type of aircraft you'll be flying, then go to web-based airline seat maps like SeatGuru, Seat Expert, Expert Flyer, or Skytrax to see your plane's seat map. These detailed maps can save you from sitting for hours in a bad seat.
Check in Online
Advanced seating usually only comprises 70 to 80 percent of seats on board, but more seats become available once online check-in opens, usually 24 hours before the scheduled flight time. Airlines will usually send a text or email when online check-in is open, so make sure to keep an eye on your email and check in as soon as you can. This way, you can beat the other passengers to the best seats.
Get to the Airport Early
If you can't choose your seats when you book and online check-in isn't available for your airline, get to the airport early so you can be one of the first to check in. You can select your seats using the airline's electronic kiosk, but if you go to the check-in desk, you might be able to talk your way into better seats with the airline employee.
This is also an opportunity to reconsider upgrading to premium economy. These seats are more comfortable, have extra legroom, and are located toward the front of the plane. Most airlines offer their own version of premium economy, but they will charge you a fee for the upgrade.
Travel With a Partner
If you're traveling with a partner and can't secure two aisle seats, try to secure at least one aisle seat and make sure the other is a window seat. If you're in the same row, you may end up with a free seat in between you. Or, it will at least give you some leverage to trade with the person sitting in the middle seat, who might very well want to sit in one of the two seats you have to offer.