Whether you’re wining and dining up front, or whining and dining in the back, seat selection is of the utmost importance. And there can be big differences between seats, even among aircraft within the same airline.

You may be thinking – if I see a row of two seats, and all the other rows have three seats, of course I should take the row of two! Not so fast. That row of two may be the worst place to sit on the entire plane. Taking a quick look at the seat layout can also reveal other important factors, such as a missing window, reduced under seat storage/foot space, proximity to restrooms and galleys, and more.

K2 Top Tip: Do not rely solely on the airline’s seat map when booking your ticket or selecting your seat. Those seat maps will often not tell you all the details you need to know. This article will.

Not only for seat selection after you’ve purchased your tickets, we recommend you use these techniques before buying. Having even an inch or two more legroom can make all the difference and sometimes it may be the same price or only slightly higher.

Let’s move about the cabin and decide where to sit.

One-two step

Becoming informed on seat selection only takes a couple of minutes.

If you’ve already purchased the tickets:

  1. Check your reservation online or the confirmation email.
In this example where we booked an award ticket via LifeMiles, it shows the aircraft via the online reservation
If you book through Air France/KLM, the aircraft is listed both on the online reservation and the confirmation email. Likewise with Delta.
  1. With aircraft information in hand, head to the resources listed below.

If you have not yet purchased tickets:

  1. Check the aircraft listed when booking on the airline’s site, or when searching Google Flights. For quick reference, install the “Legrooms for Google Flights” tool for Google Chrome, which displays the aircraft info and legroom when searching Google Flights as seen below.
  1. Use in conjunction with the resources listed below.

RESOURCES

SeatGuru

One of our favorite resources is SeatGuru. On the homepage, you can bring up the aircraft by entering the airline, date, and flight number:

Click on “Don’t know your flight #?” to search between the cities.

Conversely, if you already know the aircraft type from the aforementioned process, you can go to the “Airlines” tab at the top of the page.

Looking at the example of the LifeMiles award ticket from above, we know the flight is on Air China:

And then we find the aircraft in question, the Airbus A321:

Clicking on the aircraft brings up the good stuff. Note the information panels to the right. “Pitch” is the fancy term for legroom, and is generally pretty accurate on SeatGuru. There may also be user-submitted photos, which can be handy.

Scrolling down, you’ll find user reviews and the all-important seat map key:

Word of caution: users can get mixed up and leave a review on the wrong aircraft, so reviews are best used to get just a general feeling of the aircraft. And the reviews tend to favor the negative side of things, so take them with a grain of salt.

Hovering over a seat brings up the relevant info. Here’s an example where, if you wanted to recline, choosing this row of two would not be prudent:

Seats can have mixed reviews as well. Perhaps more legroom due to the exit row, but no under seat storage, immovable arm rests, and increased traffic and noise due to the proximity to the bathrooms:

Most airline websites will not show these details. In fact, they often will charge you extra to sit in the exit row, no matter how many negatives there are. In this case, if you wanted an exit row, a much better option is row 16. Especially as 16A and 16J do not have a seat in front of them. Talk about extra legroom!

SeatMaestro

If SeatGuru doesn’t have it, check SeatMaestro. While not as user-friendly and complete as SeatGuru, it can help fill in some missing aircraft.

YouTube

There are more and more flight reviews every day on YouTube. Nonstop Dan has great ones, especially for business and first class flight reviews. Simply Aviation also has lots of superb flight reviews, both in economy and up front.

For your own search, simply type in the airline and aircraft in the YouTube search bar. Using the previous example where our Air France ticket included a flight on a KLM 737-900, there are many YouTube results:

Some seats are not like the others

Not only have we seen examples of this from SeatGuru, but legroom and seat width can also vary even within the same airplane. This happens especially towards the back of the aircraft. The shape of the aircraft naturally tapers towards the tail, and that has an impact on seat pitch and width.

Take, for example, this comment by a passenger regarding Ethiopian Airlines’ 777-200 aircraft:

We have experienced this first hand as well, when an aircraft change left us shunned to the last rows on S7 Airlines. The restricted legroom was uncomfortably noticeable.

S7 Airlines at Domodedovo Airport in Moscow, by K2. An airline we have high praise for, apart from the squeeze in the last rows.

Though sometimes this tapering of the aircraft can actually work in your favor. On Emirates’ 777 aircraft, the last few rows are two seats along the windows. Avoid the last row, as the bathroom is nearly on top of you. Otherwise, the other rows of two have more room towards the aisle as well as between the window seat and the wall:

But a heads-up if you find yourself flying American Airlines. You may think being on a new aircraft is a cure, but unfortunately it’s not. The airline’s refurbished A321’s and even their brand new A321neo’s are packing those seats in tighter than ever before. You’ll feel the pinch not just in the last rows, but all rows. JT Genter has the painful details, which also includes the refurbished 737-800 aircraft. And need we bring up the bathrooms on United’s and American’s 737MAX aircraft? Whenever those take to the skies…

Watch out for the ‘ol switch-a-roo

As with anything in travel, there can be unexpected changes. Qatar Airways, for example, is (in)famous for aircraft changes. You may be on a Qsuites configured aircraft one day, only for it to be switched to a non-Qsuite aircraft the next.

If this happens last minute, sometimes there is not much you can do. You might politely ask the check-in or gate agent for seating options or a flight change, but that may not always work out.

At MileValue’s Award Booking Service, we always recommend our clients to check their reservations at least once a month. In the last month leading up to departure, checking weekly is not a terrible idea. That way you can be on top of schedule changes, aircraft changes, etc.

In the case of aircraft changes, the airline will usually assign you new seats if you already had seats selected. But, as you might imagine, the new seats can sometimes be less than ideal. Catching this before departure, you’ll be able to arrange it properly yourself or reach out to the airline for assistance.

We have had good experiences reaching out to airlines via Twitter for seating issues

Final Approach

A quick check of some easy resources can land you (pun intended) in a much better seat. Incorporating this into your trip planning can make the difference between comfort and despair. Take this example, where a $50 difference means not only a direct flight, but also 33 inches of legroom versus 28 inches:

Be sure to check out our article, “Four Invaluable Tools for Booking Flights With Miles & Cash.” The techniques in that article, coupled with this article, will have you booking flights like a pro.

Do you have any research tips? Or stories of great or horrifying seats? Please share in the comments below.

Cheer sand research on.