What's the best airplane seat?

Recent surveys indicate that passengers have their preferences about seating, seatmates and in-flight amenities.

By Stacy Johnson May 1, 2012 11:51AM

This post comes from Michael Koretzky at partner site Money Talks News.

Money Talks News on MSN MoneyI recently flew to Indianapolis for a business meeting on AirTran. In March, I flew to New York on JetBlue. In January, it was Chicago on American. Each time, I sat in the same seat -- right-hand aisle, five rows from the back.

Image: Airline (© Christie & Cole/Corbis)I think that's the best seat on a commercial jetliner, and I'll explain why in a moment. But apparently, my fellow travelers disagree.

The British travel website Skyscanner recently polled more than 1,000 airline passengers about their seat preferences. The results: "The most-sought-after seat on a standard aircraft is seat 6A. This survey supports previous studies which have found that the front six rows of the plane are the most popular, taking 45% of the votes."

The worst seat? It's near my best seat: "The survey found that the seat no one wanted was 31E, a middle seat towards the back of the aircraft." (Post continues below.)

Now, here's why I choose the fifth-from-the-back right-aisle seat:

  • It's close to the bathroom. Since it's on the aisle, I won't have to stumble over my neighbor's knees. 
  • It's not so close that I have people waiting in line right next to me, grabbing the back of my seat to balance themselves.
  • The right-side aisle means more room for me. Why? Because, according to Scientific American, only 15% of people are left-handed. So my neighbor will usually eat, drink, and write with his right hand. He'll even lean to his right during the flight. That means I can snag the armrest to my right.
  • On larger planes with three seats across, I sometimes have the middle seat all to myself. As Skyscanner says, most passengers prefer the front of the plane. 
  • In all but one occasion, I found nearby space in the overhead bin for my carry-on. On that occasion, the flight attendant took my bag and told me to fetch it when I deplaned. 
  • The only drawback to my scheme is that I deplane later. But I've timed it, and while it seems to take forever to get off an airplane, the difference between the first row deplaning and my row averages only seven to nine minutes.

My logic doesn't sway Sam Baldwin, Skyscanner's travel editor:

Anecdotally, some passengers seem to opt for the middle section near the wings where they are less likely to feel turbulence, while others want to be near the front for ease of getting off the plane, less engine noise, or even to get a better choice of food available. The window seems a popular choice for those looking to sleep, especially for long haul flights, while those who take more trips to the toilet prefer the aisle so as not to disturb fellow passengers. The aisle is also popular for tall passengers looking to stretch their legs. Frequent fliers have also reported that the left-hand side of the plane is best as the windows are off center, allowing for wall space to lean on.

U.S. travel site TripAdvisor also released passenger polling data. While much more comprehensive -- revealing details like, "Of the 20% of fliers who order an alcoholic drink on-board, 42% favor wine" -- there were some intriguing seat-related questions. My favorite: 76% of travelers prefer to keep to themselves while in flight.

"Not even a presidential candidate could get some fliers to come out of their shell," TripAdvisor said. "Thirty-three percent would not choose to sit next to Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, or Newt Gingrich, if given the opportunity."

And that's the final advantage to my seating scheme. In a rear-engine jetliner, the noise makes conversation more difficult in the back of the plane, and even in a larger plane with engines at the wings, there's still a lot of engine noise. While some folks despise engine noise, I consider it an amenity. Not only does it discourage my neighbor from talking to me, it drowns out crying babies and inane conversation all around -- which lets me sleep in peace.

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