Smart SpendingSmart Spending

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.

More on Money Talks News and MSN Money:

May 1, 2012 5:35PM
The best seat is the one behind the person who doesn't recline his seat.
May 1, 2012 8:09PM
Best seat is anywhere there aren't children..
May 2, 2012 8:05AM
SIMPLE.... The best seat on the airplane is next to my wife on the way to a fun destination.
May 1, 2012 10:13PM
Best seat on the plane is the seat next to the person that doesn't stink, showered, clean breath, and minds their own business.
May 1, 2012 9:19PM
I prefer the Exit seat due tot he leg room, but it seems like I never get it. BUT MY BIGGEST BITCH is: OK, I know that 1st class that have the BIG BUCKS and no Whammies get on first, then the medically disabled and children (with their a-hole parents) sometimes I believe the adults bring the kids to get on first. ... WELL MY BITCH is..........why can't the numb nuts that run the airlines figure out if they load the rear of the plane first toward the front....HOW MUCH EASIER it would be for all??? This way you don't have to climb over slower people trying to stuff their OVER SIZED carry-on's into a small area and so on??????????????????????????????
May 1, 2012 3:47PM
With the way we are treated by the airlines these days, my favorite seat is behind the wheel of my car.  Any trip I can cover in 8 hours by car becomes a "road trip".  Longer trips I will clench my teeth and subject myself to the airlines treatment.  When I started flying, the airlines tried to make you feel comfortable and competed for your business by providing better service that their competitors.  Now, we are just a resource and the airlines objective is to get as much as they can from you.  Paying to check a bag?  Outrageous.  Continential even tries to tell you now that giving you the ability to choose from the worst seats available is "complimentary".  Give me a break!  When the airlines wonder who's not flying, that will be me.  
May 1, 2012 9:26PM
When a ticket agent asks me which side of the plane I would like,  I always reply,  "the inside".
May 1, 2012 4:02PM
I like the engine noise to drown out crying babies theory.  To me, loud high-pitched noise like a crying baby or a screaming child has the same effect as fingernails on a chalkboard.  I'll have to give this a try next time I take a flight.
May 1, 2012 11:29PM

I hate flying, all the crap you need to go through just to get through the AP, and on the plane, and in your seat.

The best seat for me is behind the steering wheel of my car!

May 1, 2012 9:30PM
Over the wings is the strongest area structurally and you feel less turbulence but for safety its in the back.  Airplanes rarely back into a mountain.
May 1, 2012 11:23PM

The best seat on an airplane currently?  - Easy answer? Zippo! There isn't a single one because it isn't worth the hassle to fly in commercial airlines planes anymore. Let them sit on the runways and collect dust.


Besides, currently there's way too many things wrong with airlines and with flying.  Too cramped, too crowded, too crude, too costly, too noisy, too rude, too restricted and way too much lousy service.  Better off travelling with another method.  Paying to be insulted isn't my favorite way to travel. Worse than Don Rickles on a good day.

May 1, 2012 2:42PM

Certain seats (purportedly those in the tail-end) give a passenger the best odds of surviving a crash, which - outside of actually being in a crash in the first place - can be another horror in itself if the crash is a nasty one. 


In theory, this should be the primary consideration when registering for a flight, but sitting in the back of a plane feels like you are actually walking on air, which is why I hate it.  I prefer to be on top of the wings (just behind), where I can feel far less turbulence and get a great view, and thus feel much safer during the ride.   


I have noticed by viewing plane wreckage that the tail-ends of planes tend to be left intact, but think about what that means.  If you survive, you get to watch everyone else die.  I wish the FAA would require and have someone design commercial ejector seats with parachutes so that, at low altitudes, passengers whose planes are not landing on water would be ejected from their seats.  We have the technology. 


You may wind up stuck in a tree in the Redwoods or, even worse, land in the desert with rattlesnakes at your feet, but you would softly LAND.  I could live with that.       

May 2, 2012 1:26PM

On the wing and back are statistically safer seats to sit in, my father was a pilot and my brother is a pilot for JetBlue and I have been told by both of them that from the wing back the aircraft is more structurely sound because of the weight of the engine. I have also been told that first class is the most dangerous place to be in case of accidents. So I always sit toward the back of the plane.


May 2, 2012 11:55AM
I'm thinking the jump seat next to the pretty flight attendants / food and drinks.  Relax everyone before you all give me a thumbs down.  I'm a harmless old man just joking around. 
May 2, 2012 10:57AM
Best seat in a plane, that's an easy one --  the front left seat in the cockpit.
May 2, 2012 8:34AM
Hell is flying back from Asia in the middle seat of a two aisle plane with the two people on the aisle sleeping!
May 1, 2012 10:49PM
The best seat on an airplane is your assigned seat. Once on a four and one half fight back from Texas I had a young woman approach me at my seat. She said I was seating next to her family and would I trade seats. Mr. nice guy(me) traded seats and sat next to a guy with the flu coughing and hacking for four and one hours. No good deed goes unpunished and that was the last time I gave up my assigned seat on an airplane.
May 1, 2012 5:33PM
I don;t fly anymore and never did much. Actually I HATE IT. But if I had to fly with a Presidental Cand. I'd choose Ron Paul. He's the oldest and would get tired of talking quicker and would fall asleep.Sleepy
May 2, 2012 10:25AM

What we really need to know is : Which seats survive the most when the plane crashes. Now that would be usefull information

Please help us to maintain a healthy and vibrant community by reporting any illegal or inappropriate behavior. If you believe a message violates theCode of Conductplease use this form to notify the moderators. They will investigate your report and take appropriate action. If necessary, they report all illegal activity to the proper authorities.
100 character limit
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?


Copyright © 2014 Microsoft. All rights reserved.

Fundamental company data and historical chart data provided by Morningstar Inc. Real-time index quotes and delayed quotes supplied by Morningstar Inc. Quotes delayed by up to 15 minutes, except where indicated otherwise. Fund summary, fund performance and dividend data provided by Morningstar Inc. Analyst recommendations provided by Zacks Investment Research. StockScouter data provided by Verus Analytics. IPO data provided by Hoover's Inc. Index membership data provided by Morningstar Inc.


Smart Spending brings you the best money-saving tips from MSN Money and the rest of the Web. Join the conversation on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.