A Few Tricks to Selecting a Better Economy Class Seat

I realize that many people who read this blog are focussed on finding a decent place to sit in the rear of the cabin, both frequent flyers and newbies alike. Luckily, there’s several tricks I use to find a better economy class seat that I don’t think are widely publicized. We’re not just talking about the exit row here…

Of course, there’s the obvious seatguru.com which is an invaluable site to look up the seat maps and see which seats are better and which ones aren’t. For a visual person, this is heaven. You’re able to see the recommendations of others, as well as color coded seats denoting which ones aren’t rated well.

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Now, let’s talk about the most commonly used plane in the sky…the 737.

My favorites on this plane are 7C and D, though I know many don’t like the bulkhead. In American’s case, these are only available free to AAdvantage Executive Platinums and Platinums at time of booking, and Golds within 24 hours of departure (or you can pay). On the newer configured 737s (you can tell because these planes have leather seats and inflight entertainment screens at every seat), the legroom at the bulkhead is almost limitless, which is terrific. Actually, it’s more legroom than in First.

Watch The Upgrade List…Yes, Even You Non-Elites

Here’s a trick for getting a good economy seat (it works many times): Watch the upgrade list and ask the gate agent which seats the top people on the list are sitting in (ask down to the number on the list which corresponds to how many open First Class seats there are). Often, the people on the top of the list have status and are sitting in a Main Cabin Extra seat, or a very forward economy seat. Ask the gate agent that when she clears the upgrade list, if she can then assign you one of the seats where one of the folks on the upgrade list were sitting. They’ll “usually” do this free of charge (they shouldn’t, but if the plane is oversold, they’ll have to) and you’ll get a decent seat.

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Blocked Seats…Not for Long

Also – another trick – keep your eye on 7D and E. Those seats on the 737 are always blocked for airport control (you can’t book them online – even I can’t book them). If they’re unclaimed, ask for them at the airport. They are supposed to be blocked to give to an Executive Platinum if he or she does a same day confirmed changed so they don’t get a junky seat in the back of the plane, but if you’re able to find a willing agent, I’ve seen them unblock them for anyone, especially closed to departure. On smaller, regional aircraft, however, these seats are commonly blocked due to weight and balance issues. Just because you get assigned to one of these seats doesn’t mean you’ll be sitting in it on the flight – more often than not, if it isn’t a full flight, the flight attendant needs to re-seat folks to keep the aircraft balanced.

Middle Seat Tricks

If you’re traveling as a couple, there’s a strategy to try to get an empty middle seat, making your flight more comfortable. Let’s assume the A seat is the aisle, the B seat the middle, and the C seat the window (reverse the pattern for the left side of the aircraft). Have one person book and assign the aisle seat (seat A), and the second person book and assign the window seat (seat B). Sure, as a couple you want to sit together, but if you leave the middle seat open, one of two things will happen:

  • The flight will be full and someone will get assigned that middle seat. If that’s the case, offer him/her a window or aisle seat once they get to your row, and chances are they won’t refuse. People hate middle seats, and don’t book them purposely, for sure, so they’ll be glad to take you up the offer.
  • The flight will have a lighter load, and this middle seat will stay open. Now, you have three seats for the two of you, allowing you to spread out more.
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Have you ever used the upgrade list to secure a better economy seat? Or known about pre-blocked seats on the aircraft that may be able to become opened for you to sit in?

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  1. Freeman says

    So basically the whole post is talking about a 737 (and really only on AA), and there’s just one picture, with the line “Now, let’s talk about the most commonly used plane in the sky…the 737” underneath … but the picture is of a regional jet with four-abreast seating in coach (I’m guessing CRJ), not the 737?

  2. Mike Salvino says

    Recently on a Delta flight I paid the extra charge to be assigned a bulkhead ailse row, only to find that the night before they moved me one row behind it. It was a economy premium seat with extra leg room but not a bulkhead. What should I have done?

    • says

      Was there a difference in the price between the bulkhead seat and the one you got? My gut thought is there isn’t and you just paid for an Economy+ seat. While you did select your seat preference, ultimately you paid for the Economy+ privilege and not the seat you chose. That said, they could probably throw a few miles at you as compensation if there really was an error. Other than that, I think you’re out of luck.


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