While air travel used to be a luxurious experience, today planes are the buses of the sky — some seats are comfortable, but many are, well, not. With a little bit of strategizing, though, you can get a better seat for your next trip. It takes some pre-planning, and maybe a fee or two, but you can avoid sitting in an uncomfortable seat way in the back.

British Airways 747-400 World Traveller cabinDon’t believe everything you read. If an airline’s website says “only premium economy seats are available,” pick up the phone and make your reservation with a live human being who can assign you a seat. They can see and do things the website can’t.

Ask and it may be yours. You can always check with the gate agent when you arrive before your departure to see if there’s space on the upgrade list. Sometimes, a long-distance flight in coach can turn into a business class upgrade for much less than the original ticket price, and, bingo, you’re flying in comfort.

By the same token, don’t always assume business class and first class are too expensive. You might be surprised to find that only a few dollars can drastically change your experience.

I’m a frequent flier with Southwest and their order of boarding is determined by check-in order, 24 hours before departure. I make sure to do that so that I have done all that I can to get myself in the best position to choose my seat. A colleague of mine always books his flights through the airline’s website because he can choose his seat while he’s completing his reservation.
You can also ask a guru. Seatguru.com will show you seat maps for almost all airlines and aircraft types. It knows which have more legroom or are more desirable. Speaking of legroom, JetBlue has the most to offer. On its A320 and A321 planes, the economy rows are 33-34″ apart, and they offer some seats with 37-41″ of room between the seats.

One last tip: if you can, fly midweek, specifically Tuesday or Wednesday. Those days are the least traveled, so besides having better seat selection, you may have more elbow room because the seat between you and the next passenger is empty.

What strategies do you use to get good seats? Do you have a plan, or do you just trust your luck? Leave your suggestions and ideas in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Rene Ehrhardt (Flickr/Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons)