web Musings of The Global Traveller

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Use maths and pyschology to get a better airline seat - part one

Most people have a preference for either a window or an aisle seat. Very few people prefer the middle seats.

In general I don't mind window or aisle, although on longer flights I would rather be in an aisle seat and some short particularly scenic flights I like the window. I use maths to improve my changes of getting a better seat.

Ignoring the very small aircraft (like Beaver or Britten Norman Islander) which have bench seating, commercial aircraft have 1 or 2 aisles. Aircraft with one aisle are referred to as narrow-body aircraft, and those with 2 aisles as wide-body aircraft.

On narrow-body aircraft there are just as many window seats as aisle seats. On wide-body aircraft mathematically there must be more aisle seats than window seats. Thus a seat preference for aisle seat has a greater chance of being met (in general) than a preference for window seat, if travelling alone.

An exception to this generalisation is on business-oriented flights because forward aisle is the most commonly selected seat preference amongst the most frequent travellers (easier to make a fast getaway from these seats).

Many airline frequent flyer programs allow seat preferences to be registered, particularly for those with elite status. If flying alone the airline tries to fulfil the preferences when allocating seats, as much as possible. When flying with someone(s) else the allocation is trickier because there may be conflicting preferences and no one selects middle seat as their preference.

I generally have aisle or forward aisle preference saved. One exception is for Qantas - they allow separate preferences for domestic (in Australia) and international travel. For Qantas domestic I have forward window preference because on some flights a forward aisle preference can see you seated a long way back due to overwhelming numbers of elite passengers with that preference.

Singapore Airlines has an even friendlier policy for PPS - you can select seat preferences separately for each aircraft type and class of travel. This means I can take the seating configuration into account also. More on how to allow for the seating configuration to get a better seat in another post.

I'll cover the pyschology aspect as well in another post, but here is a sneak preview of a couple of points. By taking into account the likely seating preferences of others you can get a better seat for yourself. Some common seating preferences which I've observed over many flights are:

  • window or aisle better than middle
  • a forward seat is better than a rear seat
  • a forward cabin is better than a rear cabin (when there is more than one cabin for the same class of travel)
  • sitting beside someone else you are flying with rather than apart
  • the left side (seats A, B, C, etc) tends to fill up faster than the right side
  • the upper deck is preferred over lower deck (when there is a choice of both in the same class of travel)

What are your seating preferences?


libertyscott said...

I typically have different preferences for each aircraft type, using seatguru and seatexpert to work it out. 747s it is clearly nose then upper deck as preferences. Front of engines and wings helps too, due purely to noise (can be an issue on high premium BA 747s).

Generally I prefer windows, as I have a little more side room and don't mind asking others to get out of the way, and aisles tend to risk seats being hit or grabbed onto by passing passengers.

I avoid being close to bassinets and toilets, which is fairly standard. It's been a long time since I did long haul economy, but I used to select middle section aisles on long haul (747) because odds were you'd get an empty seat or two beside you as the sides filled up first.

I don't like bulkheads as I like having somewhere to store stuff and I usually find legroom to be tighter (or noise and light from behind the curtain to be a mild nuisance).

Greg Wesson said...

I like windows in general, but my seating preference tends to change. For leisure flights, I'll take a window because I'm not usually in a hurry and I prefer not to have the cart bang my shoulders and to be able to look at the landscape on takeoffs and landing.

For business trips, I used to be a "forward aisle" man. Then I realized on the outward leg all I was doing was getting to work faster! I switched to windows after that. For the return leg (to Canada), as I was often doing Canada-USA transborder flying, I would like a seat close to the front just to be at the head of the customs queue.

Now I have moved abroad and only fly for pleasure, it's windows when I can get them. My elite status has disappeared, so I've joined the lottery of seat preferences now.

Usually I try and select and/or change the seat online. This allows me to see the layout of the plane and get a seat that looks good.