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How to Get the Best Seat on a Plane: 10 Hacks to Try

How to Get the Best Seat on a Plane: 10 Hacks to Try

Need to know how to get the best seat on a plane? These 10 strategies for superior seating will have you posted up in a prime position when it’s time for takeoff. 

What’s the Best Seat on a Plane?

Empty airplane window seat in the front seen with a sunset view for a guide showing how to get the best seat on a plane


A window seat in the first row? A roomy seat in the exit row? An aisle seat near the wings? Trying to figure out the best seat on a plane can be tough when there are so many things to consider. 

So what is the best seat on a plane – and how can you ensure you’re able to snag it for your upcoming flight? The best seats on a plane depend on what you’re looking for during your flight.

What are your preferences and needs like? Here’s a look at the pros and cons of sitting in different areas of the plane. 

Front of the Plane

If you want to be among the first people to get off the plane after landing, seats in the first 5 rows are your best option. You’ll be in and out like a flash and it’s usually quieter without the engine noise nearby.

The downsides: Lots of people will be moving past you during boarding and you won’t be able to store your things under seats in front of you if you choose the first row. 

Back of the Plane

If you need to be near the restrooms, you’ll be looking mostly at seats in the back. Most planes have bathrooms in the back, but some have an additional bathroom up front. 

The downsides: Seats that are near the restrooms are, well, near the restrooms (eww) and people will be making their way past your seat the entire flight. If it’s a long flight, this seating area can be a blessing and a curse. 

Window Seats

If you want great views of the world below during the flight and a little more shoulder room (or a spot to rest your head for a nap), window seats are the best. 

The downsides: Window seats can be a little chillier, and if you need to use the restroom, you’ll have to step over other passengers in your row or wake them up. 

Aisle Seats and Exit Row

If you want a roomier seat, aisle seats and exit row seats are good choices. Aisle seats mean you won’t have a seat neighbor on one side and exit row seats give you a little more legroom.

The downsides: Aisle seats mean you’ll get brushed (or elbowed) by passengers making their way past your seat. Exit row seats don’t recline and may require you to perform emergency actions under pressure if something goes wrong. 

All in all, we think the best seat on a plane is a window or aisle seat somewhere in the first 5 rows or in the exit row. 

How to Get the Best Seat on a Plane: 10 Hacks to Try

Asian flight attendant points to a seat on the plane for a business traveler to sit after assignment as she holds her boarding pass

Shine Nucha/Shutterstock

Now that you’ve got a better sense of where the prime real estate is on a plane, let’s look at how to get the best seat on a plane. You can improve your seat selection on a flight several ways – both free and paid.

These 10 strategies will help you land a prime seat on any flight. 

1. Reserve Your Seat Early

Reserving your seat as early as possible is one way to ensure you get the best seat on a plane. Most airlines allow you to make your seat selection during online check-in starting 24 hours before your scheduled flight. 

If you leave your seat assignment to chance, you could be left with the least-coveted seats on the plane after all other passengers make their selection. Reserving your seat early on helps you avoid that risk. 

As we mentioned above, the best seat on the plane really depends on your preferences for the flight. But you can’t go wrong opting for a seat in the first 5 rows or avoiding middle seats altogether when you reserve your selection!

2. Set a Timer to Check-In

Online check-in opens up 24 hours before your scheduled flight and this is when the ability to select your seat comes into play (for airlines that allow seat selection). 

You want to be right on the dot for check-in – literally, set a timer to go off exactly 24 hours before your scheduled flight. This will give you the biggest selection of seats and the best chance of choosing a great spot on the plane. 

Even waiting a few minutes after hitting the 24-hour mark before your flight can be the difference between landing a great seat in the front or a prime window seat versus a non-reclining seat in the back by the bathrooms. 

Make sure to have any family members or friends traveling with you also select their seats exactly 24 hours prior to the flight.

If they have a different confirmation number, you can’t select their seats and they could be stuck with bad seats if you wait until you reserve yours! 

Read Next: The Best Day to Book Flights in 2023 | Is It Still Sunday?

3. Purchase Early Bird Check-In

Another option for getting a good seat on a plane is checking in even sooner (up to 36 hours before your scheduled flight) if you’re flying with Southwest. 

Southwest’s Early Bird Check-In program automatically checks you in a full 48 hours before the usual 24-hour mark. While Southwest doesn’t assign or let you reserve seats, this $15+ add-on will help you land a better seat.

That’s because adding Early Bird Check-In bumps up your boarding group so you’re among the first to board the plane, where you can choose from any available seats you see. 

You’ll also be able to ensure overhead bin space availability near your seat by being able to board the plane sooner. It’s not available for all flights, but if you see the option during booking, take it! 

4. Pay for Seat Selection

Airlines that don’t assign all passengers seats usually allow you to pay a little extra to reserve a specific seat for your flight. JetBlue, Spirit Airlines, and Frontier Airlines are all examples. 

It’s not required to pay to select a seat with these airlines, and if you don’t, you’ll still be assigned a seat before boarding – but you won’t have a say in where that seat is on the plane. 

Instead, spend a few bucks to pay for a specific seat assignment and rest easy knowing you’ve got a good seat already locked down for your flight. 

In most cases, you’ll be able to select your seat during online check-in that opens 24 hours before your scheduled flight. Act fast to pick your seat for the best selection.

Current seat selection prices vary widely. You might pay $4 (JetBlue), $5 (Spirit), or $16 (Frontier) to reserve a specific seat on the plane and the cost can be higher for longer flights.

Note that you can’t always purchase a seat ahead of time, with carriers like Southwest leaving you to grab a seat when you board the plane according to your boarding group. 

Happy couple smiles with arms up in the plane as they've used strategies on how to get the best seat on a plane to land a window seat


5. Request Preboarding

Requesting preboarding is another way to get a good seat on a plane if you’re on a flight where seats aren’t assigned. If you’re among the first people to board, you’ll have your pick of empty seats and be able to choose the perfect spot.

Many airlines board in groups that are based on passenger criteria (like military, disabilities, and families with young children), ticket class (like economy, business, or first class), and/or loyalty program status (like Elite status).

You can request to preboard during booking, during online check-in, or at the gate by letting the airline know you need additional assistance for seating or have a specific need for seating (like being close to the bathroom or in an aisle seat). 

Not everyone is eligible for preboarding, but if you’re traveling with a disability, bringing mobility assistive devices that need to be stowed, or need help getting to and from your seat, the gate agent will permit you to get on the plane before everyone else.

6. Purchase Upgraded Boarding

After preboarding, most airlines will start allowing Group A or Group 1 (active duty military, families with children under 6, and Elite or preferred status members) to board the plane while there’s still great seat selection available. 

If you don’t fall under any of these categories, you can always purchase upgraded boarding privileges through your airline for each flight and board sooner with Group A/Group 1 or Group B/Group 2. 

Some airlines, like Southwest and United, offer you the ability to purchase standalone Upgraded Boarding or Priority Boarding for a one-time fee of $15-$30. 

Others, like Frontier Airlines and Spirit Airlines, offer upgraded boarding privileges through add-on bundles that can be purchased during booking or online check-in for $57-$99. 

You may see your airline refer to this perk as shortcut boarding, upgraded boarding, priority boarding, preferred boarding, or board first. 

Read next: The 3 Best Websites to Book Flights in 2023

7. Earn Airline Elite Status

Most airlines offer tiered loyalty programs that allows passengers with Elite status to earn special privileges that can lead to getting the best seat on a plane – like early boarding and enhanced seat selection. 

If you fly often enough to earn Elite status through the airline you prefer, you’ll reap the rewards when it’s time to choose and take your seat. 

You’ll be able to check in for your flight sooner, choose from a wider range of seats (and choose better seats overall), potentially upgrade your seat for free, and board the plane sooner with Elite status.

Here’s a look at the Elite status programs of the most popular airlines:

  • AAdvantage (American Airlines)
  • Rapid Rewards and A-List (Southwest)
  • MileagePlus (United Airlines)
  • Mosaic (JetBlue)
  • Free Spirit (Spirit Airlines)
  • FrontierMILES (Frontier Airlines)

Most of these frequent flyer programs are free to join and you’ll accumulate points or credits that can bring you up to Elite status with enough dollars spent, miles traveled, or flights booked. 

8. Board the Plane Later

It might sound counterintuitive, but boarding the plane later – even being the last person to board – can be a good strategy when you’re wondering how to get the best seat on a plane with or without unassigned seats. 

It makes sense: The later you board, the more people are already settled on the plane in their respective seats, leaving you to select a seat with a clear understanding of how cramped the row will be, who will be sitting next to you, etc. 

Sure, you won’t be able to choose the most premium spots on the plane – those will already be filled with passengers who boarded early. But you might be able to snag a seat in an empty row or one that’s far away from the loudly crying infant onboard.

If you board the plane early on, you won’t know who your seat neighbors will be or how much your row or seating area will fill up by the end of boarding.

By waiting until the last minute, you’ll have a smaller selection – but a better idea of what you’re getting into with your seat. 

If you already have an assigned seat on the plane, boarding last can still work in your favor. Any remaining empty seats you see can be up for grabs if you make the request to an attendant nicely and there’s extra space onboard. 

Back view of plane aisle with people in the seats to show the concept of learning how to get the best seat when flying

Alex Desanshe/Shutterstock

9. Wait on Seat Selection

It can be tempting to go ahead and reserve a seat on your flight during booking when the option is presented, even if it costs extra. But if you can handle a little risk, it can work in your favor to not select a seat. 

Selecting and paying for a seat isn’t required. Once you pay for your ticket, you already have a spot on the flight. You can potentially score a great seat up front and avoid paying extra if you resist the urge to snag your seat during booking. 

Instead, set your timer to check-in online exactly 24 hours before your scheduled flight.

When you get to the airport, you may have a seat assigned to you automatically (for airlines that assign seats) or have the ability to choose one of the empty seats that weren’t reserved. 

Here’s why this can work: Many of the good seats on the plane that were offered to passengers during booking were priced higher than core cabin seats, meaning some of them went unreserved and were still open for selection.

You can be sure that all the free seat selections were snapped up during the booking process, leaving some of those prime spaces near the front or in seats with extra legroom up for grabs. 

That means the pool of unreserved seats that the airline pulled from to eventually assign your seat before departure might include premium seating up front. It could also include some of the worst seats on the plane – but the risk might be worth it!

Read next: How to Find Cheap Flights: 8 Hacks Every Traveler Needs

10. Ask for a Better Seat

Already have an assigned seat or reserved one that isn’t the greatest? Don’t be afraid to ask for a better seat at the gate or once you board the plane. This strategy only works if the flight isn’t full. 

You can approach the gate agent before boarding the plane and ask if they can bump you to a better seat. If there are empty seats on the flight, they might agree to move you to a window, aisle, front, or exit row seat with more legroom.

If you don’t ask the gate agent, ask the cabin crew if they can move you to a better seat if one is available. Be polite and kind – this is a favor, not a demand. 

You can ask right after you board and see some empty seats remaining or wait until everyone is done boarding the plane for a better chance at a “yes.”

Things to Consider

View of the plane's Exit sign in the exit row where we explain how to get the best seat on a plane with more legroom in the back


Bumping yourself up to a better seat isn’t hard, but there’s a ton of info out there that can make the process confusing. Here are some helpful tips to clear things up on how to get the best seat on a plane. 

  • Check seating diagrams online. Every plane has a different seating layout, and if you’re not familiar with the plane type or haven’t flown before, checking seat diagrams online is invaluable for making your selection. AeroLOPA is a popular website to use and find seats with better views, more legroom, etc.
  • Some airlines don’t offer seat selection. Budget airlines like Frontier and Spirit Airlines only offer seat selection as an upgrade since the airfare prices are so low. It does cost to upgrade ($5-$16+) for seat selection, but if you’re set on getting a good seat, it’s the only way to fly.
  • Know your airline policies. Seating assignment policies differ by airline, and many (like United Airlines) don’t offer seat selection ability or seat changes for less-expensive Basic Economy tickets. Instead, you’ll be assigned a seat when you check-in – giving you a great opportunity to put some of these strategies to work to get a better seat!

Frequently Asked Questions 

Woman smiles sitting in her aisle seat for a frequently asked questions section explaining how to get the best seat on a plane with plenty of room

Friends Stock/Shutterstock

Along with how to get the best seat on a plane, many travelers have related questions that go hand-in-hand with upgrading your seat selection for free or for a few bucks. 

Check out the FAQs below to learn more!

Is it best to sit in the front or back of plane?

Most people prefer sitting in the front of the plane, as you’ll notice when you board and see that people fill up the front sections before the middle and back.

The front of the plane is quieter, enables you to get off the plane first after landing, and keeps you further from the restroom odors that may infringe on your flight enjoyment in the back of the plane.

How can I get the best seats on a plane for free?

You can get the best seats on a plane for free by requesting preboarding (only if you meet requirements), asking for a better seat, checking in right at the 24-hour mark, flying on a low-volume day, or waiting to select your seat.

These free options can land you in a better seat in the plane section you prefer and help you board faster, enjoy a less-crowded flight, or get off the plane quicker when you land.

Are seats over the wing better?

Seats over the wing are known to be a bit smoother in terms of the landing, takeoff, and potential turbulence.

But keep in mind that the wings impede the view from the plane, so taking a window seat over the wings isn’t one of the best options.

Do airlines give free seat upgrades?

Airlines rarely give free seat upgrades, but they do offer them regularly to Elite status members in frequent flyer programs and may upgrade your seat if your flight isn’t full.

You’ll have a better chance at a free seat upgrade if you fly during the low season or take a very early/late flight with fewer passengers. Even then, you’ll need to ask to be upgraded.

Is it OK to ask for a free upgrade flight?

It’s fine to ask for a free flight upgrade, but don’t expect to get it. With all airlines offering loyalty programs with incentives like flight upgrades and early boarding, it’s rare to get a “yes” when asking for a free flight upgrade these days.

If you decide to ask, be polite and friendly to connect with the agent before you make the request. You might say, “Any chance of getting moved to business class if there’s availability?” You never know - the answer could be yes!

Now You Know How to Get the Best Seat on a Plane!

From being lightning-quick and right on time with your check-in to slipping the airline a few extra bucks for early boarding or a premium seat choice, there are plenty of ways to ensure you snag the best seat on the plane. 

Since the idea of the best plane seat is a little different for everyone, you might find that your ideal placement is right up front in a window seat that gives you sweeping views of the world below and a quiet, serene flight. 

Maybe you’re more of a convenience person looking for easy access to the restrooms for a long flight – or if you’re traveling with littles who need to go more often. 

The best seat on the plane might be a wide-open aisle seat that doesn’t require you to step over your seat neighbors every time you need to get up, or one in the exit row where you can stretch out your legs. 

Now that you know how to get the best seat on a plane with 10 helpful hacks, put these strategies to use for your next flight and see what a difference a great seat makes!