The ultimate guide to choosing an airline seat

Rows of economy seats on a plane

Economy seats on an Airbus A 380

Going on a long-haul flight can be an adventure in itself from choosing your seat, meal options, upgrades, airport lounges or just meeting someone different from some other part of the world seated right next to you. Airlines give you a fair choice when it comes to your meals and we all pretty know what we like or don’t like, making that an easy choice. But when it comes to choosing your seat from dozens and dozens of rows, that could be a daunting task especially if you’re new to flying. Reserving your seat is not always straight forward and the airline could change planes which changes the seat numbers and seating configuration. Or the airline’s ‘system’ may have decided to reallocate your chosen seat to another passenger. However, many airlines offer you the choice when you book on-line which may ensure you get your seat. So, which is the best seat from the economy, premium economy, business class or first class? This may be a matter of personal choice. We’ll break that down for you and help you choose the right seat for you and your budget.

 

Front, middle or rear of the aircraft?

Again, your own personal preferences may come into play here but on a widebody aircraft, you will generally find that the seats in front of the engine, usually in front of economy, are the quietest. The back of the cabin tends to be noisier due largely to the engine. Another advantage of starting out in front as this is where most airlines start their meal service so you will never run out of options like you would if you were in the back.

 

Aisle, middle or window seat?

In most cases, the middle seat is the least preferred with you having passengers on either side of you and this can be a bit bothersome should you need to get up and go to the restroom or just stretch your legs. The window seat is the best option if you’d like to get a little bit of sleep as you could lean against the curved cabin wall for a little more headspace. On larger aircraft like the A380, the window seat gives much more space to lean against and bit more to stretch your arms into. The aisle seat is perfect for those who want to get up regularly and walk around or if your need for the restroom is more regular. The aisle seat comes with some cautions too, like getting up for your fellow passengers and getting knocks and bumps from passengers as they walk past. The service trolley can also cause you some bruises as it squeezes past you. Aisle seats are great provided passengers and cabin crew using the aisle don’t bump into you all the time.

man sitting in aisle seat on a plane

Aisle seats are popular to most passengers

An Exit Row or Bulkhead seat?

Exit rows seats can sometimes be more expensive and airlines may prefer giving these to taller passengers. You get extra legroom which is a bonus for long legs but there are downsides to the exit row. No hand luggage or bags will be allowed by your seat or in the footwell area during landing or take-off. If the overhead bins are full, you’ll have to hope for an accommodating cabin crew to take your bags or luggage and store them away to be returned once the flight is over. If you’re looking forward to watching your favourite movie on an exit row screen, you won’t find any screens on the back of the seats in front of you. Instead, there will be a video screen stored in the armrest of the seat similar to that of a food tray. The seats are spaced slightly differently and due to this design-layout, you may find the actual width of the seat is smaller than the regular seats. You just have to get used to handling the cumbersome nature of the seats folding trays

Bulkhead seats are situated right behind a solid cabin wall divider with no seats in front of them but where a bassinet is provided for families with babies. So, as you can imagine, this part of the aircraft can be a little noisier. The legroom might appear generous with no seats in front of you but try stretching out and you’ll discover it’s not easy like in ordinary seats. Bulkhead seats give you the extra bother of a fold in tray food tray which can be problematic if the food tray is left out for long periods.

There is an issue for areas like bulkhead seats and exit row seats, is that passengers seated elsewhere tend to congregate in these spaces to chat or just stretch their legs making it a rather busy place. Some seats appear to offer good legroom but can be sued as a cabin cross over or passengers using the restroom.

 

Avoid the Toilet and Galley areas!

There’s the obvious fact of sitting next to the toilet that could be of the odours wafting across your area especially during mealtime and a flushing toilet on board an aircraft is extremely noisy. This can prove bothersome in such a high traffic area where the repetitive noise of a flushing toilet can be hard to endure even for the most saintly. At night the constant opening at the closing of the washroom door with its light can be distracting when you consider that many people congregate at this area. This doesn’t get any better if you choose to sit opposite the galley where the constant traffic of the cabin crew can be noisy even as they prepare for meals before and after.

 

Legroom Space

On many long haul flights, some passengers will find that their foot space is taken up by the control box for the inflight entertainment system. The manufacturers are gradually making improvements in this area but don’t expect any quick results. The inflight entertainment system in most airlines is most often situated in the aisle seat although they can be found in the middle and window seats.

 

The Seat Pitch

The seat pitch is the one area that you should pay careful attention if you’re in the need of much-wanted legroom. The greater the pitch the more the legroom. However, with seat space at a premium for airlines, don’t expect a great pitch angle over the number of seats that can fit onto an airline. So it’s not surprising that seat pitch has a standard, like in economy class long haul fights has a seat pitch of 31 – 32 inches. While smaller airlines can afford a little more at 33 to 35 inches of seat pitch. The higher the seat pitch the fewer seats an airline can fit into its cabin and it is unlikely you’ll find fewer seats being sacrificed for seat pitch. The newer slimline seats offer more legroom at a seat pitch of 32 inches comparing to the old sets of 34 pitch seat. The new slimline seat has been making its appearance of newer aircraft replacing the 33-inch pitch seat.

 

What about Airline Cabin Classes?

Airlines have introduced cabin classes as a way to give passengers different experiences at varying prices and there are various factors that determine cabin classes. Cabin class is determined by the number of passengers allowed, the comfort of your seat, the type of food served and any other additional extras that may be offered.

 

What are the Different Cabin Classes?

Long haul flights can have up to 4 cabin class and that depends on the aircraft you flying. These 4 classes are economy, premium economy, business class and first class. You’ll discover that some aircraft have fewer classes depending on the size and seat configuration.

A small 30 seater aircraft may only have just one type of cabin and that’s economy. However, another aircraft which seat just 12 passengers may be a private plane that is equipped for VIP’s will have seats configured like first-class giving you the best seat no matter where you sit. And then there are the larger airlines which departs from the traditional 3 class cabin to add in an additional premium economy class for those economy class passengers who want to upgrade to a little more.

For the world’s largest and most highly rated airlines like Emirates and Etihad Airways, who often to extremes in terms of luxury providing select guests with their own private suite. This cabin is different from first-class in that it has proper sleeping quarters, lounge and access to a private chef.

 

About the Different Cabin Classes

Window seat

Economy Class

These seats offer passengers all the basic comforts and amenities for their flight. Usually, this can vary depending on the type of flight be an international long-haul or local domestic departure. On larger aircraft such as a Boeing-737 or Airbus A380, the seat configuration of Economy Class is 3-4-3. On a Boeing 777, there are 385 seats in this cabin class compared to the 42 seats in Business Class.

Economy Class International flights

This class of seats on an international flight offers you all the comforts of an economy seat that just lacks personal space. The seats are adequately comfortable and you are provided with a meal menu with some options to choose from, free drinks and Wifi which can either be free for a specific duration of time of paid for. Each seat has personalised screens with hours of free entertainment. If you’d like a bit more space, then it is possible to check-in much earlier, preferably on-line and chooses your seats either right in front of the cabin class, exit rows or aisle as we have gone through earlier. Window seats are great if you want the view or extra space to lean against the curved wall but can be bothersome if you want to go to the loo or just stretch your legs.

You can be sure that meals on international flights are served hot together with light snacks and something to drink. If your dietary requirements differ from that of the menu, you can notify the airline up to two days prior to departure. Most international airlines provide an extra amenity kit for extra-long flights which includes the basics that are needed for a comfortable flight, such as night mask, socks, earphones, toothpaste and a toothbrush.

Domestic Flights Economy Class

Domestic economy flights have fewer amenities on offer but instead offer a seat at a price you simply can’t get anywhere else. In South Africa, budget airlines like Mango and FlySafair offer you cheap seats instead of hot meals and personalised screens. The short duration of these flights of a couple of hours means that you don’t miss the additional extras of a long-haul international flight. You can buy snacks and drinks on-board and even pay a little extra for priority boarding which include early boarding and snacks.

 

Premium Economy Class

Premium economy class is only offered by a few of the large international carriers like Emirates, Virgin Atlantic and Etihad and what they offer is truly remarkable for a premium economy class seat – that has created a demand for a gap between economy and business class. The price is exactly in-between that of the economy and business class and has attracted passengers who simply can’t afford business class but can have a similar experience. Here you are greeted with a welcome drink as you sit down on your seat, and given an amenity kit that may include a few more items than in economy class. You may find the packaging a bit more expensive and may include a pen, earplugs and soap.

The most attractive feature of the premium economy class is definitely the extra seating space. Seats are wider with more elbow room space and a very comfortable headrest. Depending on the airline, your seat can recline much more than economy class. If you’re flying overnight on Lufthansa, you might just be given access to business free of charge. When it comes to meals airlines such as British Airways, offers you a 3-course meal served in fine china and linen napkins making this the best seat money can buy.

 

Business Class

Business-class can make you feel like a VIP starting at ground level as a business class come with its own check-in queue at the airport and priority boarding is a must. There’s even a lounge where can go to enjoy extra comfortable rest with some light snacks.

You’ll soon discover the magic onboard as most airlines will offer you spacious leather seating that reclines to a fully flat bed and if not, it will be one of the most comfortable seats you’ll have on-board. And when it comes to the food, you’ll be spoilt for choice from a larger menu specially prepared for you. There free drinks and even your headphones are special like Qatar Airways with its special noise-cancelling headphones that are only available to Business and First Class passengers.

Throughout the various stages of the flight, the lighting changes to match the mood going from awake to dinner to sleep. A little more about the airport lounges where you can expect fine dining, spacious areas for work or rest, bathrooms and showers and sometimes even a spa. Business-class tickets are expensive and expect to pay anything from twice and up to three times the price of an economy class ticket.

 

First Class

Emirates first class

Emirates First Class onboard the Airbus A380

When it comes to first-class, it’s luxury all the way. If you have the first-class then you access all the amenities at your beckoning, extra special services and an experience like no other. You get the standard priority check-in and boarding but some airlines go the extra mile by offering you a complimentary chauffeur and pick-up service from your home or hotel.

You a get personal service from the air hostess and will assist you to turn your seat into a comfortable bed alongside widescreen TVs, personal desk lamp and a number of facilities. If there’s one thing that will excite on-board a first-class seat it has to be the amenity kit. You could have amazing perfumes or deodorants such as those found on Air France.

Mealtime is an extra special experience where you can only expect the best. There is often a private chef to take care of any special requests or whip up something special. Passengers are seated in individual pods and there are between 10 and 12 seats available.

 

Private Suites

Private suite on boad Songapore airlines

Private suite onboard Singapore Airlines

This is the ultimate experience for those looking to fly in a class of their own where privacy and luxury go hand in hand. It’s the most expensive seat that actually doesn’t buy you a seat but a whole cabin with a bed, lounge and a luxurious chair and comes with your own bathroom. To top it all, you get your own personal assistant who sees everything. Currently, there are only 3 airlines that offer this exclusive private suite and they are Singapore Airlines, Emirates and Etihad.

 

Should you upgrade?

This is a question of affordability vs comfort or could even be a combination of the both i.e. the most comfort at the best price. Or you can take another pragmatic view such as ‘how long is the flight?’ The longer the flight, like 5 hours and more the more you’ll appreciate the comfort and conveniences of comfortable seating and better services. If your budget allows it to take the upgrade. An economy seat with smaller seats and less to offer is good for the short-haul flight of around two hours and more if you don’t mind seating in-between two passengers.

For most travellers, first-class might be out of reach and too expensive but an upgrade from economy to the premium economy might be the more affordable option. As for an upgrade from Business to First Class, there are fewer changes in amenities making less attractive from business to first class. So, now that you know all about the different seat positions and cabin classes, we hope we’ve made it easier to choose your seat for your next flight when you book through us on www.lowpriceflights.co.za

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