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pjf (2464)

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I run Perl Training Australia [].

I help with Melbourne Perl Mongers.

I spend an awful lot of time talking about Perl, and have had my picture in the Australian newspapers with a camel. That's rather scary.

Journal of pjf (2464)

Tuesday February 19, 2008
02:42 AM

Optimise your aircraft seat

[ #35692 ]

Optimise your aircraft seat
I do a lot of flying, and have spent a lot of time trying to make my life more comfortable. While I don't have time for a complete set of tips, I do have some for getting a good seat.

First of all, these techniques will vary from country to country and airline to airline. In Australia it's common to have a kiosk that handles your check-in and prints a boarding pass, and then a separate "bag drop" for your luggage. Most importantly for us, the kiosks usually allow you to change your seat, and that's what I'm going to focus on.

I'm going to call a bunch of seats boarded by aisles and/or windows a "segment". Most segments have one or two desirable seats (next to windows or aisles, depending upon what you like), and some undesirable seats (jammed between other passengers). Obviously just by using the "change my seat option" you can usually get one of the more desirable seats. I personally prefer the aisle. However that seat may not be an ideal seat.

The "ideal" seat is one where you have either your preference of aisle or window, nobody sitting next to you, and near an exit so you can get on and off relatively quickly. My super-ideal seat is an aisle with an empty seat on my right, since I can then use that seat (or its tray) as a mouse-mat. But how do we get such coveted seats?

Well, first we need to understand that if your flight is fully booked, then there's nothing you can do to have an empty seat next to you. The flight is full, so by definition all the seats will be filled. So I'm going to assume your flight isn't completely full. This is certainly the case for a lot of off-peak flights in Australia.

A lot of people when picking a seat will try to go for a completely empty segment. This looks like it will give you lots of room, but this is almost always a mistake. The reason being that aisle and exit seats fill first, and if you're flying an aircraft with 3-seat segments, then there tends to be a lot of one seat "holes", leaving a shortage of places where you can seat couples. By picking a desirable seat in an empty segment, you have an excellent change of a couple sitting next to you, meaning your seat is merely "good", and not "great".

To avoid this, you should try to find a segment that already has one person in a desirable seat, and then pick the other one. In my case that means they have the window, and I take the aisle. The seat in the middle is undesirable, and so only fills if all the other desirable seats are taken.

Aircraft seating algorithms also seem to fill from the front towards the back, so picking a seat about three-quarters of the way towards the back maximises your changes of getting an empty seat next to you. Being right up the back doesn't work, partially because a lot of Australian aircraft allow boarding from the rear of the aircraft (so the rearmost seats are filled with impatient people), and partially because airlines like to seat families with children right at the back. That means not only will there be a person person sitting next to you; but they're likely to be a bored, impatient child with an ear infection.

If you are part of a couple, you can try to do some extreme seat optimisation. The trick is to find an empty segment, and to take both the desirable seats, leaving an empty one in the middle. With luck (if your flight isn't too full), you end up sitting together, but in much more comfort. If you're unlucky, there'll be some poor soul stuck between you, although they'll usually eagerly agree to swap for an aisle or window seat, so your failure condition is the same as what you would have had if you sat together to begin with.

Finally, you'll also notice that on most of the kiosks you simply can't book a seat that's in the first third of the aircraft. These are usually reserved for people with special needs, late-comers, priority customers, and business class/first class. You can get these seats, but you'll have to schmooze at the check-in desk, and that's beyond the scope of this article.

Happy flying!

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  • On some (most?/all?) airlines you can "check in" on the web the day before. Whatever it means to "check in" since you're not actually at the airport. And you still need to check in in the kiosk when you get there.

    But the good thing about this is that you both get to select the seat early on, and you can see the emergency exits more clearly than in the kiosk (at least on the SAS web site vs kiosk).