It’s the simple things that often bring the most joy: exactly the right amount of foam on your cappuccino, finding a pull-through parking spot, the first sleep in fresh bed sheets.
High on the list, right up there with “finding money you didn’t know you had” and “the laughter of children”, is this doozy: flying with an empty seat next to you.
You felt a little warm and fuzzy just thinking about it, didn’t you?
Imagine having that feeling more often. Imagine that the empty seat isn’t just a stroke of luck, or a karmic gift. While there’s no way to completely guarantee it, frequent flyers have discovered a few tricks to up the odds of scoring that coveted spot. Here’s how to select a seat on a flight so no one sits next to you:
#1 Get Back
Planes typically fill from front to back because the front seats are closer to the door and passengers sitting in them can exit the plane sooner. Gate agents also typically move from front to back when assigning seats to passengers who don’t already have them assigned. If you don’t mind disembarking towards the end, the back seats are more likely to stay open.
#2 Keep An Eye Out For Empties
If you want the seat next to you to be free, it’s obviously essential to book next to an empty seat in the first place – but the strategy goes deeper than that. Seats usually fill up in this order: aisle, window, middle. Look for a row in which either the aisle or the window is already booked and select whichever one is free. Don’t choose one in an entirely empty row, because a couple may book the two adjacent seats. No one wants the middle unless it’s the only option left, so if the two outsides are spoken for, your neighbouring seat will likely be avoided until it’s the last resort.
#3 But Not Too Many Empties
A big block of empty seats looks tempting, but resist the urge to book. A field of open spaces is more likely to be selected by families travelling together and other larger groups. Not only does that lower your chances of winding up with an empty next to you, it also ups your odds of being surrounded by noisy passengers.
#4 Coordinate With Companions
If you’re travelling with someone, you can maximise strategy #2 by working as a team. Instead of booking seats next to each other, book the aisle and the window. Your middle seat is immediately less attractive to other passengers. Worst case scenario, if someone takes it and you’d like to sit beside your travelling companion, it’s not hard to talk the stranger into swapping with one of the outer seats.
#5 Exploit Apps
Download your airline’s mobile app if they have one (it’s the 21st century, they probably do). Check the seating chart on the app after you’ve arrived at the airport but before you’ve boarded. If the seat next to you is full, you may be able to switch to a new one via the app. If you’re prevented from changing your seat assignment after check-in, ask an employee at the gate if they can move you. It won’t work 100% of the time, but your odds will be a whole lot better.