Online check in for flights: Which seat should you choose?

David Whitley March 27, 2013 1

Which are the best seats to choose on a plane if you don’t want anyone sitting next to you? And should you check in online as soon as the service is available?

In these days of e-tickets and self-printable boarding passes, telling people to check in online in order to save time at the airport or get the best seats hardly constitutes a brilliant piece of advice. Nevertheless, if you’re one of the eight people in the known universe that hasn’t twigged this yet, it’s often worth your while to check in online.

How far in advance you can check in depends on the airline (and often whether you’re a frequent flier). But the sooner you can do it, the better. Usually.

I say usually, as this only applies to the very best seats (such as the emergency exit rows if the airline doesn’t charge extra for these).

Once these seats have gone, getting first pick can often be something of a disadvantage – especially if the flight is not full (or nearly full). That’s because when all the available seats are much of a muchness in terms of space – the extra legroom seats have already been reserved – the deciding factor can be who is next to you.

The best passenger to have in the seat next to you, of course, is the invisible man. And the likelihood of getting no-one next to you is increased if you let others select seats first.

Sound odd? Well, not quite. I’m working on the logic that the least likely seats to be filled are middle seats that already have people on both sides of them. I know that’s where I’d least like to sit, and I assume most other people have the same view.


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Therefore, the empty row of three seats is not the prime pick. If you pick the aisle seat in that row, that leaves two seats available next to you – a prime target for a couple. What I look out for is the block of three where the window seat is already taken, but the middle and aisle seat are free. It’s that aisle seat I want – and the moment I’ve got it, the seat next to me is instantly one of the least appealing on the plane. My chances of not getting anyone next to me are pretty good.

There are some tweaks to these tactics too. Generally, I want to be as close to the front of the plane as possible on the left-hand side. This means I’ll get off quicker, and will get a head start in the immigration queue.

Otherwise, the opposite tactics are worth trying. The absolute worst seats on the plane are the middle seats in the middle aisle at the back. The closest to a guarantee you can get of not having anyone next to you is nabbing the aisle seat in a block of four at the back of the plane, when two of the four seats on the other side are already allocated.

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