In a column for the Washington Post, Christopher Elliott of Elliott Advocacy described every crappy seat you might encounter on a flight—there’s the bulkhead row seat that won’t recline, for instance. Or the seat with the entertainment console that doesn’t work, despite all your button-pushing efforts. Of course, middle seats are all terrible, but what about the middle seat situated near the lavatory? All of this brings us to an important question: What is the worst possible seat on a flight?
Well, as Elliott writes, given the sheer variety of aircraft that exist, it’s hard to name any seat as the single worst. It’s also subjective; perhaps you don’t mind sitting in the middle, for example. (If that’s the case, you may also be a monster.) Still, with several, terrible options, it’s important you choose wisely and strategise. Below, advice on how to avoid booking the crappiest seat on a flight, which may involve a little bit of research and simply checking in early.
Don’t book basic economy
As Elliott writes, if you can manage it, the easiest way to avoid a particularly shitty seat is not to opt for the cheapest ticket—which is code for basic economy on flights. Generally, when you opt for basic economy, airlines will stick you in any seat that’s available and unclaimed by other passengers, which may mean you getting saddled with a middle seat. Depending on the airline, you’re also forbidden to purchase any kind of upgrade or change seats, as is the case with American, United, and Delta.
Of course, in certain instances, sticking it out in basic economy may work in your favour, as we’ve experienced before. But if you choose to book a standard economy seat over basic economy, you do have the ability to change seats, at the very least. This option isn’t for everyone, particularly if you’re seeking the best possible deal, so we’ll address other options shortly.
Research your aircraft
You might think you’ve booked a window seat—but when you board your flight, reality comes crashing down as soon as you realise there’s no actual window next to your seat. (It’s a real thing that happens on certain plane configurations.) The truth is, using an airline’s provided seat map, it’s often difficult to distinguish one seat from another; they all look the same, after all, so a seat right next to the lavatory may not seem all that disastrous.
Here’s why SeatGuru comes in handy: The site provides colour-coded seat maps for all major airlines and planes with comments that specifically point out good or otherwise terrible seats. Once you’ve booked your itinerary, use SeatGuru to search for your airline and plane to ensure your seat isn’t the worst possible option. You can also use SeatGuru’s seat width comparison charts to find aircraft with the roomiest seats, in case you’d like to avoid a particularly cramped flight. (You might still end up with a crappy seat, but at least you’ll have extra room to make the experience less agonising.)
Smarter Travel has another useful tip. If you’re deciding between two flights where the price is similar, use SeatGuru to look up each respective aircraft to help make a decision. You might find, for instance, that booking a plane with a 2-4-2 configuration versus a 3-4-3 might, at least, lessen the odds you’ll be stuck in a middle seat.
Check in early and check the seat map
When the 24-hour check-in window opens, be sure to get to it ASAP. Why? Well, around this time, seats generally open up as business and first-class passengers receive upgrades. This means you might be able to steal a better seat the earlier you check in.
And as we’ve written before, download your airline’s app right now, too. On the day your flight departs, available seats on your flight will begin to shift around and choosing a new seat on the app is the easiest way to snag one. If you’re willing to put in the time and effort, simply obsessively checking your seat before your flight departs could easily land you a better seat.