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FlyerTalk 101

How to Maximize Your Chances of Sitting Next to an Empty Seat

How to Maximize Your Chances of Sitting Next to an Empty Seat

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Let’s talk about being unfriendly while enjoying the friendly skies. An empty seat can often be the best neighbor on an airplane. The fact that you’re hoping to avoid being stuck with a seat neighbor during a flight doesn’t make you an unfriendly person. Finding out that you will have a row to yourself on a flight is simply a perk that provides privacy, high nap potential, room to spread out and the ability to avoid chitchat. These are all things that busy, tired travelers deserve if they can get them!

The reality is that the likelihood that you’ll actually find yourself next to an empty seat on most popular to semi-popular routes is low. That doesn’t mean that you can’t use a few small tricks to try to increase your odds of going it alone while flying the friendly skies. Take a look at three tips for increasing your odds of sitting next to an empty seat on your next flight.

Keep Your Eyes on the Back of the Plane

Keeping your eyes on the prize means looking toward the back of the plane in many cases. There’s actually an interesting reason behind why the back of the plane is the best spot for getting some “alone” time. Most passengers choose seats toward the front of the plane when selecting seat assignments. What’s more, those front-choosing passengers tend to book window or aisle seats. It all works out so that middle seats located in the back of the plane are chosen last. That means you’ll want to select a seat as far back as possible. Some Flyertalk members, however, feel it’s not worth it to sit in the back of the plane as seats in the back are near the bathroom, and other passengers often congregate in the back, especially during long flights.

Be Strategic When Flying as Part of a Pair

Are you flying with another person? It’s possible to strategize your way into having your own part of the row. Again, you’re going to want to focus on the back portion of the plane. It’s important to mention here that most people actually prefer aisle seats over window seats when given the choice. That’s probably because more people would rather have easy access to the bathroom instead of great views. Of course, the one seat that nobody wants is the middle seat. This is where the strategizing comes into play.
Anyone traveling as part of a party of two should select the aisle and window seats instead of two seats that are adjacent. There’s really no way to lose when you do this because you can easily just offer to switch seats if a third person does sit in the middle seat. However, this strategy allows you to use the universal dislike for the middle seat to increase the odds of someone skipping over your row when selecting a seat, though, you may miff some travelers if you and your travel partner select an aisle and window seat.

Download Your Airline’s App

Selecting your seat may not be enough because others could be selecting their seats right through the check-in process. You can often keep track of how your plane is filling up on a real-time basis using your airline’s app. Waiting to select your seat until the last minute could benefit you. Some airlines really will let you change your seat right up until boarding if you ask. Delta, American, Alaska, Hawaiian and Frontier have apps that allow you to select your seat online, change your seat or see if you’re eligible for an upgrade on the fly. The bottom line is that you should ask a gate agent if there’s a way to change your seat if it looks like you’re going to get stuck between two other passengers.

Being Seat Smart

Getting all or part of a row to yourself is all about knowing how a plane fills up. It’s important to always remember that planes fill up from the front on almost every flight. Of course, there’s simply no way to avoid getting a seat neighbor if you’re flying on a popular route that’s booked to capacity.

View Comments (12)

12 Comments

  1. JTCz

    February 10, 2020 at 5:26 pm

    Be very nice to gate agents and ask them to look up seats for you (e.g. is 28B free?), if you do that standing strategically vs the gate, you may be able to simply glance on the screen – or, if the gate agent has a modicum of understanding and helpfulness, they’d simply show the screen to you to allow you to find the best seat (or at least say “row 29 is all free”).

    There are two good moments to ask for it:

    * Before boarding begins, but they are all set up with their equipment, labels, stickers, printout forms etc.
    * When boarding is almost finished, but they are waiting for passengers they know will show up (e.g. transfers) – you can figure that out by standing close to the gate and listening to their conversations

    If all else fails – being the last to board means that right after you do, the purser will receive the seat map printed out from the gate agent. You can simply again ask “is 28B free?” (remember, they will probably NOT know before they get the paper) or, again, if you happen upon an understanding crew, they’ll just show the map to you and direct you to a reasonably preferable seat.

  2. Gig103

    February 10, 2020 at 10:33 pm

    I stopped reading when I saw “back of the plane”. In the current climate of basic economy, the middle sears are filled from back to front. Amateur hour!

  3. Dr.Ells

    February 11, 2020 at 12:01 am

    United’s app does everything listed above, probably better than some of the other airlines’ applications.

  4. fotographer

    February 11, 2020 at 4:48 am

    sorry, but planes are pretty full these days…

  5. Orange County Commuter

    February 11, 2020 at 5:17 am

    Well, we have a winner in the useless content category.

    Have any of you actually been on a plane lately? Exactly how many of these empty rows have you seen? The airlines are getting much better at yield management and planes are full

    Waiting to book your seat at the last minute and then racing to the agent to see if you can get out of the middle seat you just stuck yourself with? Yeah, that’s smart LOL! The bottom line is if you follow this advice and get stuck with a middle seat that’s what you get for following this bizarre advice.

  6. Bowgie

    February 11, 2020 at 7:53 pm

    The advice for a couple to book isle and window is about as good as the advice to wear a coat and tie in hopes of scoring a free upgrade. The crying child or the drunk get the middle seat between amateurs who do this.

  7. katycab

    February 12, 2020 at 4:49 am

    I honestly wondered if this article was written ten years ago!!! Evey United flight will show the entire back half of the plane completely booked a week out. The only chance of an empty middle is at the back of the economy plus seats, and except for early morning or late night it is likely that every seat will be full.

  8. walkup

    February 12, 2020 at 5:24 am

    It used to be the case with long haul 3/4/3 layout that if reserving a central aisle seat D or G there was a better chance of having an empty seat next to one than if taking C or H, but once the pricing software improved to maximise loading, I eventually gave up hoping for that empty space and moved on to Premium Economy once it was introduced. Never went back to Economy and as for the special hell of sitting at the back of the plane…..

  9. NotSoFrequentColorado

    February 12, 2020 at 1:44 pm

    Empty seats may be rare these days but I have actually gotten them several times in the last few years, without having to talk to gate agents or pursers. Flying solo helps.

  10. aethelwulf

    February 13, 2020 at 4:59 am

    Empty seats, hahahaha.

  11. hyho61

    February 18, 2020 at 6:42 am

    This idea is good, but generally only works in long haul flights, 3-3-3 configuration, The middle 3 is the best. I have flown several times and deliberately booked an aisle seat in the middle 3, if the other aisle is also booked and in the back rows. This is for routes where there is no basic economy and it works reasonably well. On domestic flights only the early morning and late night flights have many empty seats.

  12. spamkiller

    February 23, 2020 at 8:21 pm

    Cough a few times and mention how cold Beijing is now.

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