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Strategies for optimizing who you get stuck sitting next to?

Strategies for optimizing who you get stuck sitting next to?

Old Mar 7, 18, 7:23 pm
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Strategies for optimizing who you get stuck sitting next to?

I feel like I'm a pretty seasoned WN flyer with close to 100 yearly flights each year since 2011. I know others have me beat by a long shot, but I know most tricks in the book now. But I still can't figure out why more often than not someone who encroaches on my 17 inches of seat-width space decides to sit next to me and not next to someone else. I'm pretty slim overall but have broad shoulders so my arms usually get squeezed in and it's very uncomfortable. Does anyone employ any strategies concerning seat selection to prevent this?

I suppose I could wait past my turn to board and sit next to someone who is already seated instead of being the first in my row and leaving it to chance. But then I run the chance of not having overhead bin space near where I sit. My usual strategy is to sit window in row 4 or 5, since that's the first row under the wider overhead bins but still close to the front of course. I always seem to get stuck with the last person onto the plane who has nowhere else to sit. Should I go back to row 9 or 10? I don't like aisle seats because again I get bumped into as people walk up and down the aisle. Just wondering if anyone else has thought of this. Early boarding positions are great and all, but you still don't get to decide who sits next to you if you're the first one on the plane.

This is all for solo travel btw. Call me crazy, but when I travel with the Mrs. I prefer to take the middle.
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Old Mar 7, 18, 7:50 pm
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Go for row 7 to 9 and one where someone is already sitting in the aisle seat. E.g. you want to sit in a row where only the middle seat will be left. Rows 1 to 6 tend to always totally fill up including the middle unless it is a very lightly loaded flight. If you keep using your current strategy, you will continue to be prime pickings for seatmates you would prefer not to have.

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Old Mar 7, 18, 8:36 pm
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If you are on a full flight, someone is going to be in every seat. (That's what "sold out" means.) So, are you trying to increase the likelihood of the seat being empty on a non sold-out flight?

Assuming there is at least ONE seat unsold, you're probably talking about a middle seat being open. I personally do not wish to sit next to an ugly, smelly, loud jerk. As long as I have a choice, the more obnoxious you appear to me, the less likely I am to choose to sit beside you. YMMV

The typical dynamic of boarding is that the aisles and windows get taken generally from front to back. The crowd moves toward the back, looking for the empty aisle or window. At some point they are all taken, but by this time there are too many people in the aisle, so you just take what you can get wherever you happen to be when the last "good seat" is lapped up . That means the empty middles get taken sort of from back to front, with the last being somewhere near the exit row. So, if you want to increase your chance of sitting next to an empty middle, sit a couple rows ahead or behind the exit. If you're not willing to sit that far back, too bad. You don't always get what you want in life.

Now, if your question is "how do I get to pick which stranger takes the seat next to me?", it's a different story for a different post.

Last edited by Allan38103; Mar 7, 18 at 10:33 pm
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Old Mar 7, 18, 8:41 pm
Join Date: Jan 2014
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If I know it is not a full flight, I look for the least desirable person in the window seat. I then take the aisle. Old lady coughing with a mask on? Count me in! Obese person in window? Count me in!

I employ the opposite strategy on a full flight if I know I will have someone in the middle. I don't need a fat person squishing them over into my area.

Also, if you can find a COS, you have hit the jackpot. No one can take that middle seat.
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Old Mar 7, 18, 9:07 pm
Join Date: Jun 2015
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Try taking the middle seat in your favorite row. Make yourself as big and obnoxious as possible. Hack a few times. Once the door is closed and everyone is on, slide over to the window.
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Old Mar 7, 18, 9:11 pm
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Aisle seat with open middle is the most coveted seat for me. My strategy for this is to take the aisle 1-3 rows behind the exit rows then lean into the center to make the space look as cramped as possible.

By time you get to the end of the C group, you generally have two batches of folks. Those that will take the first available middle seat in the font third of the cabin to get off quicker...then those that will keep hunting for a better seat and continue to the back third as they lower their expectations leaving the middle third of the cabin where most of the empty middle seats wind up.

I never take the exit rows. I always wind up with the biggest dude in the C group plunking down right there in the middle seat.

Not a fool proof plan and FAs always look at me like I am crazy for passing up a wide open exit row but more times then not I wind up with an open middle on mostly full flights.
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Old Mar 7, 18, 9:46 pm
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One of my biggest pet peeves is when a flight is lightly booked (where noone should be occupying middle seats unless they're with a group) and a person insists on sitting in the middle of my carefully chosen row just before the exit row. Apparently that's often when people just 'give up' and sit down, despite passing up several middles before me and seeing many, many open aisles and windows behind me.

I'm always at a loss when this happens, and usually end up moving a few rows back, explaining pointedly that there is no need for strangers to sit three wide on a lightly booked flight. I try to be nice about it, but I'm sure my irritation is sometimes evident.

Anyway, for the OP, I honestly think A-61 (A-List) boarding gives you the best of all worlds if you weren't expecting to get exit row anyhow. You're the one that gets to choose your seat mates, instead of the other way around. If I flew alone more frequently that would be my semi-permanent plan - it also works particularly well for someone who likes to stay in a lounge right up until boarding.

PAX62 perfectly describes how we handle it when we fly together - I aim for the aisle right behind the exit row, my largish SO comes a bit later and I switch to the window. We have a reasonable level of success getting the row to ourselves. That said, I ask the FA how many they're expecting, and proactively offer the window to smaller people on sold out flights.
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Old Mar 7, 18, 10:09 pm
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Wife and I always travel together. usually a high a or mid B position.

I walk down aisle and look for a slim person and pick that row. If we board near the top, we hope for LUV seats or exit row, otherwise, it is better to PICK your seatmate vs. somebody deciding to sit with you.
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Old Mar 7, 18, 10:14 pm
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I always sit in the back because unless the flight is 100% full, I have a 90% chance of having at least an open middle.
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Old Mar 8, 18, 2:06 am
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Agree with sitting in the aisle or window in the middle third of the plane (but not an exit row) strategy, especially if there's only a handful of open seats on the flight. First few rows will almost always fill up with passengers who want to get off the plane ASAP. Then as PAX62 mentioned, I also find that the last middle seats tend to fill in from the front and from the back, leaving the last few open middle seats. On a 737-700, I find rows 9-11 or 13-15 good for this.
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Old Mar 8, 18, 7:28 am
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I'm a bigger guy (not 2 seats big, I can comfortably fit in one seat with armrests down, no extender needed), but when traveling solo, I do the puffer fish. I prefer aisle seats, so I take my seat, put armrests up, manspread a bit and look bigger than I really am. As long as it's not a completely full flight, it almost always results in an empty middle.
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Old Mar 8, 18, 7:48 am
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Originally Posted by t325 View Post
I take my seat, put armrests up, manspread a bit and look bigger than I really am.
Who could reasonably object?

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Old Mar 8, 18, 8:33 am
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Great tips everyone, thanks. I mostly travel on sold out flights so I know I'm going to have someone next to me, it's just a matter of who/how wide they are. I'll put some of these ideas into practice next week.
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Old Mar 8, 18, 9:40 am
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Originally Posted by Marko123 View Post
Great tips everyone, thanks. I mostly travel on sold out flights so I know I'm going to have someone next to me, it's just a matter of who/how wide they are. I'll put some of these ideas into practice next week.
If I know the plane is going to be full, I do not board until, as someone says, around A60+.

That seems to me the sweet spot where there is still adequate bin space and a decent number of people already seated. I then look for a little Asian lady or child in a middle next to the traveling companion. Or on the aisle, and he/she would rather scoot to the middle than let you be there.

A61 gets you after family boarding. More kids to look for.

And the reason the seats behind the exit row fill last is that people keep going toward the back looking for aisle/middle, then when thwarted turn around and grab whatever middle they next see.

Really, why kill yourself with gaming all this out or pay EBCI when all your plans get killed when a huge guy has nowhere to sit except by you?
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Last edited by toomanybooks; Mar 8, 18 at 9:50 am
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Old Mar 8, 18, 9:45 am
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Traveling with someone you know? It's easy. You don't even have to board together. First person just walks down the aisle until finding two suitable seats together. Sit down in one and save the second for the partner. (Yes, it's not prohibited to do this.)

NOT traveling with someone? Then pick a stranger in the boarding area who you'd like to sit with, and strike up a conversation. (Works better if that passenger is going to sit in a middle seat anyway.) When time for boarding, say, "I need to board now. Let's continue this conversation on board. I'll save you a seat." Or, "look for me when you get on" Or maybe sweetening the offer with a drink coupon or saving some extra overhead space. Whatever works.

The time to choose your seat partner is BEFORE you get on the plane.
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Last edited by Allan38103; Mar 8, 18 at 12:51 pm
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