How to Get a Better Seat
Published: May 2009
Mark Orwoll, seasoned traveler and Travel + Leisure's Managing Editor, is here to help you with your travel questions. To ask a question, send an email to AskMark@amexpub.com
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Q. After having been stuck once again in one of the last rows on an airplane, I wonder is there anything I can do to get better seats. I have tried booking early, booking late, paying discount prices, full prices, whatever. Invariably, I get stuck somewhere in the back. I am a frequent but reluctant flyer and find it so much more "bumpy" in the back, than towards business class. Help?
A. You're suffering from the "seat-less blues," a temporary but annoying condition caused by airlines, who increasingly refuse to confirm seat assignments until the last minute. The exceptions to that trend are high-mile frequent flyers and full-fare passengers, who are given seat assignments when they book their tickets because they spend more money with the airline.
It used to be that seats were assigned on a first-come first-served basis; nowadays, if you buy a discount airfare, you are very likely going to be denied a seat assignment until you arrive at the airport. I have found in my own experience that getting to the airport early—at least 90 minutes before domestic departures, by which time unassigned seats are released—is the best way to ensure a decent seat. There are also some very good travel agents who know how to work the system to their clients' advantage, so if seating is especially important to you, interview an agent or two to ask them specifically about this question and how they deal with it to help their clients.