Where's the best place to sit on a plane?

Richard Mellor

There is no right answer, boringly. It all depends on whether you prioritise sleep, safety, mobility or a means of swift escape

For getting a good sleep

If shut-eye is your priority, book a window seat.  These have the advantage for two reasons: firstly there’s often an iota more room between the seat and the side of the plane, creating a chance to lean your head.

Second, you won’t be disturbed when a neighbour needs a middle-of-the-night pee, or inadvertently nudged awake by an air steward or passenger passing down the aisle.


Pick your side

If you naturally sleep on one side at home, then book a window seat on that side of the plane. 

Our guide to napping on long-haul planes has lots of other tips.

plane seat choose


For making a quick exit

Perhaps you’ve got a meeting to make, or there’s only one train left tonight. Either way, getting off the flight first can save you 30 minutes once other passengers’ dawdling, customs queues and terminal buses or trains are factored in.

While some planes have rear exits, this can’t be relied upon. So sit as near to the front as possible, in an aisle seat, and make your sure your carry-on luggage stays in the compartment above.


To help your body

Other benefits of aisle seats including the freedom to move if you can’t sleep, the chance to walk about and therefore increase body circulation, and ready access to the lavatories.


To get extra legroom

Some economy seats afford additional legroom: the bulkhead seats located behind partitions, and, often, exit row seats in front of an emergency exit.

These have their downsides, chiefly that passengers cannot usually stow any luggage in front of you as with other seats; everything has to go in the overhead compartments. They don’t always recline, either: check the website SeatGuru for details of your particular plane.

plane seat sit


For creature comforts

Seats close to a loo—again, use SeatGuru—will suffer from heavy, noisy footfall, and are prone to ponginess. Sensitive sleepers are also better off sitting up front, what with noisy engines commonly situated below wings or towards the tail.

Exit-row seats and those near exit rows are sometimes chilly, as cold air seeps in.


For some alone time

Everyone loves having an empty seat next to them; better yet, an entire row to yourself. Know that planes are generally booked front-to-back so, if you’re choosing a seat, ones at the rear have the best chance of privacy.

Equally, if you move to the window seat in a rear row of three where the aisle is already taken, the remaining space in the middle will only be sold if the plane is very full—as middle seats are regarded as the least desirable option.


To changing seats

Technically, you’re not allowed to change seats before a plane takes off, so stewards can know for certain which passengers are on board. Nevertheless, plenty of people do so.

Listen out for the stewards’ intercom announcement that “boarding is complete”—that’s when you know for sure that a seat or row is free.

plane flying pink sky


If you're nervous

Fearful fliers are best off in seats between a plane’s wings; these enjoy the most stability and thus the least turbulence.

Our list of 11 ways to overcome your fear of flying should also come in handy.


For the safest seats

While there is no unanimous answer, the most popular conclusion of plane-crash studies is that passengers in rear seats—particularly those in the middle of an aisle—have an increased chance of survival.

Still, do bear in mind that, if we’re talking chances, you’d have to be incredibly unlucky in the first place. Humans’ lifetime odds of dying in a plane crash are 1 in 8,000, or 0.0125 per cent.

Keep up with the top stories from Reader's Digest by subscribing to our weekly newsletter