> From the Deal Experts > Finding the Seats with the Most Legroom

Finding the Seats with the Most Legroom

I’m tall. Seventy-five inches to be exact.

I can get that seldom-used casserole dish off the top shelf, rarely do I get lost in a crowd and my sightlines at concerts are outstanding.

Still, when I take to the air -- an activity that has in the past has caused me to wonder, as I sit legs and arms awkwardly contorted, if there’s a new yoga position called the uncomfortable traveler -- my height has proven to be a literal pain. And -- as this ABC News report indicates -- airlines are shrinking legroom even more. In an effort to avoid hours of knee knocking and neck stiffness, I’ve learned that a bit of advanced planning can make my flying experience a far more pleasant one. 

You’re always better off booking early; the sooner you book, the more seats you’ll have to pick from. In some instances -- like with Southwest Airlines or through certain online booking engines -- you may be required to pay an extra fee just to pick a seat (even in coach). Many airlines have started to offer seats with more legroom for an extra cost. (Pricing can vary based on the length of the flight.) In Southwest’s case, seating is based on a first-come, first-serve model. But if you pay extra to board as a business select customer, you’ll get first access to the plane and thus a better shot at a roomier seat. Also, most airlines will offer upgrade options through rewards and frequently-flyer programs.

No one airline consistently has the roomiest seats and plane options are destination dependent. But that doesn’t mean you can’t be informed. Here are a few top resources to consult when picking a seat on your next trip:

  • The plane you book may not be the actual model upon which you fly. Still, I’d recommend a little advanced scouting. SeatGuru’s colorful, informative seating charts evaluate your options based on recline/seat pitch, seat width, leg room and window views. SeatGuru is a must-stop for me before I buy any ticket.
  • While actual leg room measurements are key, so too is seat pitch. As Airlinequality.com puts it, seat pitch is “the distance between a row of seats - the measurement from the same position on two seats, one behind the other. Airlinequality clearly breaks down seat pitch with several thorough charts.

Lastly, it never hurts to come to the gate with a smile and your carry-on item. On a recent cross-country flight, I spoke with the gate agent an hour before my flight about the possible availability of an exit-row seat. The airline I was flying typically sells those seats at a higher price. A few minutes before the flight, however, I was informed those seats had not sold out and I was given a new boarding pass for an exit row.

The extra room allowed me to travel in comfort, and even get some sleep on a flight that included a two-hour, on-tarmac delay.

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Tips by
Brendan

Deal Expert, Chicago
Monday, February 4, 2013
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Brendan Murphy