What’s the Best Seat on an Airplane?

This weekend, I flew to Indianapolis for a business meeting on AirTran. In March, I flew to New York on JetBlue. In January, it was Chicago on American. Each time, I sat in the same seat – right-hand aisle, five rows from the back.

I think that’s the best seat on a commercial jetliner, and I’ll explain why in a moment. But apparently, I’m wrong.

The British travel website Skyscanner polled more than 1,000 airline passengers about their seat preferences. The results were released last week: “The most sought after seat on a standard aircraft is seat 6A. This survey supports previous studies which have found that the front six rows of the plane are the most popular, taking 45 percent of the votes.”

The worst seat? It’s near my best seat: “The survey found that the seat no one wanted was 31E, a middle seat towards the back of the aircraft.”

Here’s why I choose the fifth-from-the-back right-aisle seat…

  • As I get older, I make a lot of trips to the bathroom. I don’t like stumbling over my neighbor’s knees twice a flight.
  • On longer flights, especially when turbulence keeps passengers from getting up for long stretches, there’s a long line for the bathroom. I’m in the perfect position to see that coming and jump up before the rush. But…
  • …I’m not so close to the bathroom that I have people waiting right in front of me, grabbing the back of my seat to balance themselves.
  • The right-side aisle means more room for me. Why? Because according to Scientific American, only 15 percent of people are left-handed. So my neighbor will usually eat, drink, and write with his right hand. He’ll even lean to his right during the flight. That means I can snag the armrest to my right.
  • On larger planes with three seats across, I often have the middle seat all to myself. Like Skyscanner says, most passengers prefer the front of the plane. So if they have to book middle seats, they do it up front first.
  • If I’m near the back, doesn’t that mean all the overhead bins fill up? That’s only happened to me once this year, and the flight attendant took my carry-on and told me to fetch it when I “de-planed.” (I love that word.) The bag was waiting for me, because…
  • …the only drawback to my scheme is that I “de-plane” last. But I’ve timed it before, and while it seems to take forever to get off an airplane, the difference between the first row “de-planing” and my row averages only 7 to 9 minutes.

My logic doesn’t sway Sam Baldwin. He’s Skyscanner’s travel editor…

“Anecdotally, some passengers seem to opt for the middle section near the wings where they are less likely to feel turbulence, while others want to be near the front for ease of getting off the plane, less engine noise, or even to get a better choice of food available. The window seems a popular choice for those looking to sleep, especially for long haul flights, while those who take more trips to the toilet prefer the aisle so as not to disturb fellow passengers. The aisle is also popular for tall passengers looking to stretch their legs. Frequent fliers have also reported that the left-hand side of the plane is best as the windows are off center, allowing for wall space to lean on.”

Not to be outdone, U.S. travel site Tripadvisor released its own passenger polling data one day after the Skyscanner survey. While much more comprehensive – revealing little-known facts like, “Of the 20 percent of fliers who order an alcoholic drink on-board, 42 percent favor wine” – there were some intriguing seat-related questions. My favorite: 76 percent of travelers prefer to keep to themselves while in flight.

“Not even a presidential candidate could get some fliers to come out of their shell,” Tripadvisor reported. “33 percent would not choose to sit next to Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, or Newt Gingrich, if given the opportunity.”

And that’s the final advantage to my seating scheme. In a rear-engine jetliner, the noise makes conversation too difficult in the back of the plane, and even in a larger plane with engines under the wings, there’s still a lot of engine noise. While some folks despise engine noise, I consider it an amenity. Not only does it discourage my neighbor from talking to me, it drowns out crying babies and inane conversation from all around me – which lets me sleep in peace, with the white noise of the jet engines helping me nod off.

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