This is a tricky question, because it depends on what type of plane you’re flying in and for how long.
The first step is to get a seat plan for the aircraft you’ll be on – these are usually available on websites such as seatguru.com, which often give a review or rating for good and bad seats. Then decide whether you prefer an aisle or window seat. Being by the window means you get a good view and can control the window shutter. You can also sometimes lean up against the wall of the plane to get some sleep and are less likely to be bumped by trolleys or people walking past.
But on a long flight, where you’ll probably want to get up and walk around, or access the loo, clambering over another two sleeping passengers could be tricky. Also watch out for ‘windowless seats.’ On many aircraft, there are one or two rows that are missing a window – these seats can be very claustrophobic!
Seats by the emergency exits often have more legroom but it’s likely you’ll have to pay a bit more to prebook these, especially on the budget airlines. Beware that some of these don’t recline either. You can also get more legroom at a ‘bulkhead’ – that’s one of the solid dividers between different sections of the plane. But again, be careful – this is where the ‘bassinets’ are often fixed. These are special cots for infants, so if you definitely don’t want to be next to a crying baby for 12 hours, it’s best to avoid these areas.
Also, as this is the first row in the section, the TV screens are sometimes stored in the armrests, which don’t move upwards. It means the seats can be an inch or so narrower and the arms won’t lift up to allow you to stretch out if no one is in the adjacent seats.
Some people find seats towards the back of the plane are noisier and can be more affected by turbulence. If you get travel sick, try to find a seat over the wings. If you’re at the back, it’s also likely you’ll be served your meal and drinks last and have to wait for all the other passengers to get off the plane. Sometimes seats in the last row have a restricted recline too.
Another area that’s usually best to avoid is around the galleys and toilets, where noise and people queuing to use the loo can be disturbing.
Many of the larger airlines have introduced ‘Premium Economy’ cabins. These seats have more legroom, recline further and you often get extra luxuries like better food, drinks and pillows. On long haul flights, these seats can sometimes be just a couple of hundred pounds more, so it’s worth checking if they’re available.
Finally, if you have a choice of several airlines when booking your flight, check the type of plane you’ll be flying on. Newer aircraft like the Airbus A380 and Boeing 787 are constructed of more plastic-type materials that don’t corrode, unlike older planes that are made of metal. It means they can keep the cabin pressure and humidity higher in these aircraft. On a long flight, that can make a big difference to your overall wellbeing and whether you arrive feeling rested and refreshed or dehydrated with a headache!