Which long-haul economy seat should you choose when flying solo?

Where do I sit? It’s often a question that plagues the average traveller, especially when flying in economy. Should I get the window? Aisle? Should I go on the side or in the middle? Should I spend the extra money on choosing a seat (as is often the way, especially with a budget airlines)?

The answers to all these questions depends on a lot of factors: if it is a red eye flight, for one, it would be assumed everyone is sleeping; If you’re a traveller who needs to get up a lot, no matter whether it’s day or night, this will determine the seat you need; Likewise, if you never get up, this will also help choose the seat; Are you travelling by yourself?; Are you a nervous traveller?; Do you get sick on planes easily?

So for the purposes of this article, we’re only going to assume one thing: you’re flying solo, on a long-haul flight. Your plane is likely going to be a wide-body plane, with three sections running across – two or three seats on the left, three to five seats in the middle, and two or three seats on the right. If it’s not a wide body flight, and only has one aisle with three seats either side, get a window seat if you want to be undisturbed (and are OK with the possibility that getting out of your seat might be difficult), and get an aisle seat if you don’t mind being disturbed by your neighbours and/or need easy access to the aisle and bathrooms yourself.

So that’s pretty simple. But it gets a bit more complicated on the wide body planes. Let’s take a look at this seat map from a United 777-200. The best seats on this plane, for the average traveller, in Economy Plus are D or G between rows 22 and 25, and in Economy, either D or G between 37 and 40.

The first reason for this is that you want to be a couple of rows back from the bulkhead of your cabin – that is usually where they put the babies. It’s also an area of constant movement. It may be where flight attendants move between classes with trolleys, it may also be an area situated next to a bathroom. This can make any extra legroom a bit redundant. You also don’t want to be too close to the back of the section for similar reasons – most notably the bathrooms flushing, the people moving. And sitting too close to the tail will also increase the effects of turbulence. You generally want to try and sit between rows 10 and 30, which is on the wings and where you’ll experience the least amount of turbulence, if you can afford the extra cost (not all airlines put a surcharge on the economy seats in this region, but it is becoming more popular).

And why aisle middle? If you’re travelling by yourself, chances are you’re going to be sitting next to two people who know each other – so not only do you have aisle access, but you won’t have anyone jumping over you. And even if you do have three people who don’t know each other sitting together in a row (which is quite rare), you’ve still got a 50/50 chance your neighbour will choose the other person over you.

If you get stuck on the side aisle, you’re always going to be getting up for people – and if you’re in the window you’re always going to need to move people to get out. But at least you’ll have a wall to lean on, which for some is more important than anything else I’ve mentioned here.

The only exception to this is if you’re on a plane that has a 2-5-2 layout, which means just about any seat is a roll of the dice. You may be better off getting an aisle on the side here, because at least you only have one person jumping over you in that instance. Always ask too, when you’re at the counter how full the plane is – they may be able to move you to a seat that has an empty one next to it, at least at the time of check in, which as any traveller knows, can be a dream scenario.

Ultimately you will know the seat that is best for you, but by following those simple rules, you’re likely to have the best possible long-haul flight. But as we all know, all it takes is a inconsiderate neighbour and a few crying children from ruining even your best laid plans. If that happens, you can always try and request to move! You might end up in the middle, but at least you’ll have some peace and quiet.