In a row of three airplane seats, the middle one is the least popular, especially if you’re travelling solo. Most of us would rather not be squished between two people.
Yet, some travellers deliberately book the middle seat. They are gambling that by doing so, people will avoid that row, and they will have it all to themselves.
There are other strategies floating around for keeping fellow passengers away from you. This is a popular one: if there are two of you, book the aisle and window seats in the same row. That open middle seat will be undesirable. You might end up with just the two of you in the row.
Or, if you are flying solo, look for a row where someone has already booked the window or aisle seat, and the middle seat is empty. Book a window or aisle for yourself.
A friend who is a frequent air traveller, who waits for his flights in lounges reserved for an airline’s best customers, scoffs at these strategies. “They don’t work,” he says. Airlines labour mightily to fill their planes. People who book middle seats will almost certainly have someone else in their row. Just book the seat that you want, he says. For him, it’s on the aisle at the front of the plane. He gets a little more elbow room, and he gets off the plane a little faster.
These days, booking a specific seat in advance inevitably means paying an extra fee if you’re travelling economy, maybe around $20-$25 for a standard economy seat on a domestic cross-country flight, and around $60-$65 for an economy seat with extra legroom.
If you don’t pay the fee, you’ll be assigned whatever is left when you check in, though on some airlines you can log in online 24 hours before departure and pick a seat without paying a fee.
Websites such as seatguru.com offer detailed advice on seat selection, with annotated seat maps for popular models of planes.
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Airline seat maker Thompson Aero is promoting a design that aims to make the economy experience more pleasant, without taking up more space.
The seats are staggered, instead of in a straight line. That way, everyone has a bit more privacy. The seat bottoms slide up when no one is in them, providing more room to get to and from a seat.
In a retrofit, how this might affect the positioning of the overhead lights and vents is unclear.
There’s no indication on the Thompson Aero website that any airline has adopted the setup.
An article at skift.com suggests that Cozy Suite makes the middle seat the most desirable one in the row.
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WestJet has announced a new premium economy fare called Plus that offers more legroom. On its 737s, the middle seat in a three-seat row won’t be sold. On its new 767s, the seats will be wider. You also get to check in up to two bags without extra fee, food, first in line for boarding so you get first crack at the overhead bins, and more flexibility if you need to switch to another flight.
When I checked this week, I found Victoria-Toronto one-way economy fares for about $325 and economy Plus for about $605.
It might be worth it for people who despise being cramped, but are loath to spring for a business class seat. Such a seat on Air Canada, Vancouver-Toronto, is often around $2,000.
More details about the WestJet economy Plus fare are on the airline’s website.
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