It used to be, that if you turned up early at the airport, smiled winningly at the check-in person and presented some preposterous reason why you needed extra leg room in economy, then you stood a good chance of being seated in the exit row seats.
Today however, your excuses can be as original as you like, but the chances are, you will still be asked to hand over your credit card to pay for the privilege.
Many airlines are now charging for the honour of being the person who will help open the plane door in case of any emergency and in some cases, this can be as much as £130. On a long haul flight, and if you are tall, that extra space really does make a big difference though, so we had a look at the charges which some of airlines are making if you want to stretch out a little.
Another way to go about getting a decent seat is by looking at SeatGuru.com which shows over 700 commercial airline seating plans and also provides customer reviews. The site is simple to use - with airlines listed alphabetically - and there are suggestions for ways to identify which type of plane you'll be travelling in.
If for example, you knew you were flying on a British Airways Boeing 747 - 400 (which you can find out easily enough on the British Airways site), it is then very simple to obtain a plan of the plane so you can identify where you would like to sit. In this example screen shot, row 36 looks like one to be avoided - whilst row 29 looks a lot more promising.
SeatGuru.com also offers printer friendly versions of the pages so if you are unsure exactly which type of plane you are flying on, then you could always print out a few options and take them to check-in with you.
Emergency exit seats
In economy class, often the only way to get free extra leg-room is by taking the emergency exit seats. It is worth noting however that not everyone is entitled to sit in these sits. You have to be physically capable of operating the doors in the event of an emergency and as such, the check-in staff need to see you in person in order to assign these seats so online check-in is out.
These are the seats that are behind the partitions that divide the classes on a large airliner and can often be a good bet for extra leg room. Unfortunately, they are also a good bet for people travelling with babies and infants so if you are not prepared to risk a lot of screaming and crying - and that could well be just you after a few hours of noise - then these seats should be avoided.
Some airlines do not assign specific seats but instead board the plane by group - those people who checked in first would normally be in the first group. By paying a small supplement however, it is possible to make use of the “speedy boarding” process but even then, your chance of securing a seat with extra leg-room remains something of a lottery.
Generally speaking, on modern jet-engine aircraft, the noisiest place to be is at the back of the plane. If you are sensitive to noise, then sit as far forward as possible. Incidentally, this rule is the opposite for propeller-driven aircraft.
The best place to sit to avoid those unpleasant - and sometimes nerve-wracking - bumps is just behind the leading edge of the wings. A plane moves around its centre of gravity so try and sit as close to the middle as you can manage.
Individual plane layouts
Airlines will customise the interior of their planes to fit their own requirements so the inside of a British Airways Boeing 747 will not have the same seating plan as a Virgin Atlantic 747. It is worth studying seating plans since you can find real leg-room treasures: for example on a British Airways 747-400, economy seats A and K in row 29 often have no seat in front of them to accommodate an emergency exit chute (see diagram above).
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