How to get a row of seats to yourself on a plane, according to experts

Woman sits on a row of seats on a plane. (Getty Images)
Experts have revealed how to get a row of seats on a plane to yourself. (Getty Images)

If there’s one thing that every flyer can agree on, it’s that the more space you have on a plane to yourself, the better.

Admit it – it's a small win when you discover just before take off that no one is claiming the seat next to you, allowing you to relax and spread out more without having to play elbow wars in order to secure the arm rest.

The one thing that could beat this however, is having an entire row to yourself. This is especially handy on long-haul flights when you can use the space to lie down and attempt to get some kip.

Read more: Why cabin crew welcome you on a flight with their hands behind their back

“Known as ‘poor man’s business class’, a row of empty seats will allow you to stretch out,” says Nicky Kelvin, Head of The Points Guy UK.

“On most aircraft, except in emergency exit and bulkhead rows, you can lift the armrests to create a bed of sorts, so you can lie down. Having a whole row to yourself on one side of the plane also means you get the benefits of both window and aisle seats.”

While you may think securing a row of seats all to yourself comes down to luck, there are some tactics you can use to heighten your chances.

row of seats on a plane
Having a free row of seats including a window and an aisle seat gives you the best of both worlds. (Getty Images)

Check seat availability ahead of time

“Many airlines allow you to check seat availability online prior to the flight,” Jessie Moore, travel expert and founder of the luxury travel blog Pocket Wanderings, says.

“This will show you how many seats are empty on the flight and if any rows are completely empty, allowing you to choose a different seat on a row with free seats. Just remember, while a row may be free when you change your seat, there’s no guarantee someone won’t go on to book a seat on the same row later.”

Monitor seat maps

Kelvin recommends using the website to monitor seat maps and set alerts for free seat changes so that you can change your seat choice accordingly.

Read more: How to sleep on a plane, from uncrossing your legs to making a tactical seat choice

“You can also ask at check in if any rows are completely free. It helps to have the seat map info ahead of time so you know what you’re asking for. You are also able to ask the crew on board,” he adds.

Befriend the cabin crew

“It is usually good practice to befriend the crew on a quiet flight and ask for their help,” Kelvin advises.

“You would always need to wait until boarding is complete as you wouldn’t be sure until then whether more passengers are coming. It is of course possible to just up and move (but not on smaller aircraft where passengers are often distributed according to weight) but asking the crew means you won’t encounter any issues.”

aircraft seats
If the flight is busy there will be less chance of securing a row of seats to yourself. (Getty Images)

Moore says to make sure you’re not pushy or forceful when attempting to move to a free row.

“It’s always courteous to politely ask a flight attendant whether you are able to move to an empty row on your flight. The primary concern for flight attendants is the safety of everyone onboard, and there may be safety reasons why rows are empty,” she adds.

“Airline staff have policies and protocols in place for a whole host of situations that may arise – some of which may be based on the official seating arrangements for the flight. Don’t be pushy or forceful, and don’t ever undermine the flight attendants who are there to ensure your safety.”

Consider the row you choose when you select your seat

When travelling on a plane, people often book seats closer to the front in order to board or get off the plane first, so Moore recommends booking a seat towards the back of the plane to increase your chances of securing a free row.

Read more: Flight attendant reveals why there is a 'secret' bedroom on long-haul flights

“Some people have reservations about travelling at the back of a plane, so these rows are often more likely to be free,” she adds.

Remember some planes may be busier than others

“Free seats on a plane are always going to come down to how busy the flight is,” Kelvin explains.

“This will depend on the passengers wishing to travel on a certain route or with a certain airline and the capacity of the flight or flights serving that route. Even on the same route this can fluctuate greatly. A route like London to New York has over 35 direct flights in a day. As a route I fly often myself, I have observed flights that are full to the brim and others that fly half empty.”

Often when boarding a plane the flight attendants or captain will announce whether the flight is full or not, if it’s not full then there will be a higher chance of securing that elusive row of seats to yourself.

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