How To Pick Flights So You’re Next To An Empty Seat

When it comes to maximising comfort on an Economy flight, having an empty seat next to you makes all the difference. With more routes, better efficiency, decreasing costs and the neverending quest for the ultimate Instagram photo, international travel is as popular as ever which means planes are usually full. Although it’s becoming harder and harder to score a leg with an empty seat next to you, it’s still possible. Here are a few tips to help secure that elusive free seat next to you.

Economy Class Cabin

Research your plane’s seating map

SeatGuru allows you to look at the seating map of your chosen flight – which is helpful for finding and choosing the best seats on the plane either before and after you’ve purchased your ticket.

As well as a useful map showing the best and worst seats, past passengers can comment on seats they’ve flown on which help you make a decision. For example, a seat may be marked red; alerting people that it may be an uncomfortable seat due to its proximity to the toilets or galleys. In some planes, you may also find normal economy seats with extra legroom which you don’t have to pay extra for. These seats are typically behind the exit row seats and can be a welcome reprieve or alternative to getting an empty seat beside you.

Pay for a better product and better seats

If you opt for the cheapest ticket on your route, the plane will be full. If you pick a premium carrier (usually on a better plane) and cough up a few hundred more than the majority, you’re already ahead.

Once booked, if you’re serious about your comfort, paying a small fee to secure the absolute best possible seat you can is a no brainer. Thankfully people are cheap, so the majority aren’t even going to consider paying more, and even if they’re happy to pay, they’re less likely to do so if the aisle and window are already locked down, which leaves you in the best Economy seat in the cabin, with a free one next to you.

Strategically select your seats

If you’re not keen on paying and you’re travelling with someone, the best way to increase the chances of getting an empty seat is by selecting both the window and the aisle seat in your chosen row, leaving the middle seat empty and unappealing. If someone does end up sitting in it, they’ll never argue if you ask to swap so you can sit with your travel partner.

If you’re flying solo and like aisle seats, pick one in the centre of the plane because the two central seats on a 3,4,3 layout are the least appealing and tend to fill last. It also means you’ll only ever have one person asking you to move when they want to use the loo.

A risky option to secure a spare seat next to you is to book the middle seat in your chosen row. While it may cause incredible anxiety, since there’s a chance you’ll get stuck between two people, there’s also a chance of scoring one or two empty seats next to you. This strategy relies on travellers in groups wanting to sit together and can often lead to a seat on either side of you being vacant, which you can move to once the doors are shut.

When it comes to selecting your seats for free, make sure that you get in early, particularly if you’re going on a long haul flight with multiple legs. Cabins naturally tend to fill from front to back, so keep that in mind too.

Choose a quiet time to fly

Travelling during a less busy month or an unpopular timeslot (like Christmas Day) can make a huge difference when it comes to scoring your own row on a plane.

If you’re flying domestic, aim for a mid-week flight outside of peak periods (between 10 am and 3 pm) and consider flying out from a smaller domestic airport instead of the main one.

This can work the same for an international flight, by choosing to fly into a smaller airport if you have the opportunity to do so. While you can’t guarantee a quiet flight, you can at least increase your chances of one by choosing off-peak time slots and quieter, less popular airports.

(And as a side benefit, it’s often cheaper to travel from smaller airports during unpopular time slots. And considering that the average holiday loan from a provider was $1,081 in 2018, cheaper options can always help!)

Just ask!

If all else fails, you can always ask the airline employees if there’s a chance of getting a seat on your own or at least in an exit row. Sure, this may not work, but if you don’t as you don’t get! Remaining friendly and polite goes a long way, and you may be rewarded because of it.

Airports are high-pressure environments with a lot of stressed, overwhelmed travellers. Employees are used to encountering short tempers or unpleasant people, so you might just win them over by being pleasant and cheerful.

Things to keep in mind

Getting an empty seat next to you is not guaranteed, and is greatly influenced by the popularity of the flight and time of travel. 

If the flight is full, then you’ll just have to grin and bear it. But by following the above tips, you can greatly help your chances of at least securing a comfier seat for the duration of your flight.


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