7 ways to get the best coach seat on planeOh, the dreaded middle seat. You aren’t the only one that hates getting stuck between two strangers. When checking in for my flights, I use a few trusted tricks to give myself the best possible coach seat. Since I’ve never divulged these tricks in a single post, here’s how you can get a mini upgrade. Just don’t use them on a flight that I’m on!

1. Get elite status
Acquiring elite status is the easiest way to secure the best possible coach seat(s). That’s because most airlines allow their frequent fliers to sit in the highly sought-after rows for free. Attaining elite status is not that difficult, especially for business travelers. Usually you just need to fly 25,000 actual air miles in a calendar year on one particular airline or its partners.

Tip: To maximize elite status stick to one airline and its partners. And be sure not to throw out your boarding passes until the miles have posted.

2. Keep checking
If you book a ticket last-minute (like I usually do)—even if you’re a frequent flyer—chances are that the golden seats will be gone already. But don’t fret because the good seats will still open up. I can almost guarantee it. The trick is just to keep checking your reservation and seat chart every hour or so because the best seats are usually being reserved by frequent flyers. In most cases, one or some of them will either be upgraded to business class or or cancel, and the seats will open up.

I usually begin checking a few days before departure and continue until I get the seat I want. For example, I was able to get an exit row window seat a few days before my flight—but I prefer an aisle. I know beggars can’t be choosers, but I know how this works. So instead of checking-in 24 hours in advance, I waited until just a few hours before. On many airlines once you check-in you can’t change your seat until you get to the airport, and I had a feeling that on this flight the aisle might open up. And you know what? It did. How do you like them apples?!

3. Set a seat alert
If you don’t have time to keep checking your reservation, then set a seat alert with ExpertFlyer.com. They don’t charge for a single seat alert, but if you want to set more at once, you can buy more seat alerts for only $0.99 cents each or sign up for a Basic or Premium account, which start at $4.99 per month.

4. Pay extra
Most airlines will sell you a better coach seat. But if you’re going to pay, just make sure you’re getting something for your money (like more legroom) because some airlines (ahem, American) charge for being toward the front of the cabin with no extra anything. Don’t be fooled.

5. Get the bulkhead/emergency row
Get an emergency row or bulkhead seat. Emergency row and bulkhead seats usually have a lot more legroom than the other seats do, and that’s why airlines charge more for them. Whenever I’m in one and have a long flight, after takeoff I bring down my rolling briefcase from the overhead bin and put a blanket, pillow or sweatshirt on it and turn it into a leg rest. Sometimes, I even have more legroom than first class passengers. Just be sure to put the bag up before landing.

6. Be friendly
One of the best ways to get a great coach seat for free is, simply enough, to be super friendly to the gate agents (I usually bring them a bag of chocolates) and kindly request if they upgrade any of the frequent flyers to give you their plush coach seat. These flyers will usually booked in an exit row or bulkhead seat.

7. Use SeatGuru/SeatExpert
To find out which seats are the best on a particular aircraft, go to SeatGuru.com or SeatExpert.com. They highlight the best seats in green and list exactly how much legroom and pitch each one has. They also inform you if there are power ports or personal TVs. Keep in mind that airlines can change aircraft types at the last minute so there are no guarantees. Still, more information will help!

As you can see, it sometimes does take time to get the best seat on the plane, but having extra space or legroom can make or break your trip.

Let me know in the comments below if these tips helped or if you have any tricks up your sleeve that I missed!


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39 Comments On "7 Ways to Get the Best Coach Seat on Plane"
  1. Esther bowe|

    These are all GREAT tips and I’ve used almost all of them and they do work!! Gate agents have alot of power when it comes to changing seats around.

    1. fefe|

      Who are the gate agents or where can i find them? I see so many people until I do not know who is who.

  2. spudhilton|

    Great stuff, Johnny. Going to see if I can make these work on my way to Toronto. ; ) — Spud

  3. Delta FF|

    This may sound stupid, but exactly how do you gift the chocolates to the gate agents without feeling like you are offering a bribe? Is it awkward?

    1. Johnny Jet|

      It’s not stupid. Best is to say something like this: I’ve been reading Johnny Jet’s Travel Newsletter and he says the best way to get on the gate agents good side is to be genuinely nice and bring them a box of chocolates. So here you go…

      1. Delta FF|

        Thanks — I’m going to try that!

        1. Anonymous|

          In Hawaii, it’s common practice to bring “omiyage” and hand them to a flight attendant after you sit down. Omiyage are usually small gift of candy or snacks from the place you’re travelling to or from. They really do appreciate and will show even more aloha when the food/drinks carts comes around. After talking to a few of my flight attendants friends, I discovered it’s a general practice in most airlines too.

          I think it’s an excellent idea to provide an “omiyage” for the gate agents. I’m definitely doing this next time.

          BTW: Excellent site! Thank you for the great info. I’m glad I found you on:


  4. Jerry Mandel|

    When you book a flight on AA, their website will usually show very little availability of seats. They open all seats within 24 hours of the flights.

  5. Steve from TravelingProfessor.Com|

    I like to go to trade shows and speak with airline reps, especially for some of the start-ups like XL Airways France. Get to know the chief of customer relations and you might score that great seat. It’s a lot of work, but worth it for long-haul flights.

    1. fefe|

      Where can i find the chief of customer relations?

  6. marlene shyer|


    I finally read the best six ways to improve your coach seat and would like to add a seventh:

    Dress up!
    Dress up!
    The agent has occasionally actually upgraded me only because I look good compared to passengers in flipflops, muscle shirts and short-

    1. Dan|

      I agree with this one. Too many people look like they are walking out of bed when they fly.

    2. fefe|

      I thought if you looked too smart they would take it wrong.

      1. Kim|

        Dress for success…simple as that. I was moved up to business class from Munich once and another time from London – 2 different airlines

  7. Bob Jenkins|

    Johnny, all good ideas. I especially endorse the most-favored-airline status. Without my knowledge but because I am a second-tier (out of four) frequent flyer with Delta, the airline entered me into the TSA PRE (as in pre-screened) program. For the past few flights I have been whisked through security without taking off belt or shoes or even hauling the laptop out of the backpack.

  8. Gillian Kendall|

    Hey, I’m a travel writer/frequent coach flier and all for trying any of these tricks. I have used most of them or variants thereof successfully. Another tip — when travelling with another person in coach, I always book us the aisle and the window seat in the same row. Unless the flight is packed, the middle seat usually remains open, since no one wants to sit between two strangers. If it does get filled, one of us might offer to swap with that person, but not always!

    Meanwhile, Johnny, can you explain this term? “…kindly request if they upgrade any of the frequent fliers to give you their plush coach seat (they are usually booked in the exit row or bulkhead).” What’s “the plush coach seat” if not in the exit row or bulkhead, which are booked?

    Gillian Kendall

    Read more: https://www.johnnyjet.com/2012/09/six-ways-to-get-the-best-coach-seat-on-an-airplane/#ixzz276ynKP5E

    1. Johnny Jet|

      Plush would be an aisle or window near the front of the plane.

  9. Gregory Gibson|

    The Six Ways are all great!
    I’d like to add the importance of KEEPING your best coach seat. Many families go out of their way and book tickets months in advance to ensure they all have seats next to each other, only to be split apart a few weeks before departure due to an aircraft or schedule change.
    If you receive ANY notification from the airline, that there has been any kind of change (even if the only change was the flight number or the time changed by five minutes), be sure to double check your seat assignment(s)!

    1. Elaina Morey|

      Excellent point! We book our flights way in advance and have been split up on the last two. I watch seat assignments Ike a hawk now!

  10. fefe|

    Wow! Please help me get some of these deals. I travel international twice a year to feed children, but I have never received anything free.

  11. Craig|

    Wow, I would have never thought of some of these. I don’t travel alone often, so we can usually ask someone to switch seats with one of us, not the most crafty way to go about it, but it works most times. But I’ll have to try some of these, thanks Johnny

  12. C.N.|

    Do you really mean it with a box of chocolates to the gate agents? :)

  13. @la_vacationista|

    I love these tips and will share them!

    We work so hard to try to secure the best seats for our clients. Because we’re usually booking vacations with two or more people, it can be a gamble to wait until the last minute to get seats together, so we suggest that groups and families, even couples, try to book a few months in advance to get optimal seating.

    And gifts for desk clerks and flight attendants? BRILLIANT?we travel with a bag of individually wrapped high end chocolates so we can distribute them as needed!

  14. Arnie Winters|

    What is the Android Seat app, you spoke of Saturday on your Leo Laporte Tech guy segment?

  15. Franck|

    Many thanks for your tips. I found you on http://travelswithcarole.blogspot.fr/2013/04/misc-carole-terwilliger-meyers-is.html.
    Have a nice day.

  16. Iver|

    Great travel tips – well worth reading even for the 100,000 mile a year traveler. Getting elite status is my #1 recommendation if at all possible. It’s not that hard if you acquire certain airlines’ affinity cards. When flying on an airline with no status: (1) Some airlines sell premium extra-space coach seats at check-in. If you have to open your laptop it may be worth the $20-50. (2) Get the airline’s mobile app and (as Johnny says) check for seats very frequently in the few days prior to the flight (any maybe twice a day for the weeks before that). You can usually change your seat inside the mobile app. (3) Some airlines (I fly United) allow seat changes from computer or mobile app even after checking in. (4) Learn how to use SeatGuru – even when aircraft changes it’s very often to the same model/same seat config. If you fly enough you will come to know all sorts of things SeatGuru may not tell you. Even first class has better and worse seats. Trade stories with frequent travelers.
    Getting thru the airport: (5) If you fly more than a couple times a year it may be worth it to get TSA precheck even if you have to pay for it – or FlyClear if you frequently use airports they serve). Since I fly out of SFO, it’s well worth it to me to have both Clear and TSA Precheck because the TSA line is getting congested as they enroll more of the flying public.
    Thanks again Johnny! Found you on Leo Laporte’s Tech Guy podcast.

  17. eaglew|

    I just did it, I got 11F window seat! When I originally booked 3 weeks ago, the few available seats are all aisle seats so I just decided I’ll just be at the mercy of the gate attendant when I get to the airport. SO happy I opened your email during a break at the office. Thank you!!!!!

  18. Bob Cowen|

    If your reservation is more than a month in advance, check your seat assignment on the first of each month. Airlines sometimes change the equipment (aircraft type) on the first of the month. Often your seat will change without notice and if someone else now has your assigned seat, there’s nothing that the airline can do. Set-up a calendar alert to check your seats on the first of every month. A changed seat assignment may not be your fault but it is your problem.

    1. Johnny Jet|

      Great tip! We will make it a reader travel tip. Thanks!

  19. Steve Moroney|

    Thanks Johnny, but I was recently on icelandair, from iceland to Chicago. I booked this flight in August for a March flight. The DAY before the flight, icelandair changed my seat! I was in Munich and did not find out about this until I checked in, and it was too late as they had given my seat to someone else. It was the worst flight I have ever taken because of the seat they assigned me to. I will NEVER fly this airline again, and I want to warn as many people as I can about their practices.

  20. Tim|

    Thanks for those amazing tips !
    I will surely try some of these for my next flight :)

  21. Kelly Mahan|

    Oh great, I’ll keep that in mind for the next time I fly. Couldn’t hurt to be bumped up a notch.

  22. David|

    Great tips for a first time flier like me. Will come in really handy. Thanks.

  23. Ric|

    Why do you keep repeating this bad information? Surely you must know that United at least has a strong pecking order for premium seats (primarily elite status and how much you paid for your ticket). Gate agents can be fired if they give away economy plus seats when there are elites on the waiting list who don’t get these seats. And suggesting that flyers gain elite status is correct. On heavily trafficked routes, an elite (silver) with 25K has only a tiny chance of getting a bulkhead seat. Dressing up sounds like a good strategy but a regular passenger in a 3 piece suit will easily be bumped by an elite in shorts and flip flops.

  24. Neal Couey|

    Great tips! Just wanted to add that if you are sitting in the emergency row, you must be physically capable and willing to perform emergency actions when seated in emergency or exit rows and you must be 15 years of age or older. They will ask if you agree to these conditions and we almost lost our seats when my wife said “No”. I had to do some fast talking to reassure the airline that my wife would act in emergency.

  25. Biz-traveler|

    At least on United, you don’t have to wait to check in. The normal seat selection function when you view your reservation is not available to change your seat but all you have to do is go through the check in process again and you can change your seat.

    Their web site (on the normal seat selector) actually points you to the check in process to update your seat.

    If you hope to get a real upgrade, checking in early helps since final determination of where you are on the upgrade list is time of check-in (behind FF status, cost of ticket/fare class, <>).

  26. james carter|

    Wow! This looks incredible post and information. These are really very best things you shared and beautiful pictures you capture. I would love to go there.

  27. Juan Ovalle|

    Amazing tips! Will have to make use of Seat Guru, Seat Expert and Expert Flyer for my next flight!

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