How To Choose The Best Airline Seat For Your Travel Style

Remember the days of booking a flight and just picking any seat? That's no longer the case, as anyone who has tried to book a flight lately knows. These days, you need to think about upgrades and the possibility of more legroom, often for a price. With some airlines, you may need to pay a fee in order to be able to select a seat at all. Then there's Southwest Airlines' quirky free for all, where you don't pick a seat until you board. It's enough to make you want to stay home forever.

There are likely reasons why you'd want to choose specific seats, whether you prefer the front of the plane, the back of the plane, an exit row, an aisle seat, a window seat, or — and there have to be some of you out there — a middle seat. We've got some tips to help you decide which seat works best for your travel style. We'll look at the benefits and drawbacks, and navigating fees.

Selecting the right seat

If you're someone who can nap anywhere, a window seat might be your style. It's also good for those who tend to get airsick from not being able to see the horizon. A huge plus is that if you do tend to sleep, it can be against a wall instead of a stranger's shoulder. However, if you need to use the restroom, you'll have to climb over people. 

If you have long legs, mobility issues, bad circulation, or you tend to need to get up and down a lot, the aisle seat is going to be your best bet here, but do keep in mind that those in the other seats are likely going to need you to move now and again. It's also a better choice if your travel style involves getting things out of your bag in the overhead bin often, like medication. If you're trying to make a connecting flight with a short window, the aisle — preferably in the front of the plane — might save you precious minutes. Middle seats ... are simply tough to endure, but the best thing about them is that they'll be available if you book last minute.

If you're concerned about safety, the back of the plane has the safest seats, though it might be near the restroom. That can be good or bad, depending on your travel style. (Hydration on planes is important, which tends to lead to the inevitable conclusion.)

Different seating options

There are so many different options for seats and sizes that can vary with each airline. Southwest, as we mentioned, doesn't let you pick your seat beforehand but assigns you a boarding group and wishes you luck. (We made up that last part, of course.) People traveling alone or short distances might be fine with that, but if you're a family traveling with children or a couple on a honeymoon, you might not appreciate this. (Set an alarm for check-in here, because the faster you do it 24 hours before, the more likely you are to get an earlier boarding group.)

For other airlines, there are varying options. You can choose basic economy, which can have a fee merely to pick a seat. There's economy, where you're likely to be smashed in a bit. There's premium economy, though the name for this can vary — usually, there is at least more seat and legroom and possibly other amenities like better entertainment or a free drink. Some airlines have higher fees for the front of the plane or exit rows, which have more legroom but come with the responsibility of helping flight attendants during an emergency. That extra legroom might not be a big deal for you, but if you've got a long flight or movement issues like poor circulation, it may be worth the upgrade.

How to deal with all the fees

So how do you deal with all of this? Booking a flight these days can be full of many options that cost extra money. The first thing to do, according to NerdWallet, is check if your airline charges a fee to pick your seat in the first place. Some airlines charge more for the front of the plane or even a window seat, so consider that while searching.

Do note that you aren't required to pick a seat if the airline charges a fee. Of course, that means you will be assigned a seat while you're checking in (which sometimes involves a fee as well). If you don't mind where you sit or you don't care whether you're sitting next to your traveling companion, that's a good way to save money. It should tell you the fee (or upgrade fee, if you're going with something like a different section or more legroom) ahead of time.

A few other considerations differ by airline, but some basic economy seats have more restrictive cancellation or change options. Just be sure that when you do pick a seat, you receive a confirmation. One more thing: If you book a flight through a third-party site like Orbitz or Expedia, it's worth checking with the airline to make sure you actually have your seat assignment.