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How to Get Exit Row Seating

Via InFlightHQ, a column on Microsoft's Small Business Center on getting the best seat on a plane:

The best seats on the plane are sometimes not in first class. Talk to the most frequent business travelers, and they'll probably agree. The ideal seat is usually in the exit row of economy class. Frequent business travelers dream of having that row, which often boasts more legroom than a first-class or business-class seat, all to themselves. It's also child-free, so they can get their work done in peace and quiet. And what if they don't get it? The bulkhead seat in economy class (that's the one just before the line separating economy from first) is a choice assignment. Beyond that, experienced air travelers normally opt for the front section of economy class (there's less engine noise) or they use their frequent flier miles to score an upgrade into the next class of service.

Tip: As you can imagine, these coveted seats go quickly. They are blocked off for frequent fliers and often, they aren't released until a few hours before the flight is scheduled to depart. It's best to reserve a seat in economy class, arrive at the airport early, and then ask a ticket agent if there's any availability in an exit row.

The author is right; exit row seats are often (though not always) the best seats on the aircraft. But his tips for grabbing those seats are incomplete at best. On most US airlines, you'll have to be lucky to get exit row seating at the airport these days, no matter how early you get there. So how to get it?

If you have elite status with an airline, it's easy. Most (if not all) US airlines allow their elite travelers to reserve exit row seating at any time prior to 24 hours before departure. You don't need super-elite status; any will do. So focus enough of your flying to get at least the lowest level of elite status with one airline -- preferably the airline most convenient to your travel needs.

If you can't do that, or if you have to fly on another airline, here's the secret: most (if not all) US airlines allow Web check-in, and treat it just as if you were checking in at the airport -- in other words, those exit row seats that were formerly unavailable except to elite travelers become available to anyone who meets the safety criteria. And most US airlines allow Web check-in beginning 24 hours prior to departure of the first flight of your trip. So set a reminder for yourself 24 hours prior to departure. When that reminder sounds, go to the airline's Website and check in. You should be able to grab an exit row seat then -- it's your best shot.

Note that these rules change for some non-US airlines. As of this writing, Air Canada, for example, works exactly as described above, while Air France only allows exit row seat assignment at the airport, so it's a matter of getting there as early as you can tolerate to have the best chance at a good seat. Check with your airline well before traveling to determine the rules.


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Agreed! I always look for exit seats.

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