Best seats in the sky
Not all airline seats are created equal. Photo: Sam Bennett
Choosing a seat on your next flight used to be as simple as window or aisle. For many people it still is.
But frequent flyers know better, and smart business travellers have added 'seat savvy' to their arsenal of skills.
Not all seats are created equal, even in the coveted emergency exit row...
They know that not all seats are created equal, and those inequalities play a major role in the comfort – or discomfort – of your travel.
That's especially so in the larger aircraft used on international flights or even Australia's transcontinental trek between the east and west coasts.
From the sardine-like squash of economy through the coveted pointy end of the plane, some seats boast substantially more legroom than others.
Others offer more storage for your laptop bag and other personal items, and even a little more privacy (or even just the illusion of same).
The seat-savvy traveller knows just which seats those are.
For every good seat, there's a bad seat...
Perhaps even more important is knowing which seats to avoid.
They're the ones which are too close to the toilets or the galley, especially on an overnight flight where the activity of fellow passengers and cabin crew can interrupt your sleep.
Or the seats near basinets, to minimise the risk of sharing your trip with a howling baby.
Airlines have of course cottoned onto the secret habits of seat-savvy flyers, often charging you extra to select your seat online before you travel, or to sit in a row with more legroom such as the emergency exit row.
But not all seats in the emergency exit row are created equal, either.
The worst of these are usually located at the window and smack against the bulky part of the door which contains the escape slide, leaving you folded up like a pro basketball player in the back seat of a Mini.
Ditto for the prized 'bulkhead' row, where the seats are located behind a cabin partition rather than another row of passengers.
Not having anyone recline into 'your' space is a winner, but while most economy bulkhead seats are blessed with space to stretch out, in some aircraft that partition is so close that your knees remain awkwardly angled throughout the flight.
Seats to suit
Personal preferences also come into play.
When travelling on a Boeing 747 I prefer a window seat upstairs, in the jumbo's hump. The side bins provide plenty of storage close at hand, while the smaller cabin makes for a cosy feel.
But plenty of frequent flyers would rather stay on the lower deck because they'll be among the first off the plane.
(That makes sense only if you've got no checked luggage and can waltz straight through the customs checkpoint and out of the airport. And even so, does anybody really need to sprint off a plane like Cathy Freeman going for the 400 metres gold?)
So how do you go about finding the best seat in the house — or rather, on the plane?
One of the best tools in the traveller's arsenal is the SeatGuru.com website.
Created by frequent business traveller Matt Daimler in 2001, the site is a cheat's guide to the best – and worst – seats on over 700 aircraft used by almost a hundred airlines.
Each seat is colour-coded: green for a good seat, red for poor and yellow for 'caution', meaning there are some factors which may or may not be a concern.
The reasons for each rating appear as pop-up boxes when you hover your mouse over the seat map.
By adding information gleaned from SeatGuru to my own travels and preferences, plus those of the Australian Business Traveller team, I've put together a 'little black book' list of my favourite seats on dozens of aircraft which fly in Aussie skies.
Here are some of the ones most applicable to business travellers.
Qantas Boeing 747: In the refurbished models which have dropped first class and been upgraded to A380-style seats, I choose 3E or 3F on the lower desk – they're aisle seats at the back of the nose cabin – or the upper deck emergency exit row 14.
On the four-class 747-400ER, those same upper desk exit row seats are row 16.
Qantas Airbus A380: In the cosy premium economy cabin at the rear of the top deck, I shoot for any seat in the first row (row 32) for maximum legroom.
If they're booked, 38J or 38K will also serve up plenty of room to stretch out, as long as you don't mind a bit of activity near the self-service bar behind you.
But as you're next to the emergency exit, bring a light jacket or a wrap to keep warm.
Virgin Australia Boeing 737-800: Row 2 is the safest bet for business class, because Virgin operates many older 737s upgraded with the new seats and in those refurb'd birds row 1 is a bit close to the bulkhead wall.
In economy, row 3 is blessed with plenty of legroom but is available only to Platinum and Gold members of Virgin's Velocity frequent flyer programme. If you lack that shiny status you'll see Row 3 grayed out when booking online.
Virgin Australia A330: For business class in the Sydney-Perth service, which in May will be joined by daily Melbourne-Perth flights, aim for the front row seats 1A, 1E, 1F and 1K.
But avoid all other 'E' seats as these are middle seats with a passenger seated either side. Happily, Virgin will drop these middle seats on the new A330s slated for Melbourne-Perth.
Cathay Pacific Airbus A330: Most of Cathay's A330s from Sydney to Hong Kong are fitted with the superb new business class seats.
19A is my first pick: a left-side window seat in the first row of the A330's smaller secondary business class cabin, which feels even more private because there are no middle seats ahead of me.
Singapore Airlines A380: In the original layout which has a small economy cabin on the top deck, any seat in rows 14 or 15 are further away from the engines and any noise from the economy cabin behind row 27.
British Airways Boeing 747: 62A and 62K are great exit row seats with unlimited leg room, direct access to the aisle and a little extra air circulation.
Virgin Atlantic Airbus A340: The best 'Upper Class' business class seats if you're travelling solo from Sydney to Hong Kong (and then onto London) are 6K, 7K, 9A and 10A.
United Airlines Boeing 747: Window seats 15A, 15K, 16A and 16K towards the rear of the upstairs cabin have extra storage room in the side bins and are reasonably far away from the galley kitchens and toilets.
But here's a tip for the taller traveller: if you're over 1.8 metres, stick to the downstairs cabin, where certain seats extend to a full 78 inches of bed length. Those are all seats in row 6; seats 7B, 7C, 7H, 7J, 8B, 8D, 8G, 8H, 9B, 9J, 10B and 10J.
What are your favourite seats on the aircraft you most often fly, and what makes these seats your pick of the bunch?
David Flynn is a business travel expert and editor of Australian Business Traveller.