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The Most Comfortable Economy Seats on Long-Haul Flights

Stretch out and relax the next time you fly with these helpful tips.

As exciting as it can be to jet off on a trip, the size of your seat may put a damper on that if you're in a tight economy space. Whether you're hoping to catch some sleep or simply want to arrive without feeling sore, picking the right spot on the plane can make or break the experience. There are a few things to remember the next time you book a fare to ensure you arrive feeling refreshed—even if you're not flying first class. Read on for the most comfortable economy seats on long-haul flights, according to experts.

RELATED: 7 Best Ways to Avoid Jet Lag, According to Experts.

Know what you want to prioritize before you pick your seat.

Two rows of empty seats on an airplane

According to Laura Lindsay, global travel trends expert with Skyscanner, the best place to sit on a plane is subjective and varies according to your individual needs for comfort, convenience, and the nature and duration of your journey.

"Before selecting a seat, consider the following factors: Aircraft type, location, comfort, and window or aisle," she says. "Familiarize yourself with the seat maps of the aircraft you'll be flying on, taking note of the layout and available amenities, including things like galleys and lavatories."

You'll get more room closer to the front of the plane.

Woman sitting in an airplane seat stretching her legs, wearing ripped jeans and black sneakers
Matej Kastelic / Shutterstock

Whether you're taller than average or just like to be able to stretch your legs, one thing is clear: Opting for a bulkhead seat is often the best option for anyone who wants more space and legroom during their flight. Those closer to the front of the plane, even in economy, tend to get other perks, too.

"These seats not only have ultimate flexibility to hop in and out of your seat for the bathroom but are also the first to be serviced for meals," says Joy Angelica Chan, flight expert with Going. "And without the overhead bin above, there is no fear that items stored above will fall on you."

There are som drawbacks, however. "You can't store anything in the space in front of you since all you have is a wall, which means whatever accessible things you need during the flight should be in a size that fits the informational pocket or can be handheld," Chan says. "Additionally, some luck is involved in choosing these seats as this is where most folks traveling with infants and requiring a bassinet will be seated."

If bulkheads are unavailable, consider going for another coveted spot onboard. "Exit row seats provide travelers with extra space to stretch out their legs—provided you meet the safety requirements to assist in an emergency," says Lindsay. However, it's important to note that most airlines charge passengers an additional fee to reserve these seats.

RELATED: Airplanes Will Eliminate Reclining Seats From Coach, Aviation Expert Says.

Consider which places will be noisier and busier.

Business woman using smart phone at plane

It's not just about being able to stretch out on long flights. Sometimes, the ability to zone out and avoid distractions from the cabin can be the most valuable thing when you're spending hours in the air.

"There are two major factors contributing to noise on a plane: engines and high-traffic areas like galleys and bathrooms," Lindsay tells Best Life. "Before selecting your seat, it's helpful to review the seat map to identify their locations and choose your seat accordingly."

Typically, engines are beneath the wings or at the aircraft's rear. If engine noise is a concern, opt for seats toward the front of the plane, where noise levels are lower.

"On the other hand, if the sound of the engines lulls you to sleep, consider selecting a seat beneath the wings or towards the back," she adds. "A window seat will also minimize disturbance from aisle traffic."

Nervous flyers may also want to consider where they sit.

Man sitting in airplane seat with his head in his hands

Dealing with pre-flight jitters? Where you sit might help you deal with anxiety about your trip, no matter what the issue may be.

"The best seat for nervous fliers depends on their concerns. For those worried about turbulence, seats over the wings or at the front of the airplane experience less choppiness," says Lindsay. "If confinement is a trigger, aisle seats or those with extra legroom can feel less cramped. And window seats can also provide nervous fliers with a sense of security and distraction during takeoff and landings."

Consider whether you'll sleep or stay awake.

Young woman wearing neck pillow sleeping in window seat of plane
Matej Kastelic / Shutterstock

Long plane trips can be an opportunity to get extra work done or catch up on the movies and shows you've been meaning to watch. On the other hand, you may want to use your trip to get some rest—especially if you're dealing with a red eye. Either way, keep your plans in mind for what you'll do in-flight when selecting your seat.

According to Lindsay, comfort is vital when you're planning on dozing off, but both window and aisle seats offer advantages depending on your preferences.

"If you easily sleep on planes, a window seat provides wall support for dozing off and minimizes disruptions from others in your row," she says. "Pro tip: choose a seat on the side you usually sleep on—it makes tilting your head in that direction easier."

But if you plan to stay awake during the flight to watch movies, read, or get work done, aisle seats eliminate the need to climb over sleeping neighbors when you decide to stretch your legs. Lindsay also advises not overlooking the center aisle seats on long-haul flights.

"It often fills up less and increases your chances of getting a row all to yourself," she explains.

RELATED: 10 Airport Layover Hacks You Need to Know.

There are ways to make any seat more comfortable.

Woman wearing headphones sitting in window airplane seat

Of course, there are only so many ideal seats in any airplane cabin. But even if you find yourself settling for something less, you can improve the experience by coming prepared.

"This is basic, but ultimately, bring things that will make you comfortable," says Chan. "For example, my noise-canceling headphones are a non-negotiable item because you never know what you'll hear on a flight."

She adds that certain things should always work for any seat on the plane, including charging ports, television screens, and reclining ability. That's why you shouldn't settle if you realize something's wrong when you sit down.

"If those things aren't working, don't be afraid of notifying your flight attendant, who will do whatever they can to fix the issue—or perhaps bump you up into a better and more comfortable seat," she says.

Keep checking up until the last minute.

woman sitting in bulkhead airplane seat, smiling at phone
kudla / Shutterstock

Getting to sit where you want doesn't always have to come down to luck. Lindsay says to lock in your preferred seat, your best bet is to book your flight as early as possible to increase your chances of getting the seat you want before another passenger takes it. But even if you're buying airfare right before you fly, you can still improve your position up until the last minute.

"Keep checking the seat map even after you select your seat," suggests Chan. "For folks who can choose their seats, there are optimal seats that may open up in the chart that you may want to switch to."

This can include the aisle seats in the middle row of the plane—where fewer people will climb over you to get up than the aisle seat by the window—or the aisle seat on a three-person window configuration, which has an empty seat in the middle. It could even be a whole row that is empty in the back: "It's a big gamble, but sometimes it pays off!" she says.

After you board, you can even ask your flight attendant if any empty rows are available that you could move to.

"While looking around, if you see an empty row, you can notify your flight attendant of your intentions to move there, and they can help you get situated there," Chan says. "Typically, this move happens once the doors are locked on the ground and sometimes after the flight has reached its cruising altitude."

Zachary Mack
Zach is a freelance writer specializing in beer, wine, food, spirits, and travel. He is based in Manhattan. Read more
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