Travel like a pro: How to snag a better seat on the airplane


For some, traveling can be a real challenge. Airports are hectic with so much happening at once. It’s no wonder that people get stressed out. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Here are four simple tricks that can help ease your way and get you to your destination in the seat of your choice with a minimum of fuss.

Some people will take any seat on a plane and be okay, but most of us have our preferences. Some like windows so they can look outside. Taller people favor aisle seats for the extra room and many parties of two like to take the aisle and window with hopes that the middle seat will stay open, but an empty middle seat doesn’t happen very often. The middle seat tends to be unpopular unless people are traveling in groups.

Let’s talk numbers for a second. In the main cabin on our biggest aircraft, the Boeing 737-900, we carry up to 165 passengers in 28 rows. Each row has 6 seats (except for the row 28, with only three) and an aisle down the middle. That makes 55 aisle, 55 middles and 55 window seats. Odds are, only a third of the plane has the seats you want, and that’s without considering everyone else you’re flying with.

If you’re an elite flyer, you’re in luck. We hold some seats for you, because we appreciate your loyalty and want to show our gratitude. (Not to mention complimentary upgrades when available!) However, that’s not a lot of seats, and you’re still up against other elites.

So how do you ensure that you get the seat you want when you fly?


1. Pre-reserve seats as soon as you buy your tickets. gives you the option to select seats at time of purchase. Use it! If you can’t get the seat you want, choose the next best seat that you can find to potentially trade to someone else. In general, that means aisles or windows, and seats closer up to the front.

If you’re traveling with kids and have more than one child, try to make sure you get at least one parent with each kid, even if you can’t get everyone together. Unless you are buying tickets very far in advance, getting more than three seats together on the day of travel can be dicey. Our customer service agents and cabin crews will do all they can to reseat families together, but why chance it? Reserve your seats early for peace of mind.

2. If you use an online travel agent such as Orbitz or Expedia, contact the airline to make sure you get the seats you requested.

Yes, Orbitz and Expedia are virtual travel agents. And those sites may not guarantee you a seat. They give you the option to reserve a seat when you book, just like on, but what really happens is that they send the airline a request for that seat. If the airline returns with “Oh, sorry, that seat is not available,” the message may not get passed on to you. Then you end up confused and frustrated because you thought you had the seats you wanted, and the customer service agent is telling you that you never had the seat to begin with. Take it from a former CSA: we usually want to give you what you want. Sometimes, it’s just not possible.

So, if you book with one of those sites, take a minute or two to access your booking on or on our mobile app using your record locator to verify that you have pre-reserved seats. Or, book on and get our low fare guarantee.

3. Check in online or through the Alaska Airlines mobile app 24 hours prior to your flight.

Sometimes there just isn’t anything to pre-reserve. Why is that? Some seats are not available to reserve in advance and sometimes, everything that is available has been reserved. We see this a lot on flights to Hawaii or other popular vacation destinations. But there’s still a way.

Check-in online up to 24 hours prior to your flight when unclaimed seats previously reserved for elite travelers become available for anyone to reserve. Sometimes you even get the best seats this way … assuming there are any left, so don’t wait until the last minute.

Don’t have the Alaska Airlines mobile app? Download it here: iPhone | Android | Windows Phone

4. Arrive at the gate 60 minutes prior to flight departure and talk to your gate agent.

If you’ve tried everything above and still have no seat, or have one you don’t love, head to the airport early. An agent should be at your gate an hour prior to departure and you can approach them to ask if there are any other seats.

If a family is not sitting together, gate agents will often call up other passengers and try to shuffle them around to make everyone happy. If you are one of these families, be patient. If you are one of those asked to volunteer, be kind. Let’s all try to help each other out. This is one of those times when choosing the best available seats on the plane will come in handy, even if they’re not what you want. It’s easier to ask someone to switch their seat if they know they’re getting a comparable seat in return.

That said, remember that on every flight 55 or so people are going to have middle seats, and odds are that sometimes you’re going to be one of them. Imagine if 55 people came up to you asking for something you couldn’t give them. Be polite and don’t be upset if the gate agents can’t offer you anything better; they are doing everything they can so the flight can depart on time and sometimes they might not have the chance to work their seat magic.

We will try every trick in the book to get you your desired seats and these helpful hints make it a little more likely that the flight will be as great as you expect. And remember that our new Recaro seats have extra pitch to give you more space, and they all come with power outlets so you can keep your gadgets juiced up. Have a wonderful flight!

More tips:

Travel like a pro: 3 ways to fly through airport lines (no cutting!)

What’s your favorite seat on the airplane?


  1. If you are fortunate enough to get an aisle or window seat, be generous and let the unlucky person who got the middle have the armrest.

    1. I am often in the middle seat, next to my broad shouldered husband. Airplane etiquette dictates that the middle seat gets both the armrests, for obvious reasons. I rarely get more than my husbands side because the men at the windows assume since I’m smaller, they’re entitled to both of theirs! I wish this bit of etiquette were more widely broadcast!!

  2. I love Alaska and prefer to fly on them exclusively. I only fly six to seven times a year and never quite make it to MVP. However recently I have noticed a frustrating new trend. I am 6 foot 6 and always used to be able to request exit row seating due to my height. Now those seats seem to be exclusively reserved for MVPs and 75k flyers. Even when begging the customer service agent to help accommodate my physical need, they just tell me that those are for Flyers with more status than me. When I board the plane and see a five foot two business woman sitting in that same seat that I requested, it breaks my heart a little bit to think that status sometimes overcomes physical necessity. This is a policy that should be reconsidered for people that are in need of legroom for a legitimate reason.
    I will continue to only fly Alaska.

    1. Hi Ian – in fact, later this year we’re planning to debut a new preferred seating option, enabling ALL customers to purchase upgrades to extra legroom seats where available.

      1. Thanks. That’s welcome news since other airlines do that as well. As much as I cringe at additional costs, I would gladly pay for the comfort.

  3. I’m happy if the flight is on time.

  4. Look so comfortable.

  5. Awesome advise!! I like window… I am short so any Window will do!!

  6. I like the exit rows also, because the seats in front do not decline. I just love it when a meal comes, and the idiot in front of you slams the seat back into your face. If I owned an airline I would weld all the seat recliners to the upright position, and advertise as such.

    1. Ya, that’s called Spirits Airline.

  7. I prefer the exit row aisle seat. Because I travel often, sometimes I get the exit row and sometimes I end up in a middle seat. Just happy to get where I am going 🙂

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