- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 3, 2004

Q Travel agents and Web sites allow to me to select a particular seat when I fly, but other than window or aisle, I have no clue about my options. How do I make an informed choice?

A: Travel experts recommend two easy-to-use Web sites, seatguru.com and seatexpert.com, for details about the best and worst seats, and some in between, on every type of aircraft flown by large carriers.

Seats are rated on such factors as legroom, engine and lavatory noise, how well they recline, underseat storage capacity, view and more.

For example, on American Airlines’ Boeing 777-200s, which mainly fly Asian Pacific routes, seats 25 A, B, H and J are rated “bad” by Seatguru because “you’ll hear the lavatory flush all flight long.” Seats 31 H and J, meanwhile, are “the best coach seats on the plane with tons of legroom and power ports.”

Delta Air Lines also flies Boeing 777-200s, although its planes are configured differently, making row 44 the tops in coach class, despite the lack of a good view, according to Seatguru.

“Most people would be surprised to learn that, even on an airline that has an all-coach configuration, all seats are not the same size,” said Randy Petersen, editor of InsideFlyer magazine.

In fact, not all first-class seats are created equally either.

For Northwest Airlines’ Airbus 319s, Seatguru says “be aware” of all seats in row 4, because “only a curtain” separates them from the coach cabin, which can be noisy. Also, because food service begins in row 1 in the first-class cabin, passengers in row 4 “most likely won’t get a meal choice.”

Within the coach cabin, the conventional wisdom is that bulkhead and exit seats are the best. But this is not always the case. For instance, on Delta’s MD-88s, seats 24 D and E are in an exit row, but “the aging door seals often make the area cold.”

Yet this is not true on Delta’s entire fleet of MD-88s, Seatguru advises, since the Atlanta-based carrier bought a handful of these aircraft from another airline that did not configure them the same way.

Unless you’ve got a travel agent who knows all the different permutations for seat configurations, which vary by carrier and plane type, experts said it is a good idea to do a little research.

The computer reservation systems used by travel agents denote exit and bulkhead seating, but that is where the details end, said Terry Trippler, a travel consultant with Cheapseats.com in Minneapolis. The average travel agent wouldn’t know “whether a particular seat doesn’t recline.”

Internet travel sites show airplane-seat configurations and real-time availability, but they do not offer qualitative descriptions.

Of course, landing a plum seat requires more than just the knowledge available at seatguru.com or seatexpert.com, travel experts said.

There are often fewer than a dozen coach-class seats on any given airplane that are considered above-average or better and these are often reserved for first-class or full-fare travelers. That is why on Internet travel sites, which cater to budget-conscious travelers, the premium seats will usually show up as unavailable.

That said, the information available at seatguru.com and seatexpert.com can help travelers avoid unwittingly selecting the worst seats available.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

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