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Upgrade: 8 insider secrets to landing a comfortable seat on the airplane

How to get a great seat without having to pay a ton for it Read More...

Getting your seat to fit in an airplane seat just got a lot harder.

From shrinking the amount of legroom, to making seats less padded with skinnier armrests, to creating seats that don’t recline at all, airlines are making flying more uncomfortable than ever. But here are eight secrets to scoring a (more) comfortable airline seat:

Choose an airline that has more legroom. Every inch counts: Though you’re not likely to get a ton of extra legroom without paying extra, some airlines do tend to give an extra inch or two in economy. JetBlue JBLU, +3.30%   is on the more generous side (about 32 inches on average) on average, says George Hobica, the founder of AirfareWatchdog.com — and the airline even announced this week that its A320 planes were getting wider seats. Meanwhile, Spirit and Frontier are less generous (about 28 to 29 inches), says Hobica.

Of course, legroom can vary even on the same airline, so do your homework. “Choose travel sites that make it easy to see seat pitch information. Many sites in the last few years have added information about seat pitch (and other amenities) directly in search results or when a consumer clicks on ‘details,’ like Google Flights, Hipmunk, and Onriva,” says Seth Anagnostis, the global sales head of travel tech company ATPCO.

Christine Sarkis, a senior editor at SmarterTravel, recommends SeatGuru.com to look up how much legroom specific jets on specific airlines have, as well as things like seats that don’t recline or a misaligned window. And Anagnostis notes that CheapAir.com “lays out different options side-by-side so you can see what a better experience costs without having to do a fresh search.”

Also see: The perfect number of days ahead to buy a flight

Try this seat selection trick. Just because an airplane seat map doesn’t show desirable seats at the time you book, doesn’t mean your preferred seats are taken, says Gabe Saglie, a senior editor at Travelzoo. “When you book, especially when you book early, an airline will release a select group of seats — the ones they’re trying to fill first, which often means a lot of available middle seats,” he explains. “This is also a way to encourage flyers to pay more on the spot for an aisle or upgraded seat.”

Saglie says that this is why flyers should check back in often: “As your flight date approaches, the airline is likely to release/open up more seats for online selection,” he says. “Check three days before, 24 hours before, when you arrive at the counter and even when you arrive at the gate (since a no-show aisle seat passenger may mean it goes to you, instead).” If new seats are available, you can sometimes — but not always — switch at no cost, though if it’s a better seat or one closer to the front you may have to pay a bit, he says.

Also see: The uncomfortable reason you’re seeing dirt cheap airfares right now

Be patient. If that seat selection trick didn’t work, Saglie says you may luck out at the last minute. “Listen for upgrades being handed out at the boarding gate. Right before boarding is when elite flyers on the upgrade list may finally be given the first class seat they’ve been waiting for. That frees up their seat in the main cabin which, because of their elite status, is likely not a middle seat, and that may be a chance for you to nab that seat instead,” he says.

Factor in these points. “ Consider the seat in the context of the cabin layout – for example, if a seat pitch is below average, that actually might be easier to handle on a smaller jet with a 2-2 layout and no middle seats than an aircraft with a 3-3 layout,” says Anagnostis.

Be loyal. It can pay to consistently fly with one airline or one alliance of airlines (like Star Alliance or One World, which have multiple airlines as members), says Travelzoo’s Saglie. “These days, flyers with status gets dibs on the best seats, and at no cost: This applies to something like United’s Economy Plus seats, with 6 inches of extra legroom, or preferred seats, like bulkhead, emergency row and aisle seats.” He adds that “loyal flyers also get to select these seats at time of bookings usually, versus hoping for the best at the gate.”

Beware of non-reclining seats. It’s not just legroom that matters — at least for people who don’t want to sit upright for the entire flight. A number of seats on Spirit and Allegiant don’t recline, and other airlines may have rows with similar issues. Check SeatGuru.com to figure this out before you pick a seat.

Check-in ASAP. “Check in exactly 24 hours before your flight,” says Travelzoo’s Saglie. “As soon as that check-in window opens, new available seats are often displayed.”

Pay for it. Sometimes throwing money at the problem is worth it, especially for a tall passenger on a long haul flight. But “even a one-hour flight isn’t one hour,” says Hobica, when you consider the runway taxiing and deplaning. So it may be worth it to pay, even on a short flight, especially since you can sometimes get extra legroom for as little as $10.

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