The seat mate game and best seat on the airplane game is all but familiar to any frequent flyer. After purchasing a ticket, many of us compare the seat map on the plane to that on seatguru or expertflyer and choose the best available seat. These seats tend to be bulkhead or exit row seats, providing more leg room and greater pitch. However, last night when checking in from my flight from Mexico D.F. to Buenos Aires I came across a conundrum. The seat map was showing the plane only approximately 60% full and there were a dozen or so rows in the back of the plane empty.
My first thought was to move myself to a row in the back and hope no one would choose a seat next to me during their own check-in process. Still, a lot could change in 24 hours and maybe the seat map was not accurately representing the total number of ticketed passengers. This happens often on US legacy carriers, leaving people with unassigned seats until they arrive at the gate. So instead of risking ending up in a regular economy row, I decided I would stay in the exit row. At least this meant I got endless amounts of legroom on the Boeing 777.
About two hours before my flight was scheduled to depart, I was sitting in the International Departure Premier Saloon at the Mexico City Airport. I decided enough time had passed and I wanted to see how full my flight actually was. I approached a lounge attendant to see if they could reseat me in an empty row. The gentleman was very friendly and confirmed that the plane was indeed only booked at about 60% capacity and he moved my seat to an empty row. He asked me to come back 30 minutes before departure to confirm I was still the only one in the row. But even he was confident at this point it was safe to make the change and give up the exit row.
30 minutes before departure as I was leaving to lounge, I stopped by the concierge’s desk to confirm if I was the only one still in my row. He confirmed that I was and informed me there were about 10 rows in the back of the plane that were empty as well, so if I wanted a different row, it was all mine!
Thanks to having my own row I slept 80% of the flight and had the most comfortable flight in economy that I had since I flew NWA SEA-NRT on Labor Day in 2008, when again I enjoyed my own row! Empty rows are hard to come by on any airlines. But when you do come by them, I’m going to have to say I’d almost rather save the money and keep my flat surface 3 seats in economy than an angled flat seat in Biz! And to think, I almost paid $400 to upgrade this flight (Biz had 10 of 34 seats full), when I only paid $430 return!
Last week, when my colleague Andy wrote a post asking you all would rather have an empty row in economy or a single first class seat while flying, I lied. He compared AA vs UA when he was making his decision and I had responded telling him that I would rather take the first class seat than the empty row any day. My thought process was: At least in first I was going to be fed, have something to drink, and there’s more leg room. Not to mention the fact that airplanes fly so full, finding an empty row is nearly impossible these days! Well guys, guess what, I found an empty row and now revoke my original response!
So what would you have done at check-in? Would you have placed yourself in the middle of an empty row, hoping that no one else would select a seat around you, thus giving you the entire row to yourself or would you have stayed in the exit row until nearly the last minute? I risked the extra leg room vs having 3 seats to myself. Either plan could have backfired. Easily, other people could have selected empty rows for themselves at check-in, leaving me in a regular economy exit row seat. Alternatively, moving could have meant someone selecting a seat next to me, meaning I still wouldn’t have the opportunity to lay down, and now I’ve lost my additional leg room of the exit row. The seat game sure can be risky!