There's no doubt that the best seats on a plane are at the pointy end, but if you're not one of the lucky ones who can afford to fly first or business class, here are some tips on how to ensure you have a better flying experience further back in the plane.
Best economy seats
Anyone who has endured a cramped middle seat, crying baby or annoying toilet queue knows how much difference the right seat can make on a long flight.
Not everyone agrees on what the best seat is, but if you turn up at the airport the minimum time before boarding, you are pretty much guaranteed to only get what's left.
Ask your agent to pre-seat you at the time of booking or take advantage of the online Web check-in service now offered by most airlines. This allows you to select your seat from home in advance, thus avoiding check-in queues. Check with the airline as you may not be able to check in online if you have a special service request, such as special meals or mobility needs.
The golden rule is to be as far forward in the aircraft as possible the further back you are, the noisier and bumpier it is and you are likely to be the last served with meals and drinks. You will also avoid people who want to lean on your seat as they wait for the rear toilets to become vacant. Forward seats mean you can disembark faster and hopefully avoid long immigration queues. If you suffer from motion sickness, try for a seat over the wing, as this is the most stable point on the plane.
The dream location for economy seating is usually the emergency exit row where there are no seats in front of you, although you may find that this is where restless passengers come to stretch their legs. Exit rows cannot be reserved in advance, so you will need to ask at check-in.
A bulkhead seat has a wall in front of it and while you won't have another passenger reclining their seat back onto you, this is usually where families with young children are seated due to the baby cot attachments.
Window or aisle?
When it comes to window versus aisle seats, preferences are fairly evenly divided. With an aisle seat you can get up and down whenever you like and won't feel so trapped, however, if you want to sleep, a window seat might be better, as you have somewhere to rest your head and won't have people climbing over you during the flight.
If you're travelling with a companion, try to reserve the aisle and window seat of a three-seat row. Because middle seats are the last to be sold, you have a good chance of getting an extra seat.
Not every plane is configured the same way, so a good seat on one aircraft is not necessarily good on another. There are websites that show seating plans for almost every aircraft so that you can check in advance: www.seatguru.com.
Can I get an upgrade?
Getting an upgrade these days has about the same odds as winning the lottery. Airline check-in staff have heard every request, complaint and far-fetched story possible and are not likely to be sympathetic. The best chance of getting an upgrade is to join a frequent-flyer program.
There is a currently a major push among international airlines to introduce ''premium'' economy classes. If you are travelling long-haul, it is well worth comparing this price with the standard economy fare for the extra facilities.
These sections of the plane generally offer wider, more comfortable seats with increased recline and leg room, more in-flight entertainment options and better food. Some airlines offer priority check-in, additional hand baggage allowances and priority boarding and disembarkation as well.
With increased security and the need to spend more time waiting these days, airports can have a big effect on your travel experience. Most airports offer lounges where travellers can watch TV, send e-mail, have a drink or snack, sleep or take a shower a necessity if you have a couple of hours stopover on a long flight.
While these lounges are usually for the benefit of first or business passengers, it's worth researching the reciprocal arrangements between airlines before you take off. There are a number of independent airport VIP lounge programs that allow access to lounges around the world for an annual fee: www.prioritypass.com
If you plan to do some duty-free shopping in transit, savvy travellers can look up maps of the airport on the Internet to save time otherwise spent wandering around in a daze: www.worldairportguide.com
What's all the carry-on?
All airlines are trying to cut the number of bags passengers take with them and are tough on excess baggage. Excess charges can be steep, especially when you have to pay them on the return journey as well, so try and stay within the limits. One way to avoid baggage hassles is to use a personal luggage delivery service, which delivers your luggage door-to-door, eliminating the need to haul bulky suitcases or sporting equipment around the world: www.personalporter.com.au.
Lost bags are a sure way to ruin a trip, so make sure you have done everything possible to ensure that your bag will find its way back to you if it goes missing. The most obvious is to label it very clearly with your name and contact details. Tags often catch on conveyor belts or and get torn off, so it's also a good idea to put a second tag inside your bag, so it can still be identified.
The final piece of advice concerns how to avoid sitting next to the passenger from hell, but no-one has figured that one out yet!
Tips for a better flight
- Secure your preferred seat in advance through the airline, travel agent or online Web check-in service before you leave home.
- Try to be seated as far forward in the plane as possible for speedier service and ease of disembarkation or over the wing if you suffer motion sickness.
- Exit rows cannot be reserved in advance, so ask at check-in.
- Bulkheads are usually allocated to families with young children, so may not be so desirable.
- Aisle seats allow easier access, but if you want to sleep, a window seat might be better.
- If travelling with a companion, reserve the aisle and window seat of a three-seat row for a better chance of having a spare seat between you.
- Join a frequent-flyer program or VIP program for access to airport lounges or a chance of an upgrade.
- Consider the new ''premium'' economy classes if you have a long distance to travel.
- Consider using a personal luggage delivery service to avoid carrying bulky items or losing your bags.
Related video: How to get an upgrade