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A napkin guide to seat selection in planes

Quick guide to win the seat selection battle next time you fly.

It´s a war out there to get the best seats in a plane when you check online.

Here is a quick, napkin guide, to optimize your picks based on a probabilistic approach.

The case is built on a 10 seats per row, 2 corridors, long distance flight and check in for a typical family of 4, but the underlying principles apply elsewhere.

Rationale is based on value per seat as per below and tactics to lock down seats so that you get eventually an additional empty seat besides you, for maximum comfort (+2)


    • Window seat: +2
    • Aisle: +1
    • Middle seats: -0
    • Empty seat besides you: +2

In terms of tactics, as long as everyone flying alone will tend to go for most valuable seats (window +2 or aisle +1) if you lock down those in a row chances are the middle seats (-0) will remain empty, giving you an extra awesome space and maximum value for cost (+2 times number of middle seats empty).

Playing around with this approach, 3 scenarios come up (see picture above)

A) Maximum value for cost, less likely (+9): assuming two middle seats end empty. Issue here is that there are less chances to get this tactic to work as there are couples traveling together that may take those two middle seats if the plane runs out of space.

C) Almost max value for cost, less likely (+8): also has the problem that those two middle seats may be taken. Better off going for A if you want to risk.

B) Optimal balance in terms of value for cost and chances (+7): It is very unlikely anyone will take the middle seat left, they will surrender to any aisle or window seat available first, therefore it is very likely you secure an empty middle seat entirely for your amusement.

Empirically, option B has nearly always worked for me.

Don´t thank me.  @efernandez