This blog post was updated on October 5, 2018.
There is usually one in every crowd, a person at the gate complaining to some less than enthused agent about their seat on the airplane.
On my recent flight, I watched one woman nearly scream about being moved to a middle seat.
Then there are those who are desperately trying to get on the plane first for fear their carry-on baggage will lose out on overhead space on jam-packed flights.
They hover in the waiting area, making it next to impossible to board when your row is called as apparently they have cement in their shoes and they are just not moving.
Some passengers are looking to make tight connections but find themselves in what seems like 98B.
There has to be a better way. When you check in online or when you get to the airport and the agent asks you where you want to sit, you may say a window or an aisle, or the strange ask for a middle seat.
Front of the plane, back of the plane, where you choose can determine if your flight is a positive or negative experience. It all boils down to boarding, but many passengers don’t realize every airline seems to have their own way of doing things.
Here is how the top U.S. airlines board so you can select your seat accordingly.
United: United boards in an “outside in” fashion. After first class, premier, those who need extra time and families with small children, United begins by boarding the window seats first. The middle and the aisle seats follow. If you are flying United and you want to ensure your carry-on bag gets space in the bin, book a window seat.
Continental: Who knows what will happen when Continental becomes United, but for the time being, Continental boards from the back of the plane forward. While you may be kicking yourself when you see 35F on your boarding pass, the back of the plane has its advantages here. However, if you are making a tight connection on a Continental flight, you will want to select a seat in the front of the plane. Otherwise expect to wait what seems like an hour for everyone to de-plane.
American Airlines: Like Continental, American Airlines takes a “rear to front” approach to boarding. Seats in the back will board before those in the front. Again, if you want overhead space, it is best to book a seat in the back.
Delta Airlines: Delta boards by zones. Certain zones board at certain times. Top elite, first class and the first row of coach make up Zone 1. Zone 2 includes Elite Delta/Northwest frequent flyers. Zone 3 boards the elite members of partner airlines. Zone 4 boards the rear of the aircraft. Zone 5 boards the middle and Zone 6 boards the rest of the front.
Southwest: Seats are not assigned, but rather passengers are given letters as they check-in. The better the letter, the better your seat it would seem. The passengers who checked in as early as possible usually receive an A on their boarding pass. This free for all style proves difficult for many, especially those who are traveling and can’t access a computer to check in 24 hours in advance. Also, if you don’t check in early, you face getting a less than desirable seat, as there are no assigned seats.
US Airways: US Airways has their own approach. A mix of Delta and Southwest, US Airways boards beginning with Zone 1. This includes customers in First Class or Envoy along with Mile Chairman’s Platinum, Gold Preferred members and Star Alliance Gold members. Zone 2 then has their chance, made up of Silver preferred members, US Airways Premier world class MasterCard and Bank of America Visa Signature card holders and customers with Choice Seats. Zone 3 boards customers with Web-Check-in boarding passes and Zone 4 is all the rest.