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Flying Together: How to Make Sure You Sit Together on a Flight

U.S. News & World Report logo U.S. News & World Report 5/10/2018 Holly Johnson
Follow these expert times to sit with your loved ones on your next flight.: Inside of airplane © (Getty Images) Inside of airplane

Not only is airfare often the most expensive component of any vacation, but it can also be the most stressful. Not everyone enjoys flying, let alone dealing with strangers in the air. Plus, air travel comes with a multitude of annoyances – things like waiting in line for security and to check your bag, finding space for a carry-on and the potential for unruly or rude seatmates.

Still, is there anything worse than arriving at the airport to realize you won't be able to sit with your family or friends? Probably not. For that reason, it's crucial to think ahead as you plan your trip.

While there may be times where you can't select your seat on an airplane, the experts say there are plenty of steps you can take early to set yourself up for success. Before you book your next flight, consider these strategies to help you score a seat next to family and friends.

Book Early

No matter where you're flying, booking early can give you the best chances of being able to sit with your companions. Since flights open up for sale about 330 days in advance of travel dates, families – especially those with young children – should book flights as soon as their dates are solidified, says Eva Grodberg, luxury travel specialist from Epic Experiences.

This strategy also works for groups, she says, adding that you will likely want to contact the airline by phone to secure group space. "Most airlines have groups departments [that] will offer a discount code if the group is flying together on the same plane," she says. While they may not be able to guarantee your seats on the plane, you have a much better chance at getting the seats you want if you call and request them early.

Avoid Basic Economy

It's also important to remember that not all fare classes are created equally. The least expensive fares often come with fewer perks and no option to choose seats ahead of time.

"When booking published rates, be sure to select a carrier and a fare class in which you get to pick your seats during purchase," says Kenny Totten, director of marketing & sales for The Air Travel Group. "Stay away from Basic Economy if flying with your fellow traveler is important, as many carriers assign those seats at check in."

Book Everyone on the Same Itinerary

Another step you can take to ensure you sit with your travel companions is to book all your seats on the same itinerary, says Mable Tang of Thai Airways. By employing this strategy, you'll be able to see all your seat options in one place and preselect seats in the same vicinity.

And when you book everyone on the same itinerary, it's more likely your seats will be near one another should your flight be rescheduled or moved to a different aircraft.

Ask a Gate Agent for Help

In the event your seats aren't together when you get to the airport, it's still not too late to score some seats next to or near one another.

"You can always talk to a gate agent when you arrive for your flight," says travel expert Hillary Kline of The Travel Leaders Group. "Oftentimes, they have some flexibility to move seats around and open up space and will do their best to get people traveling together seated together."

Gate agents are usually more willing to help families with young kids, she says. Arriving early can also help since it's less likely all the seats on your plane will be assigned already.

Ask Other Flyers to Switch

In the worst-case scenario, you can ask fellow passengers to switch seats once you're already on the airplane, says Kline. There's no guarantee here, but solo travelers or those who don't care where they sit may be willing to trade spots.

"Extra bonus points if you have a coveted aisle, window or even exit row seat, and are willing to take their middle seat instead," she says.

Earn Elite Status

Ahmed Bhuiyan, a blogger and travel industry consultant who flies more than 100,000 miles a year, says that earning elite status is another way to ensure you get your preferred seats for free ahead of time. Ahmed is Platinum with the Delta SkyMiles program, so he receives preferred seats on Delta flights and other flights within the SkyTeam Airline Alliance.

As an elite status member, you can also secure these preferred and preselected seats for companions on your itinerary, he says. If you're angling for elite status but aren't sure you can earn it via flying alone, keep in mind that some airline credit cards offer a fast track to elite status once you meet a minimum spending requirement.

Check in Early

While booking early is one of the best ways to be able to select a seat before your plane fills up, checking in early can also help, says Bhuiyan.

As soon as check-in becomes available for your flight, make sure to check in using your airline's website or mobile app. You may be able to select your seats at that time if you haven't already, he notes.

Be Ready to Pay

Finally, there will be situations where you can't choose your seats ahead of time unless you want to pay a premium. This is particularly common with international carriers on overseas flights, as many overseas airlines don't include seat selection as part of the rate when you buy an economy seat.

As an example, let's say you book a Delta flight from the U.S. to Europe that includes an international segment on Air France. You may be able to select seats on your Delta leg ahead of time, but you'll likely have to pay to select seats on Air France in advance.

You can pay to select the seats you want ahead of time across many airlines, although the price you'll pay will vary based on your carrier and your itinerary. For most domestic and international flights, you'll likely pay anywhere from $5 to $50 per person to select a seat ahead of time.

If you really want to sit together and can't imagine flying away from your loved ones, the added expense of choosing your own seats could be well worth it.

Copyright 2017 U.S. News & World Report

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