If given a choice of airplane seats, I don't think anyone would select the dreaded middle seat. Unless, of course, you're into cramped spaces and shared arm rests. Since aisle seats, window seats, bulkhead seats (the seats immediately in front of the solid divider separating the economy cabin and the first-class cabin), and emergency exit row seats are typically the most desirable seats in the economy cabin, it's not surprising that many airlines charge extra for them. Check out the fee schedule for desirable seats on some of the major airlines listed below and then read on to find out how to get these desired seats without paying extra.

Fee Schedule for Desirable Seats on Major Airlines:

  • American Airlines: Preferred Plus Seats (aisle, window, and exit row seats) are only made available to premium and full-fare customers. There is no additional charge for these seats. Preferred Seats (seats located in the front of the cabin, but not necessarily aisle or window seats) are free for premium customers, full-fare customers, and active duty U.S. military personnel. All other customers can purchase Preferred Seats for prices ranging from $4.00 to $54.00 depending on the flight.
  • Delta: Medallion members and customers purchasing a Y or B Economy Class tickets can book Preferred Seats (aisle seats toward the front of the cabin, window seats toward the back of the cabin, emergency exit row seats, bulkhead seats, and exit row seats) free of charge. All other economy class customers can purchase Preferred Seats for $39.00 and up.
  • JetBlue: JetBlue offers customers Even More Space Seats (spacious seats at the front of the cabin and in the exit rows) for prices ranging from $10.00 to $65.00.
  • Southwest Airlines: Southwest has an open seating policy where passengers select their own seats once aboard the plane. However, if you want your pick of premium seats (aisle, window, or exit row seats), then it’s best to be in the first boarding group (Group A). Southwest charges $10.00 for a guaranteed spot in this coveted first boarding group.
  • United: United's Economy Plus seating (seats toward the front of the cabin with extra legroom) is complimentary for Gold members and higher. All other customers can purchase Economy Plus seats for prices ranging from $9.00 to $109.00.
  • Spirit Airlines: Customer-requested seat assignments for desirable seats cost between $1.00 and $50.00.

Tips for Getting Desirable Seats without Paying an Extra Fee:

  • Enroll in the Airline's Frequent Flier Program. On airlines such as American, Delta, and United, if you accrue enough frequent flier miles, then you can preselect desirable seats for free.
  • Fly at Off-Peak Times. For example, choose a 6 AM flight over a 9 AM flight or a  flight departing on Saturday morning instead of Friday evening since off-peak flights are less likely to be full and will often have open aisle and window seats. Once all the passengers have boarded the plane, you can usually move from your assigned seat to a better one that's unoccupied.
  • Do your Research. There is no standard size for plane seats. As such, before you book your flight make sure to use SeatGuru.com to compare seat pitches (the distance between seats). For example, both JetBlue and Spirit fly an A320 plane between Fort Lauderdale, FL and Boston, MA. Despite using the same type of aircraft carrier, Spirit Airline's seats don't recline and have a cramped seat pitch of 28" whereas JetBlue’s seats boast a roomier set pitch of 34" to 38". You can also view seat maps and read reviews about specific seats for free at SeatGuru.com.
  • Check In Online Early. For airlines that have open-seating policies such as Southwest, book your flight early and check in online 24 hours in advance of your departure time for the best chance of getting placed into the coveted first boarding group that has first dibs on the best seats. On Southwest, usually around the first 45 passengers to check in online will receive a spot in the first boarding group.
  • Use Technology to Get a Better Seat. If you have preselected your seat but are unhappy with your selection, consider using MySeatFinder.com to find a better seat on your flight. When you sign up for MySeatFinder, you provide your frequent flier information for the flight that you want an improved seat on as well as your seating preferences (i.e. an aisle seat in the front of the cabin). The site will then monitor your flight reservation every four hours to see if a better seat becomes available. If it does, the program will automatically switch you to that seat. MySeatFinder is free for your first 4 round trip flights (or 8 one-way flights). Thereafter, the program costs $29.00 a year for unlimited searches.
Aisle or Window? How to Get the Best Plane Seats without Paying an Extra Fee