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6 Good Things About the Worst Row on an Airplane

When you're flying coach you always have to remember the silver linings

(Image: ThinkStock)

Last week was one of those weeks: I left home on a Sunday, before dinner, to fly across the country for work. Proceeded through four planes and three cities in three days, catching a red-eye back. That’s one of the most aptly nicknamed flights around. Of course, it could also be called the sore-back or stiff-neck or totally-wiped-out… But I digress.

In three marathon days of work and travel, it wasn’t actually the overnight flight home that stayed with me. It was the evening flight out, with me in the very last row of coach on a classic 757 that didn’t have a single available seat. I was in row 44, to be exact, with no other option.

With all due respect to the West Coast, I’ve always felt like a six-hour flight should land me on another continent. That is a loooong trip, and being in the last row has the potential to make it feel a whole lot longer unless you employ some serious lemonade-making thought processes to find the good in what is clearly not a good situation. Given the migraine-inducing realities of air travel today, this can come in very handy. So, in an effort to help all of my fellow frequent fliers, here are the results of my efforts to identify the “perks” of a situation that at first seemed to lack any.

Great Service: In the last row, you’re so close to the galley, you can smell everything happening in there (which, since airlines have given up cooking, isn’t much). You’re the first to be served a beverage and the tiniest possible packaged snack ever created. Of course, if you’re a big spender, you can buy something heartier without having to ever worry that the red wine, beer or sandwich you want is going to run out before your row is reached.

Safety First: Not only are you close to the exit without having to bear the heavy psychological burden of sitting in the exit row (are you really equipped to rip that door from its hinges, toss it from the plane, and play hero in a crisis?), you are actually sitting smack under the plane’s emergency medical supplies, including oxygen and a defibrillator. I found this out on my flight when a woman passed out in the aisle and the flight attendants had to climb up on my seat to get the equipment out. Luckily, the ill woman was revived without using any of it. But for my troubles (I had to stand up while the equipment was retrieved and then returned) the flight attendants apologized profusely and offered to give me anything I wanted. Of course, they no longer have anything (ice cream, a nice hot meal, a headset worth keeping) I want on planes, so I humbly declined.

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ACROSS THE WEB
  • James Falconer

    When I fly, I always request an aisle seat, so I can easily get up without going through anyone to go to the bathroom. Flying is uncomfortable anyway and no better than riding the bus, except the bus has bigger seats.

  • Britt Ponset

    The only way traveling on U.S. airliners will *even* get any better — where the airline companies treat you with respect as human beings rather than as idiot livestock — is to refuse to fly.

    Hate the service? Wish it would change? Fine.

    STOP. BUYING. TICKETS.

    Do that, and everything will change.

    So, stop complaining like idiot livestock.

    Start acting — like intelligent humans.

    • Mike

      Nice idea in theory. But in the last two weeks I’ve been in Cancun, Miami, Mexico City, Guadalajara, Los Angeles, Dallas and Tucson. While I love a good road trip, it would have been a bit challenging to drive to all those places in two weeks and still keep my job.

      I do agree with you, however, that the problem is with U.S. carriers. Foreign carriers are WAY better than the U.S. On Aeromexico economy I was served a free meal and adult beverage.

      Caroline: LOVED this article. Way to keep a positive attitude. That’s really the key to successful travel.

  • caroline clarke

    Britt, I laughed out loud at your idiot livestock analogy and I appreciate your point. I do. However, I did mention that this was business travel — 6,000 miles worth, roundtrip. Not realistically drive-able or, per James’ comparison, bus-able or train-able. Flying is a job requirement (I’ll refrain from saying ‘necessary evil’)for lots of folks. It’s a personal one for others, whether they want to see the world or grandma who lives half-a-continent away. So, I’m just trying to figure out how to make the best of it, since not flying is simply not an option.

  • James Falconer

    I always request an aisle seat, to prevent what that picture is showing.

    Personally, I hate flying. I hate going through security, the expensive ticketing, the airport that is way outside of town, the dinky seats, the dinky bathrooms, having my life held by a couple of strangers behind a locked door. Breathing stale air from people breathing, passing gas, whatever. An airplane cabin is an incubator for every foul virus in the Universe.

    The only reason I fly is because it is the fastest mode of transport available.

    • Matthew

      Hey Melissa,I hope it’s going raelly well with your own goals. Thanks for you poignant thoughts. Go for it and you too will succeed! When you get your blog going, send me an update Art

  • Karlton Kemerait

    Has the author ever actually flown in the back seat? The reason I ask, as a frequent backseat traveler I can tell you that you are not going to be the first one served snacks or beverages…actually you will typically be the LAST one served. The cabin attendants (is that the current PC term?) pull the cart out…push it to the front of the plane then work their way backwards to the galley.

    Second fun thing about being in that last seat….next to the bathroom, is that even though you are close, you are typically the last one to get access, since the close you are to reaching your destination the longer that line is and you can’t get out of your seat…so you wait, and wait, and wait until practically every man woman and child has gone before you. If you are really fortunate, just as you finally make your way to the door…you’ll hear those dreaded words “every need to return to their seat in preparation for landing..ughhh!

    And lastly, just for good measure…where do you think the attendants direct all the screaming babies, people with horrible coughs, and those who need 3 adjacent seats to be able to sit down?…you got it…next to you!

    Happy flying

    • Takanori

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  • CHS

    I very much disagree that the last row is the worst. I fly across the Pacific 3-4 times a year, and I specifically request it. The seats do recline as much as any other (at least on these flights), and, as was noted, there is no one behind you to cause any irritation. With only two seats, there are fewer people to disturb when getting up. Finally, despite being on the taller side, I prefer the window to the aisle. Fourteen hours of someone brushing past my shoulder every few minutes can be maddening.

  • pragerr

    On most flights I’ve been on, if you have to open an overwing exit, you’re supposed to place it on the seats.

    BTW, in the last row, you can usually SMELL the lavatories…

    • Peter

      Exit window seat – NEVER put it on the seat – throw it out. When the Manchester 737 caught fire on take off some years ago the exit row person left the window in the plane and it is known that people tripped over it and could not get out fast enough. THROW IT OUT.

  • akdamsel

    Flying from the US to Turkey on United airlines with 2 adults with 5 children…you guessed it…back 2 rows in the center of the plane…I was less than pleased…grrrr!! And flying back to the States…bless British Airways, they upgraded us to business class when they saw me flying alone with 3 of the children. Then the trip back to Turkey to reunite with family…United again…center back again. And flight back to States with 2 adults and the 5 children in tow…United center back. I understand United was the cheapest ticket for the US gov’t to purchase when sending my military family to the overseas assignment but have mercy on the family. These are difficult moves anyway and then for the airlines to book us in the worst seats possible was just another kick in the pants.

  • shakti

    hi every one

  • JackTors

    I’d love for that hottie to have to climb over me. Slammin!

  • Autolycus

    Another three reasons to fly from the very back seat:
    1) Aircraft rarely fly into hard objects backwards – and that includes other aircraft, mountains and the ground. Ergo, First Class pax – and the crew that puts you in that situation – get their just rewards before you do…
    2) The Flight Data Recorder and Cockpit Voice Recorder – those mythical “Black Boxes” (though actually painted orange, with diagonal silver stripes), are invariably mounted at the rear of your aircraft. The main reason for that is – you’ve guessed it – refer to point 1) above.
    3) Last, but by no means least, seat pitch – or the space between you and the seat in front – is calculated from the front of each aircraft. So if there are any odd inches of legroom left over, they’re going to be in front of your knees, when sat at the back.
    In short, I’m a confirmed ‘back-seater’ – unless someone else is picking up the travel tab and putting me in one of those new-fangled “Pod” things up front. But that’s another story…

  • I Paton

    The back row is usually the most uncomfortable in terms of aircraft movement. However, you may not notice it as much on a larger long-hail aircraft. Choosing the back row because of flight safety isn’t a wise move…. aircraft tend not to fly into things nowadays and “black boxes” etc are far more durable than human bodies. Place your faith instead in the pilots, airframe, engines, engineering and many volumes of procedures and air traffic control.

  • eric dunn

    Just flown four sectors with SWISS LHR > ZRH, ZRH > GVA, and back again, all in the back row. Served first, no back of seat kickers, and all the other benefits PLUS Swiss A320 back row seats recline too!! Lovely. Thank you LX.

  • sinfoid

    Is it just me or do those two dudes on the second page look like their seats got ejected from the plane and they are just very confused as to where they are.

  • Tim

    absolutely always sit at the back as it is proven to be safer, and if you sit in the aisle then you can at least stretch your legs. you also tend to have much less people walking by you all the time, and often your chances of getting free seats next to you are better (on airlines which dont allocate numbered seats)

  • Shawn

    This article made me laugh. I really liked it, and I think from now on I will try to get a seat in the back.

    I found the one about a kid kicking your seat particular funny because during my most recent flight I had a row full of sorority sisters behind me, and they were worse than any child that has ever been seated behind me.

    They kicked, talked very loudly, and were extremely rude. Oh, and the one sitting directly behind me (I had the window seat) thought it would be a good idea to stick her stinky, bare feet in between the seat and window, practically in my face. Needless to say, I was happy when we landed.

    • Shawn

      *Particularly

  • Kate

    Who complains about the inconvenience of being disturbed when the flight crew needs to reach a defibrillator?? Really, lady!

  • EarlOfWarrick

    All good n’ dandy, until you realise that you’re stuck next to the toilets!

  • Gordon Cochrane

    Caroline, re: the rear row seating

    Are you sure it was a Boeing 757 ?

    I flew these aircraft, as captain for years. Our configuration in Canada was 39 rows totalling 228 passengers,
    and 233 passengers in the English configuration .

    With 44 rows @ 6 pax. per row minus 4 pax at the two main doors would put 258 persons in there. A sardine would have more from in a can !!

    Whoops! Excuse me I just realized ours was the 200 series. Later they came out with the 300 (stretched) series.

  • Leona

    One thing happens to me every time I fly and I still hesitate if I should get used to it or fight for my rights. Imagine your flight is 9 hours long, you sit in the middle between two big men and the person in front of you decides to put the chair all the way down. I can tell you that nothing in my whole life ever could make me more angry! Usually the person in front of you pretends like it is normal and slowly keeps pushing the chair lower and lower. To which you act in two ways: One way is that you tell them, to which they either pretend they dont speak English and they have no idea what can possibly be wrong and after trying and trying you just give up. Or you just dont tell them anything and they immediately “fall asleep” so you have no chance of telling them later and you suffer in unlivable space for 9 hours. I used to love flying, but I feel like people became more ignorant and selfish and these guys are turning my flights into nightmares. I would love to know how to win this game for once.

  • Thaddeus Buttmunch

    I fly to the Midwest to see my Father several times/year. I also do a foreign vacation each year. If we get Bullet trains like Obama wants, thats’ a faster Greener, option. You could, in THEORY go from Vancouver to Buenos Aires at 300 mph. In a vacuum tube at about 2000 mph!!

    But Greyhound and AMtrak schedules are a Joke!

    • Andri

      From the very mutine I met you, I liked you. Art, you are a strong, kind, open, honest person and I admire that a lot. You are filled to the brim with great qualities and I am grateful to count you as a friend. Thanks for sharing your thoughts here. Somehow by you doing this it lifts me up in the struggles I face and gives me strength. One day at a time, right?!

  • naoma

    I always get an aisle seat. Just like to sit there. Several times I have been asked to “change” seats with someone who just MUST sit next to another person. Sorry. I am polite, but this is my seat booked way ahead. “We are on our honeymoon and I MUST sit next to my husband.” (that was one reason I heard). Well, you have the rest of your life to sit beside this person.

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