Selecting the most comfortable seat can make a huge difference on a flight, especially for long-haul Economy Class flights to and from Australia.
This guide provides a basic overview of the seat selection policies of many popular airlines for Australian travellers. It focuses on the cost of seat selection, frequent flyer zones, and purchasing extra legroom/exit row seats.
Basic conditions for most airlines
Regardless of airline, seat selection is never guaranteed and you will sometimes find your seat allocation has changed due to unforeseen circumstances.
If you select a seat in an emergency exit row, you will be subject to a myriad of conditions which will be displayed when you select the seat. These conditions will vary with different airlines and aircraft types, however, most often you are required to be:
- At least 15 years of age (younger for some international airlines)
- Able to reach, open, lift and throw out the exit door in an emergency
- Willing to stow all carry-on baggage in overhead lockers for take-off and landing
- Willing to assist crew in an emergency
- Without the need for an extension seat belt
- Without any permanent or temporary impairment
Standard seat selection is complimentary for most Qantas flights, with the exception of customers travelling on international economy sale fares, while Extra legroom economy seats are available at an additional cost. Prices for these seats start at $10 and are often located at emergency exit rows.
Preferential seating zones exist on Qantas flights for Platinum, Gold and Silver Status Frequent Flyers, equivalent oneworld members, and passengers travelling with those flyers in the same booking. These zones differ from aircraft to aircraft, however, the first few rows are generally reserved.
Virgin Australia offers complimentary standard seat selection for all flights, with the airline recently launching Economy X, a product that sits in between Economy and Premium Economy. These seats feature up to 40% extra legroom, preferred overhead locker space, and priority screening and boarding where available.
On international flights, Virgin Australia also offers priority check-in and boarding, guaranteed first meal choice and noise-cancelling headphones.
Economy X is available across the fleet, with seats often located at emergency exit rows and the first few rows of the economy cabin. An exception to this is Virgin Australia’s Boeing 777 aircraft, which features a separate Economy X mini-cabin. Economy X can be purchased at time of booking or upgraded afterwards.
All Virgin Australia aircraft have preferential seating zones for Velocity Platinum, Gold and Silver Status Frequent Flyers. These zones differ from aircraft to aircraft, but generally, the first few rows of the economy cabin are reserved.
Virgin Australia holds seats in these zones based on the time until departure, as below:
- At booking: Seats in preferential zones are available for selection by Platinum, Gold and Silver members
- 48 hours before departure: Most unselected seats in preferred zones are released for all passengers
- 12 hours before departure: Unselected seats in preferred zones are released for all passengers
Seat selection is an optional add-on with Jetstar. If you have added a Starter Plus, Max or Flex bundle to your fare, seat selection is included (and you may be eligible for upfront or extra legroom seat). If you haven’t purchased a bundle, you have the option of selecting a seat for between $5 and $15.
If you want to sit at the front of the plane, you’ll have to purchase an Upfront seat which will vary in price depending on the distance of the flight.
You also have the option of selecting an extra legroom seat, which is often located in emergency exit rows. These seats cost between $19 and $35 depending on the route.
Seat selection is an optional extra with Tigerair. The cost of seat selection ranges from $4 to $25, depending on your route and seat type. Alternatively, you can purchase an express fare which includes seat selection.
As with Jetstar, you have the option of paying extra for an extra legroom or upfront seat.
Standard seat selection is complimentary for most Singapore Airlines flights, with the exception of customers travelling on economy lite fares. If you choose not to select a seat in advance, complimentary seat selection is available 48 hours before departure with online check-in, or at the check-in counter when you get to the airport.
Extra legroom economy and forward zone seats are available at an additional cost of up to US$25 and $8, respectively. Forward zone seats are also included with the Flexi fare.
KrisFlyer Elite Silver or Gold members, as well as PPS Club members, are eligible for complimentary seat selection, depending on their membership tier:
- KrisFlyer Elite Silver: Standard Seats
- KrisFlyer Elite Gold: Forward Zone and Standard Seats
- PPS Club: Extra Legroom, Forward Zone and Standard Seats, Forward Zone and Standard Seats for travel companions
Standard seat selection is complimentary for most Cathay Pacific flights, with the exception being passengers travelling on lower economy fares (S, N, Q and O).
For Marco Polo Club Diamond, Gold, or Silver members regular seat selection is complimentary for all passengers in the booking. If you choose not to select a seat in advance, complimentary seat selection is available 48 hours before departure with online check-in.
Extra legroom economy seats are available at an additional cost, with prices from US$23 to $199. Forward zone seats are also included with the Flexi fare. Extra legroom seats are complimentary for Silver, Gold or Diamond members of the Marco Polo Club and Oneworld Ruby, Sapphire and Emerald frequent flyers.
Standard seat selection is complimentary for most American Airlines flights, with the exception of basic economy fares.
American Airlines call their extra legroom seats ‘Main Cabin Extra’. These seats are often expensive to reserve for non-members, however, AAdvantage Gold members pay half the price, and AAdvantage Platinum, Platinum Pro and Executive Platinum members can select them free of charge. oneworld Emerald, Sapphire and Ruby members and full-fare customers also receive these seats free of charge.
You also have the option of selecting a ‘Preferred Seat’ which, as the name suggests, are located in preferred areas of the aircraft. This often means they are closer to the front or in a row with a missing seat.
Delta Air Lines
Standard seat selection is complimentary on most Delta flights, with the exception of basic economy seats.
Delta Comfort+ seats are available at an additional cost. These seats feature up to 3” of extra legroom, dedicated overhead bin storage and priority boarding. Delta Comfort+ can be purchased when booking or upgraded afterwards.
Since the introduction of online booking, seat selection policies were quite uniform in that they offered complimentary seat selection at the time of booking. It was a first come first serve approach.
However, as online capabilities grew, so did the complexity of seating policies, with some higher status passengers getting certain seats reserved, the monetisation of emergency exit seats, and the recent introduction among many US airlines of ‘Basic Economy’ fares to compete against low-cost airlines.
Make sure to research what the seating policy is for the type of fare you purchase to avoid costly mistakes and getting stuck in the middle seat one row before the toilets.
Supplementary images courtesy of respective airlines