Seat secret revealed by Fox News

By Richard Turen
Richard TurenIf I am going to be discussing something important with you in this space, I’m always going to try to use the most trusted sources I can locate. When it comes to news, apparently, that would be the Fox News Network, according to a recent study by Boston’s Suffolk University. The same study that found that about a quarter of those Americans who watch the news find Fox to be the most accurate also named Bill O’Reilly as the most believable newscaster on television. Go figure.

On April 27, Fox came out with a story headlined “Best seat on the plane is 6A.” I mean, there it was! No equivocation. It was the great aviation secret revealed for all to see. The left-hand side of the aircraft, forward row 6A, window seat is the absolute best place to sit.

Imagine the problems this story is likely to cause me. My clients will wonder why I’ve been keeping this information from them. Why have I allowed them to book seats in rows 4, 7 or — perish the thought! — row 9 on the right side of the aircraft? Will savvy clients who saw the Fox News report postpone their trip if 6A is just not available? Or, as is likely the case, is seat 6A actually a “preferred” seat, available solely to elite frequent flyers or those willing to pay extra for it?

The Fox story attributes the information to Skyscanner, a 10-year-old cheap-ticket site with offices in Edinburgh and Singapore. In its original press release, Skyscanner’s travel editor expressed hope that “the low-cost carriers don’t find out that there is such demand for seat 6A and start charging a premium for it!”

Well now, hold on there, Mr. Editor and Fox Friends. You see, here’s the thing: Which seat on an aircraft is best depends on what kind of airplane you’re flying on, because different planes provide different number of seats. It also depends (although I don’t wish to confuse you) on which specific airline you are flying, since two airlines will order the same aircraft in very different configurations. So, to say that 6A is the best airline seat is akin to saying that cabin 709 is the best cruise cabin. Don’t you see how that would sort of depend on the ship?

Then, of course, there is the issue of personal preferences. One of mine, for example, is to always try to sit in the front of the aircraft when I fly 727s or MD-80s into Fort Myers, Fla., near my home. But I don’t like to sit in the front of the plane because that’s where the best seat is located. There is no “best seat” on an MD-80; everyone knows that each seat is equally awful.

No, I sit in the front because it can take a good hour and a half to deplane in Florida. The clock starts when folks make their required cellphone call as the aircraft taxis. Then they struggle to grab their overhead luggage, clogging the aisle as they look in desperation for a nearby bodybuilder with the strength to extricate their carry-ons from the overhead bin. Those are the bags seemingly filled with gold bullion bars. Only then, ever so slowly, do they shuffle off the plane — but not before sneezing several times just to be certain that every single person on the aircraft has contracted at least one airborne disease.

Sorry, Fox, but I would never sit in 6A. That’s a window seat, and I happen to think that window seats are dangerous. Hear me out on this, Bill O’Reilly. I know you don’t believe in global warming, but I wonder if you believe in the harmful rays of the sun. When you’re flying, you see, you’re above the Earth’s protective atmosphere. That means that flying during daylight hours exposes you to dangerous, unfiltered ultraviolet rays. They are streaming right through the windows. I always try to make sure that the window shade is down on daylight flights, and I sit in an aisle seat because I will sometimes organize a bowling league using the aisle, several empty wine glasses and the Brunswick Ultra Zone ball I always keep in my carry-on luggage.

Now I know what you’re thinking: You can’t wait to tell your clients that seat 6A is the best seat on the aircraft. On any aircraft. As long as you’re doing that, you might as well tell them about the worst seat in the house, the dreaded 31E. It’s a middle seat way in the back of the aircraft. That information also appears in the Fox story.

If you do just a little bit of research, you might come up with one fact that Fox neglected to include in its story. The Skyscanner research was referring to an older version (are there any others?) of the 757, used on a great many international routes by Europe’s discount airlines. (And of course the 737, the world’s most popular jet passenger plane, generally has only 22 rows to begin with.)

I wish it were as simple for those of us who counsel clients as it is for reporters in the mainstream media to make declarative statements.

Anyone who works in travel in Pennsylvania, for instance, knows that if you’re flying overseas on one of US Airways’ 767-200s, you want to try to grab seats in row 12 or row 5.

Lots of clients are now requesting seats in the middle of the aircraft because travel gurus are telling them they will experience less turbulence there.

Is it my imagination, or are our clients becoming obsessed with where they are seated for a few hours? Personally, I am more concerned about who I am seated next to. My all-time-worst seatmate was an early parolee who apparently had not showered since being incarcerated. My all-time-best seatmate was Dolly Parton.

One valuable little nugget did emerge from the Skyscanner research of 1,000 of its site users. It appears that a growing number of passengers are getting frustrated by the hassle of deplaning. This has to do with the fact that nearly every passenger is saving money by carrying baggage onboard to cram into those biohazard incubators the airlines call overhead bins.

Contributing editor Richard Turen owns Churchill and Turen, a vacation-planning firm that has been named to Conde Nast Traveler’s list of the World’s Top Travel Specialists since the list began. Contact him at rturen@travelweekly.com. 
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