My favorite seats on the airplane are the front row. As part of the insiders club (see prior post) of people who fly Southwest so much they know how to work the system, I’ve developed a strategy that gets me one of those seats about 90% of the time I fly. Sharing that strategy puts it a bit at risk as it may increase intelligent competition for my desired seats, but I’ll do it anyway. After all, there’s plenty of flights I’m not on, and it could help people on those, too.
The short version is: pack light and be nimble. When you get on the plane, you have to act quickly and get out of the aisle.
As I said, I like the front row. In order of preference, 1A, 1F, 1C, 1D, 1B, 1E---window on the left, window on the right, aisle on the left, aisle on the right, middles. These seats are desired because they have tons of legroom, but they have downsides that temper this. A lot of people don’t realize the downsides until they try to take the seat. If someone is attempting to go for one of my favs, I wait patiently until they are situated. There’s a decent chance they will give up and move.
After a few flights, you start to see what prevents people from being able to sit in the front row.
1) They don’t want to forgo a tray table. I don’t mind this and I consider that I will not have a table when choosing what I want to do on the plane (knit, read, write, etc.).
2) Their rollerbag does not fit in the smaller front bins. I don’t carry-on a rollerbag.
3) They have too much luggage. They may not have a rollerbag, but they have one small item and one larger item. Both have to go up in the front row, but they often can’t find space for the larger bag. If I do not check my luggage, I carry two small bags---my purse and a bag the size of my purse---that can both easily be tucked into small spaces left in the overhead bin.
4) They haven’t figured out what they want to use on the plane and aren’t ready to store both their bags, so they give up and go for a seat with under-the-seat-in-front-of-you accessible-during-flight storage space. I choose what I want to do on the flight before boarding and keep that one item in my hands when boarding.
5) The aisle or window is more important to them than the row. I’d rather have the middle in the front row than a window or aisle elsewhere. Because middle seats are generally less desirable but are fairly high up on my list of preferences, I can often get a front row seat even if I’m boarding at the end of the A’s.
I make some decisions before getting to the airport, primarily whether I will check a bag or not. This depends mostly on the speed of baggage claim at my destination and whether I will be leaving the secure area on a layover. (I love layovers in Kansas City; hi, Alfred!) I know that baggage claims at OAK and DCA take ages but that it’s relatively quick at MKE and MCI. If I’m flying into MKE or MCI, I may check a bag so I only have my purse to carry on. If my trip will involve flights into OAK or DCA, I try to avoid checking luggage.
I also have backup seats in mind in case the front row is full. I consider the likelihood of needing to go to these at two points, when I get my boarding position the night before and when everyone lines up for boarding. Having to go to backups depends partly on my boarding number but also on where the plane has come from (likelihood of large number of through passengers), number of preboarders and their ailments---preboarders are likely to take the front row, especially if they have leg injuries or canes.---, the number of Business Select passengers (boarding spot 18 can actually be boarding spot 3 if there are no Business Select), and the amount of rollerbags in front of me, which as discussed above generally disqualifies people from the front row. I know that a flight out of MKE is very unlikely to have many Business Select passengers unless it’s going to LAS; every flight to Vegas seems to have lots of Business Select people, as if they’re saying “hey, I’m already throwing away a ton of money on this trip, let’s go big all the way!”
Considering all these things, I pack for the goal of the front row based on my calculated likelihood of getting it. If I’m in the B group on a flight with a layover or stop in Vegas, I’m going to pack for not getting the front row and probably just pass it up even if it is available. But B group and flights going through Vegas are rather rare for me, so I’m in pretty good shape for getting a nice front row seat where I can stretch my legs.