Choice of your seat made easy

Whether it's the fear of DVT or simply the need for more room to move, long-haul flights can be a challenge. But more options are emerging.

WINDOW seat or aisle? Up the front with the crying babies or down the back near the toilets?

Trying to choose where to sit on a long-haul flight can be a case of the lesser of evils.

Some try for the bulkhead at the front of the cabin, some will do whatever it takes for a seat in the exit row and others go for less popular seats on half-empty flights in a bid to get the coveted extra seat.

There is just no guaranteed solution for an easy flight.

Adding to the old window-versus-aisle debate are new evidence-based guidelines showing sitting in the window seat can increase your risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) on long flights.

There is just no guaranteed solution for an easy flight.

The American College of Chest Physicians says travellers sitting in a window seat tend to have limited mobility and are at greater risk of DVT, especially when other risk factors are present (see "Cheers to that").

Once you have decided where on the flight you want to sit, getting what you want often comes down to how savvy you are.

This can mean everything from reserving a specific seat when you book to asking at check-in and keeping an eagle eye on board.

Another option now available to the everyday traveller is setting up a free "seat alert" through the website

The site, which has traditionally been used by business travellers and other frequent flyers, now allows casual travellers to set up one alert for free.

You can enter your flight details and set an alert such as "any aisle", "any window" or, in the case of a full flight, "any seat".

If a suitable seat becomes available, you will automatically receive an email.

ExpertFlyer says its site monitors more than 120 airlines worldwide and travellers can set up additional alerts for less than a dollar. The company says the number of travellers who have used the free seat alerts is already in the tens of thousands. And the promising news is that the site has a success rate (travellers finding an alternative seat) of nearly 80 per cent. Many travellers use the site to get out of the dreaded middle seat.

But further notification options include "any exit-row seat" and "any two seats together".

Travellers hunting for exit-row seats on flights, which provide more legroom, will often find they have to pay these days. Qantas, for example, sells exit-row seats on selected international flights for between $40 and $160 a sector, if you contact the call centre after booking.

Frequent-flyer members have the option of paying the fees with points, which is worth exploring.

The no-frills airline AirAsia, which is now flying to Sydney, has taken a different approach to offering passengers better seating.

The airline is offering an "empty seat option" through the website By registering it gives travellers the chance to get an empty seat next to them or possibly even all three seats in a row.

Passengers enter their flight details into the website and pay a "nominal" empty seat price.

If an empty seat is available, the passenger is emailed in the days before the departure and the empty seat fee is retained.

If an empty seat is not available, the extra money paid is refunded to the passenger. It works for the airline because it has the ability to collect some money for what would otherwise be a seat producing no revenue. It works for the passenger because they pay only if a seat is available (other than a small fee to sign up for the service).

AirAsia also uses the Optiontown website to offer upgrades to its premium flat-bed seats.

The airline says the load factor for its premium cabin has increased more than 20 per cent as a result.

Air New Zealand has taken another approach, with the introduction of the "Skycouch" to economy class last year.

The Skycouch option, which is available on flights between Auckland, Los Angeles and London, gives travellers the chance to share three seats between two people, with armrests and other discomforts out of the way to create a flat, flexible space.

Air New Zealand says it won't release sales figures for commercial reasons but the company indicated the Skycouch is "selling well".

Cheers to that

The good news for long-haul travellers is that the American College of Chest Physicians could find no definitive link between alcohol consumption and DVT risk.

Nor was there any proven link to sitting in economy class, dispelling the myth of the so-called "economy-class syndrome".

Factors that do increase the risk of DVT include pregnancy, obesity, use of oral contraceptive pills and "advanced age".

The link between flying and DVT is strongest on flights longer than eight hours and the risk can be best mitigated by walking, stretching and wearing flight stockings.

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