Best Airline Seats For Tall People – Ask Alex – Travel Question Wednesdays

Posted on / by Alex Berger

Ask Alex - Travel Question Q and A every Wednesday

This post is part of the Ask Alex, Travel Question Wednesdays weekly series. To see previous questions click here. To submit your own; tweet it to @AlexBerger, ask it in a comment on this post or send it in by e-mail.

This week’s travel question is from James K. he asks,

Q. “I believe I read that you are fairly tall. As a tall person where is the best place to sit on an Airplane?

A. – You’re correct! I’m right around 193 cm or just under 6’4″ depending on the mode of measurement you want to use.  This means that I JUST fit in most airline seats.  It also means that I have a deep seated hatred for people who press the recline button and then throw their weight against the seat back without warning to recline as quickly as humanly possible.  I’m not sure the exact thinking but I assume it is tied to the old “If I do it quick, maybe they won’t notice” line of thinking.  Given my knees are usually flush against the back of the seat in front of me, and align perfectly with the tray arms I do notice.  Every time.  Painfully.  As a result it’s not uncommon for me to finish a flight with lightly bruised knees.

If you’ve found yourself in a similar boat then you will have likely heard that the exit row seating or bulkhead row seating is the best place to sit. In general the common narrative when discussing airline seating seems to be that these are the best seats on the plane.  For years I fell into this school of thought and sought them out.  No longer.

Unless you absolutely require exit row seating avoid it.  It sucks. If you’re tall, but still short enough to fit into the standard seat I suggest opting for an aisle and bypassing the exit row land rush all together.  Why?

  1. Most tall men (and women) seek out the exit row.  Tall people tend not to be bone-thin.  If you get unlucky (as I often did) you’ll find yourself sandwiched into tiny seats next to two other large men who can’t help but sprawl. While you may have picked up an inch or two of added knee room you’ve lost it in shoulder and leg room.  Few things make a multi-hour flight less enjoyable than role-playing a sardine in a sardine tin for 8 hours straight.  It’s also worth noting that these seats are desirable for people who tend to be slightly heavier as well, as it makes getting in and out of the inner seats significantly easier.
  2. You have to stow all of your carry on items. While a fairly minor annoyance the requirement that bulkhead/exit row seats require all luggage be stowed in the overhead during takeoff and landing can be fairly annoying. Especially if flying in/out of an airport with sub-par weather and regular post-boarding flight delays.  As baggage fees increase the lack of overhead space can also be a huge pain.
  3. The seats don’t recline.  While some bulkhead seats recline most exit row seating is locked in the upright position.  In many cases I find that this can be more uncomfortable than tight leg room over long haul flights.  While this may be redundant for many tall travelers, keep in mind that most airline seats are designed to offer back and neck support.  Unfortunately, the molding for these types of seats tends to be for  at maximum a 6’1″-6’2″ build.  I often leave long flights and bus rides with sore shoulders because of the way the seats push my upper body forward with the upper back cradle hitting mid-shoulder blade instead of higher as intended.
  4. It’s probably more expensive.  Responding to demand and eager to make a quick buck a lot of airlines have started charging extra for exit and bulkhead seating.  In addition to being a questionable practice for a variety of different reasons, it’s just not worth the extra money.

Keep in mind that different airlines and different aircraft have vastly different configurations.  Sites like Seat Guru ( have done a great job providing high quality research tools which you can use in preparation for your next flight.   Best of luck, and have a safe (and enjoyable) flight!

Would you like me to elaborate on an aspect of this response?  Let me know!

Have a question of your own? ASK IT! Want to see previous questions? click here.

Thank you to Budget Car Hire for helping make this post possible.

Alex Berger

I am a travel blogger and photographer. I also am involved in academic research into the study abroad and backpacker communities.


    Flying high (and comfortable) when you’re tall |
  • Jody
    October 24, 2014

    I’m just venting, but I’m sick to death of the state of air travel. I’ve been flying for decades, but meeting my (210 cm, 140kg) husband has created obstacles that are only worsening, each year.

    I’m 161 cm and maybe 55 kg. To try to save money on a recent trip, we opted for Economy Comfort, instead of Business Class. I was speechless when “I” squeezed (literally) into my seat. I looked at my husband and said, “I don’t think you’re going to make it.” The next 7 hours were torture for us both.

    To be clear, the Business Class rate was 5-6 times our Economy Comfort fare. At least the Business Class seats were awesome on that plane. Alas, an airline mix-up had the wrong plane type, and not enough seats for everyone (so no chance of switching).

    On our return flight home, we skipped the Economy Comfort, and just went for a bulkhead. (Keep in mind that we made that choice at booking.) The seat was an inch wider for me, but somehow tighter for my husband. Eight hours of misery. (I also noticed that I’d be spitting mad if I paid for Business Class on that flight, as the seats were marginally-larger than coach, but pretty much the same in every other way. What a ripoff.)

    So, we reconfirmed the abject need to fly Business Class or better.

    What irks me most is… The airlines have chosen to atomize the size of coach seats, while simultaneously charging exponential prices for what used to be considered a normal, human-sized seat.

    As I plan our next trip, I’m trying to make the best use of our money…. because we pay for our travel…not some company expense. Business Class fares typically range from 3-8 times that of coach, so I’m considering travelling in coach, separate from my husband. I also looked at buying a flight to our next, final destination, separate from the main hub leg. It is much cheaper, but the Business Class fare for that short flight is 10 times the coach price (for probably terrible, cityhopper “Business Class” seats).

    I’m happy to spend money to get a better experience. But outrageous fares, only to get what used to be my coach seat in the ’70s, leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth; absolutely NEEDING a normal-sized seat for my husband only exacerbates my disdain.

    Do I want to pay $1,200 like everyone else? Of course. Am I willing to pay $2,500 for a few more inches and amenities? No problem. Should I HAVE to choose between paying $1,200 for a seat my husband physically doesn’t fit in, or $6,000 or more for one that he does, though? smh The situation is untenable.


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