I have long legs and this means that long distance flights in standard economy class seat are agony. This is why, over the years, I’ve developed a strategy to improve my chances of being assigned a free exit row seat.
The first thing I’ve learned is to always check-in at the airport. Those emails airlines send titled “online check-in is now available” get deleted immediately. If I check-in online I’ll get preassigned a seat and there’s almost no chance it’ll be in an exit row.
I also try and check-in early. If you’re the last person to check-in then the exit rows seats will likely be already secured by other wily passengers, and you’ll be left with something down the back, near the toilets.
Let’s play this out. I’ve arrived at the airport a little early. I’ve reached the front of the queue for my flight and now it’s my turn to check-in.
I’ll always approach the airline staff with a friendly smile and have my passport ready and open at the photo page. If I need to show evidence of a departure flight or give any other information then that’ll be on-hand as well. I’m trying to make it as easy as possible for the airline attendant and make a great first impression. I’ll open with something like, “Good afternoon. I’m on the 4pm flight to Tokyo and I have no baggage to check-in”. I’ve given them everything they need to make this a simple transaction and by one-bagging I’ve saved them the hassle of having to weigh luggage and print luggage tags. As they swipe your passport it’s time for the ask.
“I’m pretty tall and I was wondering if you have any exit row seats available?”
I’ve given a reason why they should help (because I’m tall), and done so after establishing a just enough good will. Usually it’s enough. They’ll see if any such seats are available and if there are then I’ll probably get it. The only pushback might come from budget airlines that charge extra for exit row seats. However in some cases even they have slotted me into one, for free.
I really think that showing up to the desk with an easy going demeanor and without a trolley full of suitcases really helps makes it just that little bit easier for them to say “Yes”. Give it a try. Your legs will appreciate it.