Right now I am somewhere over Lima, Peru sitting in the last row of an airplane flying towards Buenos Aires, Argentina. I am sitting uncomfortably close to a man who describes himself as a “fat, bald guy” who after I get him to open up also happens to be the world’s most successful tennis coach. (I googled him and he checks out.) He just got back from a lesson where he focused on improving President Bush’s backstroke (the older one, not the pretzel one). He has spent the last 20 years coaching celebrities all around the world and now he has nothing else to do for the next nine hours except talk to me.
Reasons For Not Sitting in the Back of a Plane
There are plenty of reasons for not wanting to sit in the back of an airplane.
Back Seats Don’t Always Recline
I once flew from New York to Tel Aviv in the middle seat of the last row of a Boeing 777. I had two people on either side of me and a seat that didn’t recline. It was the absolute worst seat on the plane. As I learned later, that didn’t matter.
Last to Get Served Meals
Flight attendants tend to serve meals from the front of the plane back. This means that if you are sitting in the back, your food will be colder than the people sitting in front of you and that you will potentially have less options. As you will see, this limitation doesn’t really matter.
Back Seats are Not the Safest Seats
I once asked a Boeing engineer which seat was the safest on an airplane. He responded that all seats on Boeing aircrafts are safe (har har) but that he recommended sitting next to the wings as that area of the plane is the most heavily reinforced. In case you have never seen an airplane, wings tend to be in the middle of the plane, not the back. If you see something else, run, don’t walk, in the other direction.
Why None of Those Reasons Matter
You are unlikely to ever remember the feeling of a chair that doesn’t recline but you sure as hell will remember the conversations you have with interesting people.
While sitting in the back of airplanes, I have sat next to: the world’s best tennis coach, one of the first employees of Starbucks, a airline pilot, a world famous chef, a helicopter pilot, and one of the first investors in Qualcomm.
Wait, Why Wouldn’t These People Fly First Class?
People who fly a lot tend to fly mostly using miles. (I have met two people who claimed to have over a million frequent flyer miles each. The trick is that milage seating are lower in priority than paying customers and the seating can reflect that. Unfortunately for frequent flyers, this leaves the possibility that a paying customer may be able to bump them out of first class. As it turns out, on prime flights this happens frequently. In this case, these expert flyers sit in the back as they know they are most likely to have free seats next to them. (For efficiencies sake, many airline seating algorithms fill empty seats from the front to the back of aircrafts.)
But I Hate Having To Wait For Everyone Else To Get Off The Plane First!
Fair point, but I bet you also like boarding planes first. After first class passengers, people with children and military personnel board, many airlines typically board from the back. This means that you get to spend less time in the terminal and more time reading Sky Mall.
Won’t the Flight Attendants Ignore Me?
In my experience, I have seen the opposite effect. Since economy class attendants are usually stationed in the back of planes, it is much easier to get the attention and strike up conversations with the flight staff if you are sitting in the back. I have made this work in my favor many times.
Seriously Though, the Back?
Yes, seriously. Conventional wisdom states you should try to sit in the front (first and business class) or exit rows (more leg room) when flying. This makes sense if you can afford it or have miles but this doesn’t apply to most people.
When you are on long flights, the conversations you will have with the people sitting around you will likely far outweigh your impression of the chair you are sitting in. Make your journey count and surround yourself with other interesting people. Your butt might regret it, but your head won’t.