For those of us who don't fly enough to get preferred status, sitting towards the front on a very full flight could result additional delays deplaning because:
1. Without preferred status, seating order is usually back to front
2. By the time the last "group" is called for boarding, many of the overhead bins are full
3. Full overhead bins means that you have to check carry-on luggage at the gate (a hassle)
4. When deplaning, you usually have to wait in the jetway for your bag while everyone else who sat behind you walks by.
5. There is a chance your bag will be misdirected either to baggage claim or elsewhere.
1-4 has happened to me a number of times...fortunately 5 hasn't; although, I have seen folks waiting when the baggage handlers said that's all they have.
Now, I shoot for a seat in the middle, unless I'm pretty sure the flight is not very full. I am usually just short of the preferred status each year as I don't fly all that often and my flights are mostly in the same region.
P.S. A nice addition to seatguru.com would be typical "zones" that the Airline uses for boarding order.
It Depends on the Airline
Seating order depends on the airline. Some do it front to back. Some board back to front. Some board window seats and then aisle seats. Some I haven't figured out what higher math they are using in boarding assignments. Boarding Zone information would be a great addition to seatguru.com.
I know the airlines frown on it, but I often put my overhead compartment carry-on a row or more in front of my seat. Scan the overheads as you board. If they are filling up, grab whatever space you can. Be considerate and know that there are ways that bags fit in these compartments more effectively than others. I keep materials I'll need during the flight in my briefcase or small carry-on that I know will fit under the seat in front of me. Don't expect to be able to get to a bag behind your row until most of the plane has deplaned at the desitination.
I have been on more and more regional jets when I travel. This is mainly on spoke (hub to destination) routes. I believe airlines are getting better percentages of filled seats on these aircraft and I'm seeing airports like Denver and Salt Lake City adding concourses specific to regional jets. If you have a carry-on that is on the larger end of the approved size spectrum, expect to gate check it on a regional jet. There is still plenty of room for a medium size carry-on under the seat in front of you which may not fit in the overhead of a regional jet. Be aware that Seat 3A or 3C on some regional jets may still be a bulkhead seat, so check on this.
There are many small airports that serve regional jets which always send gate checked bags to the baggage claim. I've had #5 above happen to me a few times, but it was quicker than waiting in the jetway. Remember these are very small airports where I've had bags often arrive at baggage claim before I do.
Seat Guru does have some boarding order info. This was key when I had to fly United this week where I have no status. I was able to change to window seat and get my bag in overhead on all 4 legs.
Cathie: thanks for the
Cathie: thanks for the link! That's very nice! I almost always fly US Airways, it looks like they just switched from a back-front/outside-in kind of seating order to "random". More reason to make sure I check-in on-line early. Though I feel better about getting seats towards the front.