The Joys of Modern Life 69: Free seating on aeroplanes

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THE REAL joy of low-cost airlines isn't the fact that they are low-cost (because they aren't), or that the aeroplanes now come in funky colours; it's free seating. It's watching people spilling out of a Luton Airport departure lounge and breaking into a trot across the Tarmac to secure their favourite position on board.

I've seen men linking arms to stop other passengers from overtaking them. A friend of mine, a fashion designer with a penchant for high heels, proudly tells me that she's always the first passenger on an easyJet.

Of course, the joy of free seating isn't just confined to spectacle. It makes checking in so much quicker. No longer do you have to stand in the queue while the person ahead decides whether they want an aisle or a window seat, only to be told there are none available.

No longer do you have to put up with someone making out that they have an ailment/ extra long legs/ a tendency to hysteria and therefore need a seat by the emergency exit. And, best of all, no longer do you have to put up with some sweaty upstart in a cheap suit demanding to be upgraded - because, of course, in this age of no-thrills, low-cost airlines, everyone is equal. Everyone gets the same reusable boarding-card, although strangely - and this is where I think the chief joy of free seating comes into play - people still think there's a business class, or at least a few extra inches of space at the front. Why else do most people head there?

To get the most out of free seating, you have to head for the back. Now that these low-cost aeroplanes come with front and rear entry (to aid swift passenger flow and fast turn-around times) I find myself invariably ducking under the wing and heading for the relatively clear rear steps. Once on board I'm usually spoilt for choice as to seats.

The drinks and sandwiches may not be free, but at the back you'll at least get served first. And, of course, there's another reason for sitting at the back: any expert will tell you that it's the strongest and thus the safest part of the aeroplane.