The map: The Jumbo guide to flying

Matthew Sweet knows where to sit on a 747 if you want to get your dinner first or avoid Mr Bean (hurry, everyone wants that seat)

On 30 September, 1968, the first Boeing 747 rolled out of the production plant. Since then these planes have carried passengers equivalent to one quarter of the world's population. Despite all the travelling they have facilitated, nobody has produced a Boeing Baedecker to guide you around the points of interest. Until now. But be careful when using this inside information, as seat numbering varies with each carrier.

Flight deck Boasts 971 lights, gauges and switches. And while we're at it, the entire aircraft contains six million components, about 1.5 million of which are rivets. So now you know.

19A In the upper deck - known rather sweetly as "the bubble" on BA planes - this seat affords the best view of passing clouds. No wings to get in the way, no engines blocking the sight of a diminishing Hounslow.

Small room, upper deck, on the far left hand side as you look towards the nose, just behind the flight deck

The crew rest area, where in-flight personnel can catch up on their sleep after long hours of smiling at curmudgeonly passengers. There's only a single bunk in here, so don't get any ideas. There's no wash basin, no TV, no nothing. The 747-400 has a roomier facility in the rear of the fuselage above the aft lavatories. This area can be configured for eight bunks or two seats.

Row 13 Doesn't exist on most planes, for obvious reasons. Would you book a seat in it?

30C, 31C and H, 32C and H The noisiest part of the aircraft. Sit here and you'll be right in the middle of the plane's catering operation, and subject to a cacophony of clattering trays and rumbling trolleys.

30C The best seat to get sick in: the medical kit is located in the galley between business and economy classes. However, being as near to the flight deck as possible is a better option on British Airways flights. The cabin crews of BA 747s get remote medical back-up from a company called MedAir, based in Phoenix, Arizona. If a medical emergency arises, the captain will contact one of its team of 16 doctors, who are on 24 hour standby to relay advice.

The Galley between economy and business class An average international flight requires the preparation of five and a half tons of food supplies and more than 50,000 in-flight service items like napkins and plastic forks. But this isn't just where your dinner reheated. It's also where you'll end up should you die during the flight. In the event of a passenger expiring, the body is stowed here, with the curtains drawn (unless they can get away with leaving you in your seat). It's covered with a rug and strapped to the floor with seat belts - to prevent it rattling around during landing. The plane's VCR - operated by the cabin service director - also resides here.

30ABC, 31HJK Passengers sitting here will be the first economy class travellers to be let off the plane. If you're familiar with the disembarkation procedure at your destination, you could chance it and get a seat at the very back: they might allow passengers to exit both ways.

44CH The second most noisy part of the aircraft, where you'll be treated to the sound of banging toilet doors.

Luggage facility Newer 747 models offer 15.9 cubic feet of space in each of the stowage bins, which works out as 2.95 cubic feet per passenger. So there's room for hundreds of pairs of socks.

46-52DEFG Since the cabin crew begin to serve food and drink at either end of the section in economy, you'll be served last if you book a seat in the middle block. Since the ratio of passengers to cabin crew is much more equal in business and first class, questions like this aren't really relevant. Not having to wait 15 minutes for a bread roll is what you pay for up there.

55ABC, HJK, 45ABC, HJK The best seats for the video screens. Close enough, but you don't get a crick in your neck. Unfortunately, as the worlds' most popular in-flight entertainment is now Bean: The Ultimate Disaster Movie, you may wish to hide in the toilet instead. However, those with religious or cultural objections to watching Rowan Atkinson are in luck. If you're an ultra-orthodox Jew, for instance, BA will find you a seat as far away as possible from the screen, and do their best to keep you from having to sit next to a woman passenger.

54ABC, HJK Because of their extra leg room, these are the most popular seats on the plane. For safety reasons, airlines will not allow passengers with mobility problems to sit in them. Extremely tall people, however, are positively encouraged to stretch their legs here. They're also the best place to sit if you want to chat up a member of the cabin crew because they sit opposite you during take-off and landing.

68ACDEFGHK Those with first-flight nerves or delicate stomachs should avoid this end of the plane, as this is where turbulence makes itself felt most strongly. The engine noise is loudest here, too. However, since the plane tapers off towards the back, antisocial passengers who can cope with a bit of buffeting should book here.

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