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Some airlines like Southwest, simply do not assign seats. Others can do so about 10 1/2 months before the flight. Most major US airlines have the capability to assign seats between 60 days and 6 months out. *Tour companies and cruises do not automatically assign seats for you-request that your travel agent does so when s/he can. *Frequent flyers who have acquired beaucoup miles have the most preferred aisle and front of the plane seats set aside by the airlines for their use. That's why you can't get a front seat, even if you're the first one buying a ticket! *The airlines only pre-assign about 70% of any plane. This is in order to give them control at the gate for special care passengers, like children, the handicapped, or persons with other needs. The process of "weights and balance" also requires the plane to be loaded roughly equally with passengers for a smooth flight. *In a plane with a 3-and-3 configuration, ask your travel agent to get you and your companion the window (center empty) and the aisle on one side. This would leave an empty seat for stashing in-flight magazines, etc., and the tray in the middle can be used for your drinks, giving you more lap space. The airlines will not usually assign this kind of set up. If the plane becomes completely full, the stranger assigned to the center will be happy to trade with either of you!