Why are seats at the rear of a plane sometimes unavailable even though many other seats are available in the plane?

Example (see the last three rows):

enter image description here

I have seen cases where a fair amount of rear seats are marked as occupied while many other seats weren't. I don't think this is a group of people as they could have gotten adjacent seats somewhere else in the plane, and typically nobody wants the last row since the seat cannot recline.

The screenshot above was taken for American Airlines (AA) 1717, which uses Airbus A320-100/200 and flies from Charlotte (CLT) to Baltimore/Washington (BWI).

  • 11
    I wonder what's going on with that airline's seat pricing at all. Do they seriously imagine they can get anyone to pay $13 for seat 14E (a middle seat!) when you can get 14F (or for that matter 13F if being closer to the front matters to you) for free? Oct 3, 2019 at 11:51
  • 1
    Which airline and aircraft type is this?
    – dunni
    Oct 3, 2019 at 12:03
  • 4
    The same thing appeared on all four segments of a Delta itinerary I booked and am about to fly on next week. I'll make a note to look and see who is actually in those seats. Oct 3, 2019 at 15:49
  • 2
    When I'm traveling with kids, I often get as far back as possible--closer to the bathrooms.
    – mkennedy
    Oct 3, 2019 at 19:05
  • 6
    @HenningMakholm: Welcome to the world of learning algorithms. If there has been a noticeable tick up in people asking for that chair (for whatever reason, even just random luck), the airline can decide to up the price without needing to know why people seem to prefer that seat. Does it need to make sense? Nope. It's their prerogative.
    – Flater
    Oct 4, 2019 at 9:56

5 Answers 5


I work for an airline. Let me offer a much simpler explanation:

The seats are taken by other passengers.

Seats in the rear are popular because they are close to the lavatory. Depending on the airline, it may also be the first rows to be served in-flight meals.

One of the comments questions the pricing scheme. Airlines have plenty of data to determine their pricing strategies. We can aggregate months of data to see which seats are popular. That's thousands of flights.

One of the answers state this is done for Weight and Balance consideration. This is incorrect. A modern airplane, like an A320, has a wide enough envelope for us to not worrying about that when selling seats. And, if necessary, the operations department can offset it by loading cargo forward or backward. It may happen that we have to ask passengers to move seats, but it is exceptionally rare.

While it is true that certain seats may be blocked for operational reasons, I doubt any airline does this on a frequent basis. Seats are money. With profit margins being so low and the industry so competitive, blocking 10 seats on each of your flights is like shooting yourself in the foot.

Deadhead crew is a possibility. However, to have 10 deadhead crew occupying revenue seats, someone in the roster department has screwed up.

My guess, based on OP's screenshot, is that a rather large group is traveling together, and they have all selected the rear seats.

  • The group may have agreed to seek rear seats since they're easier to come by. Oct 4, 2019 at 6:40
  • 8
    Well, this was anticlimactic. +1
    – Mazura
    Oct 4, 2019 at 7:19
  • 2
    One other possible reason is that there is a popular conception that seats in the back of the plane are safer. Not sure this is actually correct (I believe this has been debated here or on aviation.SE), but as long as people believe it...
    – jcaron
    Oct 4, 2019 at 7:53
  • 7
    As to the statement that it would not have been done for weight or balance, I direct you to the article (simpleflying.com/a320neo-cabin-rows-blocked) which states "Multiple airlines are now blocking the rear rows of the Airbus A320neo. This is due to an Airworthiness Directive issued by EASA which has limited the aircraft’s center of gravity envelope."
    – JefferMC
    Oct 4, 2019 at 15:10
  • @JefferMC - good link. Most of this answer seems reasonable, but envelope aside, center of lift and center of mass is just as or more important in modern airplanes, especially as they increase in size. Sure, there's more margin for error without impacting safety, but once that margin is exceeded, the potential for disaster is far greater and even the best computer flight system cannot overcome physics Oct 5, 2019 at 14:35

In long flights, in airplanes that has no crew rest area (bunks) such as A330, airlines reserve the seats at the rear of the airplane for the crew to take rests (shifts).

In case the flight was a long haul flight, this could be the reason why the last row is blocked.

However, it is clear that the airplane layout you posted is not a wide-bodied airplane and cannot operate a long haul, it could be blocked due to many other reasons:

  • Deadhead crew, a crew that is scheduled to be re-positioned to another location to operate a flight from there, new crew scheduling systems are integrated with reservation systems to book the seats automatically. I assume they book the worst seats for them.
  • Simply defective seats.
  • Weight and balance
  • Storage (seen it in one airline where extra equipment was in the rear seats)
  • Stretcher case (for a sick passenger) where a few seats are reclined and transferred into a bed.

Note: for more details, you should ask a similar question to Aviation SE.

Airplanes must have the centre of gravity within some limits, and for operational reasons (costs), it is much better to have it much nearer of wings.

For this reasons, airlines prefer to put people near wings, and they prefer not to have many people in the rear (with nearly empty airplane). It is the same reason that if you ask to change seat, you may need to return to your seat for landing.

Note: because airplanes are (often) longer on the tail then on the nose (compared to wings, which lift the airplane), the back part is much more critical. [On airplanes with rear engines, like many business jets, the contrary is true].

As @dunni wrote in as commentary in an other answer, recently EASA mandates some corrective action on some Airbus 320 neo, so BA, Luftansa (and maybe others) keep the last row empty (but just the last row). This is just a temporary "hack" until the software about load balance is corrected (and so also loading is done differently).

  • 1
    Just flew an A320-neo with Lufthansa & was in the second-to-last row. Interesting (and a little worrying) to see why the seats behind us were empty and marked "do not use"
    – Dragonel
    Oct 3, 2019 at 21:16
  • The reason that the back is more critical than the front is that a front-heavy plane still has longitudinal static stability, whereas an aft-heavy one does not. Aft CoG can lead to unrecoverable aerodynamic stall, whereas forward CoG won't.
    – reirab
    Oct 3, 2019 at 22:30
  • Also, as my previous comment may have implied, but didn't state explicitly, keeping CoG within bounds is not just (or really even mostly) a cost issue. It's very much a flight safety issue and it's very illegal and very dangerous to operate a flight where the CoG is not within bounds. Aft CoG can very easily cause an airplane to be completely unflyable. Extreme forward CoG can also cause the aircraft to become uncontrollable, especially at lower airspeeds. This is why all pilots focus so much on balance, not just airlines.
    – reirab
    Oct 3, 2019 at 22:43
  • CoG too far forward usually just means the airplane is sluggish to climb, or can't lift the nose off the runway at all. CoG too far back means the airplane tries to flip around and fly tail-first, which is considerably worse.
    – Mark
    Oct 4, 2019 at 2:42
  • @Dragonel In some cases, the last row of seats are right up against the bulkhead, and because of this they cannot recline. Not that most airlines seem to care all that much about their passengers' comfort, but that could be one reason for blocking those seats off (they may be used by the crew though.) Oct 4, 2019 at 20:33

Note: After OP revealed the aircraft type in an edit to this question, this answer is no longer applicable to this specific case. Leaving it here as it certainly applies to other cases with different aircraft.

This could just be the plane’s seating layout coupled with the airline wanting to keep three identically spaced columns and at least 26 rows for whatever reason.

At the back of the fuselage planes get thinner and there is often not enough space for the same seating arrangements used further ahead. Possibly row 24 is 3+2, row 25 is 1+1 and row 26 isn’t actually a thing.

  • 2
    Also, some airlines need to keep the last row unoccupied in some aircraft models because of weight distribution, if their business class in the front is not fully booked. I think it was on the Airbus A320 neo and happens at least with Lufthansa.
    – dunni
    Oct 3, 2019 at 11:28
  • 2
    If i find the sources again, i will put it in an answer
    – dunni
    Oct 3, 2019 at 12:02
  • 2
    That could be the case on other aircraft, but I doubt this is the case here. The seat map clearly has 3+3 up to row 26.
    – jcaron
    Oct 3, 2019 at 12:15
  • A320 has 3 seats in each side all the way till the back, that's not the case here. The curve starts with the lavatory. Oct 3, 2019 at 12:15
  • 1
    I've never seen any narrow-body planes do this and I've certainly never seen any airline show seats on their seat map for non-existent seats, even on aircraft that do taper toward the aft end of the passenger cabin. It would be incredibly rare for the passenger cabin of a 3+3 config aircraft to taper to 1+1 in the passenger cabin. There's usually lavs, galleys, exit doors, etc. aft of the last row of seats, so the seats usually don't come anywhere near close enough to the aft pressure bulkhead to require that much fuselage taper in the last row.
    – reirab
    Oct 3, 2019 at 22:38

To add to the other answers, rear seats tend to fill up first because in a crash...

enter image description here

Source : How to survive a plane crash (Telegraph)

For whatever truth there is in those findings, it matters only that the general public have internalized this idea as a truth so people tend to select rear seats preferentially on this basis.

  • 3
    Do you have evidence that this is a significant factor in seat selection in general? It certainly seems to conflict with the fact that passengers pay more for forward seats.
    – Sneftel
    Oct 6, 2019 at 8:52
  • @Sneftel No, but it may be out there. Over wing is the most comfortable ride, and has other conveniences. People have different priorities, it explains the clustering.
    – J...
    Oct 6, 2019 at 10:26
  • The point is, if people tend to select rear seats preferentially, then the airline would charge a premium for those instead.
    – Sneftel
    Oct 6, 2019 at 11:22
  • @Sneftel The airlines don't tend to admit the safety differential, however. Their position seems to be that all the seats are equally safe. Presumably there is also some political disinclination at work here also - "Airlines charging 'safety tax'" is not a headline fire any of them want to have to stamp out.
    – J...
    Oct 6, 2019 at 11:42
  • There are three types of crash: almost all survive, almost all die and the in-between category. In the first and second, your chances of survival are largely independent of where you sit. In the third it comes down to ‘how exactly was the crash?’ with some crash types preferring the front and others the back. People attempting to make a rational choice based on survival rate thus need to predict the type of crash. And those people also know that the most dangerous part of a flight is driving to the airport.
    – Jan
    Oct 6, 2019 at 16:02

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