My Preference For An Aisle Seat Isn’t As Strong As I Thought…

Filed Under: Travel

Most frequent flyers have strong seating preferences in terms of whether they prefer aisle seats or window seats, though preferences can vary depending on the type of flight.

My personal seating preferences are (roughly) as follows:

  • On a short daytime flight (less than two hours) I’ll take a window seat for the views
  • On any other flight I’ll take an aisle seat for easy access to the aisle
  • If I’m traveling with someone I’ll always choose a pair of aisle and window seats together, and am happy to sit in the aisle or window based on the other person’s preference; I just prefer not being at a stranger’s mercy to have access to the aisle


But even on flights where I prefer an aisle, the type of aisle seat I prefer varies based on the specifics of the flight. For example, on widebodies without direct aisle access from every seat, I prefer a center aisle seat on a longhaul flight, while I’ll take an aisle seat on the window side on a shorter flight, since I’ll at least get some views.

The reason I have such a strong preference for an aisle seat is because I get up a fair amount. I drink a lot of water on planes, and therefore have to pee with some frequency (TMI?). Furthermore, I’m usually working, recharging electronics, etc., so for seats without proper storage, I’m frequently moving things into and out of the overhead bin.

On my South African Airways flight a couple of days ago from Frankfurt to Johannesburg I found myself in a window seat. I had selected a center aisle seat on the flight I was booked on from London to Johannesburg, but when I got rebooked through Frankfurt due to a cancellation, a window seat was the only option left.

I didn’t like the thought of being in a window for a flight that long (at least I was in business and not economy!), simply because I knew I’d have to get up, and I didn’t want to inconvenience the person in the aisle. Furthermore, it was a redeye flight, and I knew I’d have a hard time getting up in the middle of the night without waking the guy in the aisle.

South-African-Business-Class-A340 - 10

However, much to my surprise I ended up loving being in the window seat, and I think I may choose it from now on in this type of a configuration. I slept extremely well for nearly seven hours, which I attribute largely to being in the window seat. When you’re in a standard forward facing 2-2-2 business class configuration, you feel quite “exposed” in the aisle seats, in my opinion. Meanwhile in the window seat I felt like I had a fair bit of privacy, especially thanks to the small privacy partition between seats.

South-African-Business-Class-A340 - 17

I slept facing the fuselage, and felt like I was in my own cocoon, while in the aisle seat I would have been much more sensitive to the actions of others, whether it be movement in the aisle, light from someone’s personal television, etc.

After this flight I’m also convinced that having to pee is largely mental, because despite chugging several bottles of water, I only went to the lavatory once during the flight. 😉

Do you prefer the aisle or window, and what factors into your preferences?

  1. I think just like you when it comes to seat selection. One exception would be a long-haul window seat if it’s a new destination and if I feel like there will be some great scenery out the window.

  2. I am always an aisle person. I may have my first exception though — Club World on a BA 777. The aisle seats seem very exposed but I feel like I’ll be trapped in the window seat. Don’t know what to do. No clear cut good option on this one.

  3. Always window regardless of class. I don’t care if I have to wake the person up next to me. But I do make a conscious effort not to wake him up and improvise a way to get out.

    An aisle seat is a last resort.

  4. Agreed, the peeing is completely mental. On airplanes we’re usually bored and the toilet is RIGHT there, we’re basically staring right at it. Also the fact that access to it is at a (sort of) premium–you never know when it’s going to get occupied–adds to the perfect mental storm of unconsciously convincing ourselves we need to go.

  5. No no no, you definitely want the aisle. For sure. Especially if you’re traveling with me. The aisle is way better for you, definitely. I’ll take the inferior window seat, just to be nice. 😉

  6. Nice analysis. Tend to think like you used to: 95% of the time aisle, any other seat feels like I’m trapped. Window only for very short day flights with nice scenery.
    Luckily, I’m flying both AA 777-300ER and 767-300 1-2-1 config in business and first so both window AND aisle and no roommate for 9 and 5 hours respectively 😉

  7. Too much free champagne before takeoff huh? I know it may be watered down stuff most of the time, but that’s no excuse to coverup your habit Ben!

  8. I always chose window seats until I developed DVT/PE on EZE-DFW flight and spent 4 days in the hospital. With no contributing health factors other than long haul travel, I ALWAYS sit on the aisle now.

  9. I’m the type that likes to look out the window, so I always go for a window seat. 99.9% of the time I never leave my seat, so bothering my seat-mate by getting up isn’t an issue for me. But here’s something I’ve been wondering about. For those of you who like to look out the window, how do you feel about the reverse herringbone seats that Ben likes so much? It seems to me that even if you get a “window” seat, that the seat is actually so far away from the window that it’s essentially an aisle seat, making it difficult to look out the window. I’ve never sat in one of those seats, so I’m wondering how others feel about this.

  10. The thought that the need to pee is only mental is a figment of your imagination. All your recent experience probably meant is that you were eating salty food or drinking hard liquor, both of which cause water retention.

  11. Interesting discussion, but hopefully soon to be moot at direct aisle access becomes the norm in J

  12. I always go for an aisle seat. I was “stuck” in a window seat on a AA LAX-JFK flight not too long ago in coach, and actually came to realize it wasn’t all that bad… maybe time to reconsider!

  13. I always choose an aisle seat, and while others may think that needing to use the restroom mid-flight (or towards the end of the flight) is mental, I can assure you that it’s not.

  14. If it’s not an aisle seat, I’m not going. Period. I’d be a claustrophobic basket case in a window seat.

  15. When choosing an Aisle Seat – another consideration is whether you are right or left handed. I am right handed – and find that when I am in a seat with the Aisle to my LEFT and another passenger to my RIGHT (So – on the Right side of the plane on the Aisle-Window side or on the LEFT side in the middle area) – that I tend to feel more confined on the work I can do – typing, writing, etc…

  16. Lucky, if you had to fly economy for business trips like the rest of us plebeians, then you would always take the aisle.

  17. I agree about the window. If I’m in Y on a transcon, I can hold my pee and prefer not being disturbed by other people wanting to get up.

    In J, I think it matters redeye versus daytime flight. On redeyes, I usually don’t need to get up that much. On daytime flights (like EU-USA), sitting in a window seat can make you feel trapped.

  18. From an aesthetic viewpoint, I always want the window. From a biological standpoint, much like you, Lucky, I tend to choose aisle.

  19. @Lucky, Given the “uniqueness” of the BA Club World cabin, as an aisle sitter would you make the exception and go for the window seat?

  20. I always pee before the “seat belts on” sign comes on for take-off because you never know how long you’ll be stuck on the runway and things could get desperate, especially if you’ve slung a few down in the lounge.

    One time on BA first class I basically told the attendant that either she lets me go to the toilet Or I would have to wet myself. It was at maybe 2000 feet and she let me go, saying “be careful”. I was.

  21. No mention of a CRJ where the window seat has a height restriction before you have to lean into the aisle.

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