I have a confession to make — over the years I’ve gone from being an “always aisle seat” guy to an “always window seat” guy on planes. It has no doubt been a gradual transition — first I’d select aisle seats no matter what, then I’d select window seats only on shorter flights, then I’d select window seats only when in premium cabins, and now I select window seats no matter what.
Heck, this has almost caused some drama in my relationship. When I first met Ford I thought “great, he prefers the window seat, that’s perfect.” Nowadays we fight over who gets the window seat.
Why has my seating preference changed so much?
Why airplane window seats are superior
Gary at View from the Wing wrote an interesting post about how your seating preferences reveal your value to the airline. He quotes a loyalty program executive who said that seating preferences are a good indicator of the lifetime value of a customer:
- Those who prefer the aisle seat are business travelers, who like to sit at the front of the plane and get off quickly
- Those who prefer the window seat are leisure travelers, and therefore generally less valuable to airlines
Gary argues that aisle seats are superior to window seats, and that “everyone knows this,” and it’s why airlines generally sell aisle seat assignments for more than window seat assignments (I’m not sure I’d agree with that assertion).
What’s his logic?
- In aisle seats you “direct your own destiny,” because you can get up and use the lavatory whenever you wish
- Window seats are dirtier than aisle seats
- Window seats are claustrophobic
Now, Gary and I can probably agree that a seat that gives you an aisle and a window is ideal, whether it’s in American Eagle first class or in Qatar Airways Qsuites. Gary and I can also probably agree on the importance of “directing your own destiny” on the plane, but the issue seems to be that we interpret that a bit differently.
American Eagle first class
Qatar Airways Qsuites
Anyway, in no particular order, let me share why I’ve become a total window seat guy nowadays:
Gazing out of airplane windows never gets old
Despite having flown millions and millions of miles, to me gazing out an airplane window never gets old. Ever. Even the least scenic flight has things worth seeing, and there’s only upside from there.
I don’t care how commonplace air travel becomes, I’ll never take for granted the miracle of flight, and the fact that we can basically get a bird’s-eye view of the world when hurling through the sky at 500 miles per hour in a metal tube.
View from a Philippine Airlines A350
View from a Cathay Pacific A350
Window seat passengers control window shades
Beyond enjoying the views, you also want to be able to control the window shades. For example, if it’s a daytime flight and you want to sleep, you can control whether the window shade is lowered or not.
Similarly, if you want to watch your personal entertainment, you might want to lower the window shade to reduce glare. The person in the window seat always controls the window shades.
Control of window shades belongs to the person in the window seat
Window seats make it easier to work
Personally I work quite efficiently on planes, and I find that being in a window seat helps with that. I can angle my laptop or phone screen away from the person seated next to me.
While my preferred view on a plane is out the window, some people seem to prefer staring at other peoples’ laptop screens. Of course it also makes sense to get one of those privacy filters to put on top of your screen, but even those aren’t foolproof when you’re packed in like sardines.
In a window seat you can angle your screen away from others
In window seats no one climbs over you
Gary argues that a major benefit of aisle seats is being able to control your own destiny in terms of when you can go to the bathroom:
“You get up to use the lavatory whenever you wish and don’t need to worry about waiting on other passengers to gather their belongings to let you out, or your seatmates falling asleep and needing to be woken to let you out.”
Conversely, if you’re in the aisle seat you do need to “worry” about other passengers bothering you to get up when they need to use the bathroom. And if you fall asleep, your seatmate will wake you up when they need to use the bathroom.
To me it’s quite simple:
- I don’t drink a lot on planes, so I don’t have to use the bathroom a lot
- When you’re in a window seat you have a reasonable right to ask the person in the aisle seat to get up when you need to use the bathroom; maybe I’m just entitled, but I don’t “worry” about when I’ll be let out when I need to use the bathroom, because it’s a reasonable request
- When you’re in the window seat you have the benefit of not having to get up when you’re not using the bathroom, and you also deal with fewer people “pulling” on your seat to get up
I’d rather be in a window seat and have no one climbing over me
Window seats are better for resting
Whether you’re in economy or business class, window seats are consistently better if you’re trying to rest. In economy, you can rest your head against the wall, which you can’t do in the aisle seat.
In a window seat you can rest your head against the wall
Meanwhile in business class cabins that don’t have direct aisle access from all seats, personally I have a strong preference for sleeping facing the wall, as it minimizes disturbances.
Even in business class window seats are better for sleeping
Window seats expose you to fewer people
Gary argues that aisle seats are cleaner, based on the fact that apparently cleaners do a better job of cleaning aisle seats than window seats. I don’t really care, because I can (and do) wipe down my seats as I sit down. I’ve seen how cleaners clean planes, and there’s no way I’m relying on them.
Now, while I’m no doctor or scientist, it would seem to me that you’re a bit less exposed in the window seat than the aisle seat:
- For one, in the aisle seat during boarding you quite literally have people hovering over you while they get to their seat
- In the window seat you only have people on one side of you, while in the aisle seat you have people on both sides of you (after all, an aisle is at most a couple of feet wide)
Coronavirus has made me more cognizant of this than ever before.
I’d rather be further away from more people in the window seats
Window seats actually let you control your destiny
When I’ve been in a window seat and have asked to use the bathroom, I’ve never had someone in an aisle seat say no. Ever. However, I have been in an aisle seat and:
- Had a flight attendant pass a drink to the person in the window seat and spill it on my laptop, destroying it in the process
- Set up my electronics to charge (keeping things fully charged is a hobby of mine, and sometimes I’ll be charging four things at once), and shortly after setting everything up the person in the window seat asks to use the bathroom, and I have to disassemble everything
- Had someone standing in the aisle basically on top of me (whether a fellow passenger or flight attendant) having a loud, extended conversation with the passenger in the window seat
- Had someone who keeps the window shade closed for the entire flight (this is actually incredibly common)
Window seats truly let you control your destiny
Over the years I’ve had a change of heart regarding my airplane seating preferences. Nowadays I’m 100% in favor of choosing a window seat, regardless of the circumstances.
Window seats offer better views, afford more privacy, are better for resting or working, and actually let you control your own destiny, in terms of the position of the window shade and when you get up.
Where do you stand — are you #TeamWindowSeat or #TeamAisleSeat?