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Aisle seat versus window

Typical views from the window seat flying over southern Utah
Photo by Dolev Schreiber

Choosing a seat on a flight is not an easy task. It sets a passenger’s mood for the duration of that day or even the duration of his or her stay. Choosing wisely is a must and leaving it to chance can add up and boil inside. Please note: this article refers to economy and business class seats only.

Some domestic airlines such as United and Delta let ticket holders choose their seats in advance of the flight check-in. They sometimes even ask for a preference of aisle or window seat during the reservation process. Other airlines, such as Southwest Airlines, do not use a seat reservations system at all. Instead, they let customers choose their own seats upon boarding the plane. This means that the first ones to board get to choose window or isle. The last ones get stuck in the middle (author’s note: if anyone takes middle seat as a first choice, please write an article to explain this phenomenon). The first to board are left with a big predicament: take the aisle seat and get up each time someone wants to pass (and thus cause a disturbance for the rest of the passengers trying to board the plane) or move inside to the window seat, but then be locked in for the duration of the flight because the two people on the outside are sleeping so soundly that it seems almost rude to wake them up.

Here are a few pros and cons to consider before making the ultimate aisle versus window seat selection:

Aisle pros:

  1. When the plane lands, those seated at the aisle are the first to get up and stretch their legs and descend their luggage from the overhead compartments
  2. During the flight, aisle seaters are free to get up and "move about the cabin" without disrupting their row mates
  3. During the flight, these folks have space to one side to stretch out

Window pros:

  1. Views, obviously (especially when the Grand Canyon comes into view!)
  2. It is possible to lean on the side of the plane
  3. Nobody bugs the window seater, not even the flight attendant coming for drinks, so this is a great place for some much needed sleep or drowning in thought

Aisle cons:

  1. When the plane lands and the aisle seaters get up to get their stuff from the overhead compartment, everyone asks them to hand them their bags from that compartment and the one across from it as well
  2. During the flight, the person inside the row will make the aisle seater get up to let him or her pass to stretch and go to the bathroom
  3. During the flight, people walk through the aisle and bump their elbows into the aisle seater’s face or stick their butt into the row to let someone else pass or pull the aisle seater’s hair (not to mention the bruises one can acquire from the flight attendant’s cart)
  4. The person inside the row will be stretching arms and legs, invading the aisle seater’s personal bubble.
  5. No views from the windows

Window cons:

  1. Views – sometimes it is just clouds, other times it is just a whole bunch of cornfields or flat monotonous lands
  2. Leaning on the side of the plane is uncomfortable
  3. Nobody bugs the window seater, not even the flight attendant coming for drinks, and second drink chances are hard to come by
  4. Getting up in the middle of the flight is quite tedious work: Step 1, the window seater timidly wakes up the people on the outside of the row; Step 2, the window seater squeezes out of the entire row, trying not to shake the seats of the people in front or behind (and pulling the hair of the people sitting in front); Steps 3 and 4, upon returning, the window seater repeats steps 1 and 2 in reverse order in order to get back to the window seat
  5. The window seaters watch everyone descend from the plane while they are still trapped and unable to move inside

Of course, this article refers to sitting in a plane. No matter the distance, the destination, the origin, the size of the plane or the smiles of the flight attendants, sitting at either window or aisle (or middle, for that matter) will be uncomfortable. Unless the plane has a real first-class section with cupholders and seats that push back all the way to a flat position, prioritizing the pros and cons of aisle versus window is imperative to making this vacation-saving decision.