Which is better: window or aisle?

For air travelers, the choice of economy class airline seat — window or aisle — is an enduring question, if not also a source of countless arguments. And for most of the year, it’s also a highly academic one, since planes are so overbooked that you’re lucky to get any seat.

Except now. With planes flying less full and the airline industry predicted to make what’s being called a “soft” landing (industry-speak for “we’re not making the obscene profits our shareholders are accustomed to”), air travelers have a choice. The debate is real.

Window proponents say a view and a fuselage to sleep against make theirs the superior choice. Passengers who prefer the aisle seats say it’s better because they have easy access to the restrooms, the possibility of a little extra legroom, and they’re first to exit the aircraft. There is only one thing both sides agree on: the intense dislike of the middle seat. No matter what you choose, you’ll need to know a few things before you make that seat selection.

First, a few numbers. Statistically, the aisle seat is more popular, at least among frequent air travelers. More than 7 in 10 air travelers looked for an aisle seat, with the rest opting for a window, according to the website ExpertFlyer. Leisure travelers, who may like looking out the window, might lean in the other direction, but we don’t have the numbers to prove it.

Interestingly, ExpertFlyer’s Chris Lopinto likes the window seat. “I can work or sleep without my aisle-mates climbing over me and creating an inconvenience for everyone,” he says.

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Laura Wittchen, who works for a college in Hamilton, N.Y., agrees.

“The window seat is perfect,” she says. “No one bothers you to move. You have complete control of the window shade, which should always be down. People in aisle seats are always being asked to move so that couples and families can sit together. I have never been asked to move in a window seat.”

Nonsense, says the aisle crowd. Their seats of choice are better and they have their reasons. Lauren Fritsky, a frequent air traveler and a veteran of many long-haul flight between the U.S. and Australia, says it’s the only way to fly.

“You can use the bathroom at your will, without having to step over or wake the stranger next to you,” says Fritsky, a marketing professional from New York. “You can get up to stretch or walk around. You have more openness on your one side to position your body, instead of being cramped by two bodies or one body and a wall. You can be the first one out of your row when disembarking. And you can easily get out of your seat to get something from the overhead.”

The latest aircraft innovations have turned more travelers into aisle aficionados, suggests Allen Klein, a writer and professional speaker who lives in San Francisco. Many airlines have moved their seats closer together recently, which has forced him to move to the aisle.

“Because of my legs and the chance of a blood clot, I wear compression socks and need to get up once an hour to exercise,” he says.

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There’s yet another group of air travelers that chooses a window or aisle, depending on the circumstances. That’s the assessment of Dan Suski, founder of the airline review website Seatlink.com.

“For overnight flights where I need to get some sleep, the window seat is the clear winner,” he says. “You get something to rest your head or pillow on, and you’re guaranteed fewer interruptions from other passengers. For day flights or when I want to get work done, it’s the aisle seat all the way. The aisle gives you freedom to get up and move around at any time, and it’s always a little faster for deplaning.”

Of course, in a perfect world, we wouldn’t have to choose between a window and an aisle seat. All the seats would afford both a view of the outside and easy access to the restrooms. The aircraft designer who figures out how to do that while still cramming passengers into the plane will make millions.

Speaking of millions, just because there are coveted aisle seats available doesn’t mean you’ll get one. Some airlines are now waiting until the last minute to release the seats to those who refuse to pay extra for an assignment, hoping that you’ll pony up extra cash for the privilege of not being wedged between two other passengers.

Here’s a newsflash, airlines: All the seat tricks in the world are not going to prevent that soft landing your industry is about to have. But they may turn it into more of a hard landing.

SIDEBAR: How to get an aisle seat

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Ask for it.
Airlines will assign a desirable aisle seat to passengers who need the extra room or access to the lavatory. If you have a disability or a special need, consult with the carrier’s special services desk. You can also ask a fellow passenger to switch with you after boarding.

Pull the card.
If you have a loyalty card, you may be entitled to a better seat, even if you’re just sitting in economy class. Your card may work on another airline if it has a codeshare agreement with your favorite carrier. It’s better that getting squished into a middle seat.

Pay for one.
Airlines will love this suggestion because they’ll make more money from you. But if avoiding a window or aisle is important, you may want to spend a few extra dollars. (You’re welcome, airlines.)

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org.

  • disqus_00YDCZxqDV

    If you need to go to the toilet every 5 minutes, the aisle. If you can last the journey without, the window. Simple!

  • finance_tony

    I like the aisle as it lessens the claustrophobic feeling.


    “since planes are so overbooked that you’re lucky to get any seat.”


  • sirwired

    “And for most of the year, it’s also a highly academic one, since planes are so overbooked that you’re lucky to get any seat.”

    The number of involuntary bumps remains at low levels. It’s not fun if it happens to you, but I wouldn’t think of landing a seat in general as requiring much in the way of luck.

    “With planes flying less full and the airline industry predicted to make what’s being called a “soft” landing (industry-speak for “we’re not making the obscene profits our shareholders are accustomed to”)”

    The profit levels of the last several years (since the end of the Great Recession) are a bit of an anomaly; the default mode for most airline shareholders has been a continuous sink of capital. Oh, and are planes “less full” or “so overbooked most of the that you’re lucky to get any seat”?


    Window, all the way. There can be some very nice views; might as well enjoy them! A beautiful flight over some puffy clouds or O’er Amber Waves of Grain can make a stressful trip less-so.

    I will say that if “being the first in your row off the plane” is a big selling point for you, you need to introduce some additional padding into your travel plans.

    Personally, I have no problem with charging for more desirable seats. Clearly some seats within a class are better than others; why charge the same for them?

  • David___1

    I’ve always felt like “debating” this is a little silly. It’s like asking Coke or Pepsi, chocolate or vanilla. Go with your preference and who cares what the rest of the world thinks…

    P.S. But I won’t argue that it’s good to write a column so the less frequent fliers know the merits of each.

  • Dutchess

    My partner and I both like Aisle seats. We usually choose two Aisle seats across the aisle from each other.

  • Mark

    One of the best features about the new Dreamliners is the electronic window shades – it means that the cabin crew can ‘lock’ all windows as ‘shaded’ – and on overnight flights passengers no longer need to suffer from a selfish passenger who floods the cabin with light from their window.

  • Blamona

    I like window because I’m a nervous flyer and have to be looking out the whole time

  • DAVE

    I enjoy the middle seat. I take an ambien, fall asleep and snore loudly annoying the folks on both sides of me

  • Bill___A

    I prefer aisle. However, there still isn’t that much room and certain flight attendants, rather than guiding their cart through the confined space like they should, drive it like a battering ram, hitting anyone’s knees that stick out. They make it too small for tall people and then make it dangerous. Most FA’s are not like this but some are and can’t seem to figure out how to do it properly. And no I am not going to swap my aisle seat for a window or a middle. I will swap if there is a good reason but within reason too.

  • Bill___A

    I thought the”window shade always down” was a bit of a strange statement. I hope to never be on a plane Like that.

  • Lifetime Expat

    When travelling solo, I always go for the Aisle, for the extra stretch room. When travelling with the Wife and little-un, I always book 2 aisles and a window near the back. The middle is less likely to get filled near the back, and if it is then the unlucky passenger will be delighted to swap for the other aisle seat–they escape both the middle and being sat next to a child.

  • LeeAnneClark

    While I agree it was an odd statement, I will say that one of my major air travel pet peeves are people who leave the shade up when it’s light out in two circumstances: 1) when I’m trying to watch a movie – the glare from the window can make it virtually impossible to see the movie, and 2) long-haul flights when people are trying to sleep.

    So I can kinda see her point, but I don’t agree that it should *always* be down. Especially when we are traveling over interesting sights, such as the Grand Canyon.

  • Jeff W.

    “Of course, in a perfect world, we wouldn’t have to choose between a
    window and an aisle seat. All the seats would afford both a view of the
    outside and easy access to the restrooms”

    They have those. In layman’s terms, they are called puddle jumpers and many have seats that are both aisles and windows. Best seats in the house.

  • BubbaJoe123

    “we’re not making the obscene profits our shareholders are accustomed to”

    Given that the cumulative profits of the US airline industry over its entire history remain negative, “obscene” isn’t exactly the word I’d choose…

  • Skeptic

    As a window seat maven who gets precious little daylight where she lives from late October through February, the shade will be up if I have anything to say about it. Basking in the bright daylight is a near miraculous sensation after weeks or months of of an Alaskan winter. The light is also essential for re-syncing my sleep-wake cycle, which often struggles to adjust as I fly several time zones east from Alaska to attend business meetings. Sorry, but planes are not movie theaters and those of us who have legitimate need for light or a desire to see the world passing beneath us should not have to rot in the dark just so you can pursue that form of entertainment.

  • Skeptic

    If the flight is overnight, there wouldn’t be light coming through the window, right? (Unless the flight was on a polar route in that hemisphere’s summer.) Sorry, but selfishness is a matter of perspective. I need light in winter especially and when traveling west to east. Since my state is the westernmost in the country, ALL my business trips start with an eastward flight and accompanying time zone challenges as I try to get to a meeting at 8 AM local time the next day, around 2 AM in my home time zone. Is it selfish of me to expect to get some daylight on my retinas during the AK-east coast flights that use up the entire period between sunrise and sunset?

    I would hope that Dreamliners also let FAs lock the overhead reading lights some red-eye pax keep on all night. I always have an eye shade with me (which works against window light, too!) but pax who don’t can really struggle to sleep as those bright reading lights bounce off white pages in adjacent seats.

  • BubbaJoe123

    One good rule of thumb – at very least, window shades should be down if (a) it’s light outside, and (b) it’s not light outside at the destination.

  • Bill___A

    So yes, window shades should sometimes be down, agreed. Seat backs should be up during takeoff, landing, and mealtimes too.

  • Bill___A

    I think what was in your PS is the point. Almost all of these stories are a learning experience, one way or another.

  • Bill___A

    I try make my booking while there is still a choice available.

  • PsyGuy

    I just don’t see the window seat as desirable on long haul flights, as the FA’s close the windows for everyone to sleep. On short haul domestic flights fine. The other issue as most of my flights are trans-pacific there just isn’t much to see. On wide body configurations there are only 2 window seats and 4 aisle seats so there are more of them.

    I say no to people who ask me to move who aren’t FA’s. next time spend some cash and get seats together, especially considering I paid for my “premium seat assignment”.

  • PsyGuy

    Yet, everyone with a billion dollars want’s to build an airline.

  • PsyGuy

    This is true but there’s usually no overhead. However, if i could figure out an itinerary that would use “regional narrow frame” aircraft to get to LAX or SEA that made sense, I’d do it.

  • PsyGuy


  • PsyGuy

    I’m one of those people.

  • PsyGuy

    That just sounds like you’re of the window shade down group, but with more steps.

  • PsyGuy

    I like the shade up

  • PsyGuy

    So should tray tables. The people that take out their laptops, dongles and file folder in the aisle seat while people are still boarding, as if you’re getting the whole row to yourself are clueless.

  • PsyGuy

    Coke and Vanilla of course.

  • PsyGuy

    Sometimes the padding isn’t by choice. You land and have 40 minutes from gate to gate or your next flight is tomorrow, and that’s just the way it is.

  • PsyGuy

    Not true. I don’t need to usually go to the bathroom, it’s more like just getting up and stretching and grabbing a can of Ginger Ale, or a glass of wine and chatting with the FA’s. However, I like to fly in my flannel pajama pants and a t-shirt with slip on canvas shoes. Makes security a breeze. and the flight so comfy.

  • John McIntosh

    Try being on a transatlantic flight sitting in the aisle seat,trying to sleep and having two members of the prostate patrol seated across the aisle from you. One is drinking from a huge coffee cup and the other has a 1 liter bottle of water. And EVERY 20 minutes one of these men got up to use the restroom and they’re not steady on their feet. So they bump into me. Arrrggghhhh. I’ve a similar problem on short flights of 3 hours or so. The minute the seat belt light goes out 5 people are up and headed to the restroom. And why? Because they’ve been guzzling fluids. “I don’t want to get dehydrated!” Folks if restricting your fluid intake for a while leading up to the flight makes you dehydrated you’ve got a problem to begin with.

  • BubbaJoe123

    For long flights, I’m of the “do whatever you can to acclimate to the time zone you’re heading to” school.

  • BubbaJoe123

    It’s the classic story.

    Want to make a million dollars? Take a billion dollars, and start an airline.

  • MarkKelling

    Or you can buy a 1st class seat on many long haul flights and have that configuration.

  • MarkKelling

    “With planes flying less full …” Wow, which airline are YOU flying??? I really want to fly on that one!

    I have not been on a flight with any empty seats in so long I wouldn’t know what to do if the seat next to me and every inch over overhead wasn’t filled to overflowing.

  • The Original Joe S

    I fly on a good Asian airline. I pay for a good seat. It’s worth the money to me.

  • The Original Joe S

    My usual trip is a couple of hours layover. I don’t mind taking my time getting off the plane. Let the other morons stand in line to go thru security to the connection concourse. THIS moron likes breezing thru when there’s nobody crowding the checkpoint; they usually wave me thru.
    People who stand up IMMEDIATELY the plane comes to a halt, and wait standing up for 5-10 minutes to get off , are not very smart………

  • The Original Joe S

    But there IS NO CHOCOLATE!

  • The Original Joe S

    I wanna open the window in an SSN.

  • The Original Joe S

    You wanna go to LAX? I’m beginning to worry about you.

  • The Original Joe S

    Yeah, Untied had a 6 billion surplus, and all of a sudden, they were 6 billion in the hole. Amazing.

  • The Original Joe S

    Yup. I book a window in enhanced seating area, and I pay for it. Long in advance of the flight. That’s called planning. Would not move for anyone else’s convenience. And, I ain’t flying no coach to no Asia not never no more, no kidding! I’m too old for discomfort.

  • The Original Joe S

    well, BOING made their 777 coach armrests have a circle on them so you can’t lie down if the seats are empty. I hate 777. I like 747.

  • Carol Molloy

    Thanks for adding some levity to the discussion! I think I am the rare traveller that doesn’t care which seat I have. I just care about getting to my destination without incident. It hopes that I m short, and the middle seat isn’t much of an inconvenience as a result. I fly transatlantic frequently, so no, it’s not matter of only being on short flights. I empathize with people who are truly affected by the ridiculous seating configuration in most aircraft, though.

  • PsyGuy

    My company only pays for economy. I pay for premium seats myself.

  • PsyGuy

    It’s either LAX or SEA

  • PsyGuy

    I’m with you there, and usually I pad my connections with a couple hours, so I’m in no hurry to get off. The idea of jumping up, and getting ready just to stand in a narrow aisle doesn’t make sense to me.

  • PsyGuy

    Haha, made coffee come out my nose.

  • PsyGuy

    I don’t really suffer jet lag, I don’t know why. I work on long haul flights, I’m usually the lone guy with his overhead light on while everyone else is asleep.

  • The Original Joe S

    I ain’t got no company. i’m retarded….. errrrr… reTIRED!

  • The Original Joe S

    Left coast. no guns there. None in Nippon either.

  • The Original Joe S

    really. I sit and then leave when clear.

  • MarkKelling

    Maybe those “first in your row off the plane” are just so tired of being confined in the cramped plane they just have to get out into the relatively open concourse and take a breath, or a toilet break in a place that you can actually turn around in, or maybe get a drink in a proper sized glass at the bar before the next flight. It probably has nothing to do with their connection time in most cases.

  • MarkKelling

    I usually do that on international flights. A lot less stressful!

  • MarkKelling

    Woman sitting next to me on the plane last night at midnight asked that I close the shade — she didn’t want anyone looking in. While we were at 40,000 ft. Over an ocean. Pitch black outside.

  • LeeAnneClark

    Um…wow. That’s a bit twisted!

    I can’t help it…my first thought is that old Twilight Zone episode with a young William Shatner (before he became captain of the Enterprise) in which he kept seeing a furry gremlin on the plane’s wing, and nobody else could see him. HAHAHAHA!!!!

  • AMA

    If I buy a window seat, it’s because it has a window and I want to LOOK OUT OF IT. I am such a selfish, inconsiderate troll.

  • PsyGuy


  • Lindabator

    Flew AA/JL last week – paid for economy comfort aisle seats both ways – DEFINATELY worth it

  • Lindabator

    just not on the long international flights – and they crew usually will ask they be kept down most of those times

  • Lindabator

    I don’t either – but here’s a good suggestion for those who are — when you are connecting or when you arrive, get to a spa with oxygen and take a 20 minute session – nothing better to recharge you

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