How to choose an airline seat

The debate rages. Are you an aisle- or window-seat traveler?

window or aisleWindow or aisle?

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

Why some passengers love aisle seats and for others  it’s window seats

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.

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.

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.”

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Nonsense, the aisle crowd says.

Their seats of choice are better, and they have their reasons. Lauren Fritsky, a frequent air traveler and a veteran of many long-haul flights between the USA and Australia, says an aisle seat is 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. Passengers have more openness on your one side to position your body, instead of being cramped by two bodies or one body and a wall. Those with close connections can be the first one out of their row when disembarking. And aisle passengers can easily get out of their seat to get something from the overhead.”

The latest aircraft configurations 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.

Overnight flights call for a window seat. On short hops I get an aisle seat.

For yet another group of air travelers, the choice of a window or aisle depends on the circumstances. That’s the assessment of Dan Suski, founder of the airline review website

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“For overnight flights when 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.”

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.

Beware new seat-release rules

All the seat tricks in the world are not going to prevent the airlines from cramming more and more passengers into planes. Fliers already frustrated by the proliferation of fees may turn it into more of a hard landing.

How to get an aisle seat

  • 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 sitting in economy class. Your card may work on another airline if it has a codeshare agreement with your favorite carrier. It’s better than 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.)