From celebrities such as Anthony Bourdain to everyday passengers flying for professional or personal reasons, choosing where you’re going to be spending your hours on board a flight is, for many, central to the experience.
Some people may feel too claustrophobic in a window seat while some may dislike having to adjust when people walk by in the aisle (although there’s a quick way to help with that). Some may nod off fast on a flight and others may have the hardest time actually trying to relax. It’s all up in the air.
Jami Counter, Trip Advisor’s VP of flights and business development, says that “people are incredibly passionate and it comes down to personal preference…the aviation geeks of the world tend to love window seats,” he says.
Counter is one of these self-proclaimed aviation geeks and generally speaking, (unless it’s a long flight) he opts for the window seat. “For overnight I’ll take the aisle because if I have to get up it doesn’t disturb people—I’m not crawling over people.”
In Counter’s experience though, the average flier has a favourite seat. He also notes how airlines have changed over the last ten years and that the onboarding experience often offers passengers the opportunity to customize.
“You can pay for extra leg room in full-service carriers. Delta, for example will sell the seat at a higher fare or as an add-on to your package. Nowadays airlines have really tailored their approach on what customers will pay for. Anything you’re interested in you can buy,” says Counter.
Beyond personal preferences, there have been multiple studies aimed to provide reasoning and scientific evidence as to why one seat may be better than the other.
What science says
A study published in Clinical Infectious Diseases found that after an emergency landing was made due to passengers vomiting and having diarrhea, those sitting in the aisle seats, according to researchers, were more likely to contract Norovirus than those sitting in the window seat.
Another study suggested that the window seat would be more problematic for developing deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and venous thromboembolism (VTE), which can occur during long distance flights with little movement. Sitting in a window seat was listed as one of the factors that “may increase an individual’s risk of developing a DVT/VTE,” the study notes.
What frequent flyers say
A big proponent of the window seat is celebrity chef, travel guru and all-around foodie, Anthony Bourdain. In a 2017 interview with Forbes, Bourdain says he’s a “sleeper” and wants to crash out on flights. “I’ve been getting on planes for 200 days a year. As soon as I smell jet fuel, I’m out. I’m asleep for takeoff. I’m asleep for landing,” he told the publication, adding that he’s all about the window.
“I can wedge my head between the seat and the window during takeoff and fall asleep very nicely. And once I wake up in the air, I go back and as close to flat as the airline allows me. Nobody’s stepping over me. And I’m not eating.”
Toronto-based musician Chloe Charles has her preference set on the window seat, especially when she is flying back and forth to Europe on tour. In the last six months Charles has been on 12 planes and says she “prefers a window seat so at least I can look outside and have something to lean up against,” even if window seats tend to be “super cold.”
“The worst is being stuck beside a chatty person who won’t let you just watch a movie or sleep,” she adds, which can occur while seating in either seat.
Charles flew Wow Air for the first time and they double booked her seat, but in this case she got upgraded in a way.
“I ended up getting that emergency seat, which has double the leg room. It was pretty lush—I’d recommend trying to get that one.”
Actually getting what you ask is another story altogether though, and fliers that have paid for window seats don’t always get a window, especially as aircrafts try to squeeze more into small spaces.
Simply search the hashtag #wheresmywindow and you’ll find stories, photos and rants about people paying for a window only to find out they’ll be looking at just a white wall instead.
— Hayder al-Khoei (@Hayder_alKhoei) September 3, 2017
— Wayne Vaughan (@WayneVaughan) August 26, 2017
“If a window seat does not have a window or a misaligned window that’s when people who prefer window seats tend to get more emotional,” says Counter.
Trip Advisor’s Seat Guru website helps with sleuthing out such logistics though, offering fliers information and maps about what they’re getting. If an aircraft doesn’t have a window it will usually be because of structural concerns or design.
The lack of a window can cause sadness, but trying to find that sweet spot on the grooves of the window can also be a headache.
If you just have a flat surface (like a wall) it’s easier to lean and sleep on, so hey, maybe it’s not so bad to be window-less after all?
Working the logistics
Shinobu Aoki is a flight attendant of over 15 years and knows how specific fliers can be about their demands and “personal space issues.” In addition to demands, there are specific regulations that need to be met on board too.
“A baby car seat cannot occupy the aisle in a single lane aircraft and needs to be buckled by the window to not impede the evacuation of others” Aoki says.
Aoki explains that it depends on the load too. “If it’s a full flight then people generally won’t switch seats to accommodate a couple or family unless it’s for the same aisle/window seat,” she says. “If it’s a lighter load and the rows are empty, I’ve seen people switch to the window after takeoff and then stay there for the duration of the flight.”
Structure and set up also matter.
“For bigger planes with three seats in the bank of rows, I think aisles are more popular than windows for single travelers. Couples tend to be in the window seat and the middle seat. Tall people insist on the aisle or bulkhead.”
“For smaller planes (banks of 2), I’ve seen people ‘accidentally’ sit in the aisle more than the window.”
Generally speaking from her experience, Aoki notes that more female fliers prefer the window seat while male fliers prefer the aisle. Following suit with her own claim, Aoki chooses the window seat when she’s flying too.
“I prefer the window because I can look outside, lean on a wall to get comfortable and I won’t be bothered with people walking down the aisle.”
Where people really have an opinion
While seat selection can prompt discussion and passionate rationales, Counter says you’ll see more arguments and altercations surrounding “seat reclining” than seat preferences.
“People get very angry when they feel their space is being invaded,” he says. Knowing when it’s okay to recline or not certainly varies person to person, but that’s a whole other crapshoot.
Yahoo Canada readers, what’s your plane seat preference?