A host of factors seem to affect whether someone prefers a window or an aisle seat on an airplane, and most everyone has an opinion about it. When I asked my 1,115 Facebook friends about it, I had 10 responses in 7 minutes, and close to 30 in a couple of hours.
Aisle seating was the most popular option among people I know (though larger surveys have found it's an even split). My friends mostly said the same thing about why they preferred the aisle: They liked the freedom to get up and move around. A few noted that they thought it was important to stay hydrated while flying and therefore needed to get up a lot to use the lavatory. Or they just wanted easy bathroom-access generally. Several aisle-preferrers had health concerns, one specifically related to blood clots. A few also felt they had more room in the aisle seat. (Though technically window seats have the most personal space, there is more visual space in an aisle seat — a greater perception of space, if not reality.)
The idea of "climbing over" people when they need to get up (to stretch or to use the bathroom) seemed to put people off who would otherwise enjoy a window seat. "I prefer window for most flights. I want to work uninterrupted. For longer flights I'll opt for an aisle, because I don't like to ask people to move so I can get up to use the bathroom," wrote MaryAnn Masarech, in a explanation that was echoed by others.
The other area of flexibility came from parents traveling with kids. As Colorado mother of two Jessica Ridenour wrote: "My kids like the window so by sitting on the aisle I can corral them in." It's also easier for a parent to organize food and drinks for kids if they are on the aisle dealing with the flight attendant.
Window-lovers (I count myself as one) cited the great views, relative privacy, ability to lean against the wall, and coziness, which all make sleeping on a plane easier in the seat-with-a-vista. Cara Joy Brand added that she likes to be able to "... move and lean and sit in weird positions and the window doesn't care!" She also didn't want to deal with someone "... bumping me with their bags or the drink cart," which several window-lovers noted being of concern.
Taking charge of your flight experience
But what if your preference really comes down to how selfish you are?
"Passengers who favour the window seat like to be in control, tend to take an ‘every man for themselves’ attitude towards life, and are often more easily irritable. They also like to 'nest' and prefer to exist in their own bubble," Dr Becky Spelman, chief psychologist at Harley Street’s Private Therapy Clinic told The Telegraph.
This tracks for window-seat-loving me: I'm a borderline control-freak who works independently and quite often finds myself grumpy. I love my own bubble so much I usually travel with headphones, large hood, sunglasses, aromatherapy sprays, print books, magazines, writing work and downloaded movies (and I avoid conversations like the plague.)
While Spelman alluded to this being the hallmarks of a more selfish person, behavioral psychologist Jo Hemmings told The Telegraph straight out: "Champions of the window seat tend to be more selfish. As well as less anxious, seasoned flyers who are more confident in disturbing others."
As an experienced traveler, I have no problem politely asking the people in my row to get up so I can use the bathroom or stretch. I hydrate well — which is important while flying — and usually this means I'm up every 90 minutes or so. I try to catch people when they're awake and not mid-nap, but I know how important it is to move around frequently while sitting — especially when flying. I figure not only am I keeping myself healthy, but by getting the people around me up, I'm probably doing them some good, too.
And honestly, what kind of person gets more than slightly irritated with someone who's simply getting up to use the bathroom? Despite my predilection for the window seat, I have had the aisle seat (and the horrific middle seat) and have never been truly angry or annoyed because someone in the window seat needed to move about the cabin — despite being a grumpy bubble-person.
Why can't we all just get along?
If these random people, who I will never see again, are so upset with me getting up to use the bathroom, too bad. If that makes me a selfish person, I'll accept the label. I'm not going to be unhealthy and restrict my water consumption for someone else's convenience, and I'm definitely not going to keep my legs crossed for four hours because I'm too shy to ask someone to wake up on public transportation where we've all paid the same fare.
Hemmings also said: "Aisle passengers are often more sociable and definitely more amenable as people. They are also more likely to be restless flyers and less adept at sleeping on planes." Which sounds great. Shouldn't we all be aisle-loving folk? They sound like better humans, right?
It's worth remembering that like many things in life, it takes all kinds. I'm glad there are people who want to sit in (what I see as) the dreaded aisle and don't seem to mind being deprived of the gorgeous scenery out the window. And I would hope they would appreciate me: I'm one less person competing for their seat. Just imagine how crazy the airlines would go driving up seat prices if everyone in economy wanted to sit on the aisle!
Until planes are built with different seating, we need aisle-lovers and window-lovers alike. And we can all be compassionate to the poor middle-seat folk, and let them have both the armrests.