Travel debate: Window vs. aisle airplane seat

CNN  — 

Stray elbows and inadvertent arm grazing are facts of life for any airline passenger flying coach class. But seat selection can mitigate a host of other airline indignities – and add some enjoyment and excitement to the flying experience.

Window or aisle? CNN Travel staffers have strong feelings on both sides of the debate. We’d also like your thoughts on the matter. Please tell us which seat you prefer in the feedback form below.


Born and bred Londoner Tamara Hardingham-Gill enjoys watching movies on flights and has been known to cram in four or five during a long-haul journey, along with the odd glass of wine.

Disturbing sleeping strangers is a daunting prospect

Don’t get me wrong, I like a scenic aerial view from an airplane window as much as the next person. But I like being able to get up to use the bathroom or stretch my legs on a flight whenever I choose far more, especially if it’s a long-haul trip.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been trapped in a window seat, desperately needing to get up while the aisle passenger is fast asleep on the other side.

No one enjoys being woken up during a well-needed snooze, particularly by a complete stranger. So leaning over to shake someone you don’t know as they’re having a nap is always a daunting prospect.

There have been times when I’ve considered climbing over another passenger to avoid this awkward encounter. However, I’ve always opted against it to counteract creating an even more uncomfortable scene should they wake up while I’m clambering across them.

No indiscriminate binge-watching here

While I wouldn’t describe myself as a particularly organized individual in life (I’m the type of person who’ll spend half an hour looking for their phone while having a lengthy conversation on said phone), my flights are planned to precision.

When traveling long-haul, I have a special system. Flights to the destination are spent catching up on blockbuster movies I missed in the cinema, and return flights are for watching independent foreign films likely never screened in an international cinema.

There’s no time for sleep, especially with movies being so long nowadays. For short-haul flights, I usually have a specially chosen audiobook to listen to, or an almost-finished article to read.

No waiting for the oblivious occupier of the aisle seat

My carefully considered schedule doesn’t account for dealing with uncooperative aisle passengers who tut-tut and take forever to unbuckle their seatbelt and move to the side, then rinse and repeat when you return to the row a short time later (you know who you are).

I appreciate some people can’t help but move slowly, but did they honestly think you’d never come back? These precious wasted minutes always come to mind when the final movie of my journey has ten minutes or so to go before landing.

I’ve still never seen the closing scenes of the “The Other Boleyn Girl” – although unless the filmmakers decided to go for an alternative ending, I’m pretty confident things didn’t turn out so well for Anne.

Of course, being in the aisle seat does mean you always have to get up when someone in your row needs to go for a wander. There have been times when a passenger’s constant visits to the bathroom, or trips to chat to a friend seated in a different row have interrupted crucial movie/audiobook scenes for me.

But I’d choose that over the alternative any day.

Ready to spring into action upon landing

Aisle seat passengers can also easily get up to remove their bag from the overhead compartment once the plane has landed, and make a reasonably speedy exit.

While I’m aware there are some instances where passengers calmly disembark row by row, this has rarely been the case for me. There’s always some poor soul who has missed their moment and is desperately trying to exit their row while other passengers jostle past, pretending not to notice.

Although I always offer them a sympathetic look, I have absolutely no desire to be that person.

So while the beautiful views of New York and Grenada – where many of my extended family live – on the approach to JFK and Maurice Bishop airports, never fail to bring a smile to my face, I’m fine with looking over my seat mate’s shoulder to see them.

As long as they don’t tut-tut at me, that is.

Window-seat sitter Natalie Yubas snapped this shot somewhere over San Jose, Costa Rica, in 2017.


Lifelong New Yorker Natalie Yubas can be found asleep on various modes of transportation and prides herself on her ability to pack for 3+ week trips in a carry-on.

Window seat support for the talented sleeper

I love to sleep on planes, and I have an unusual ability to sleep well on them. There have even been one or two occasions when I have fallen asleep prior to takeoff and awakened upon the impact of landing, not having realized we had even left the ground.

So when booking my flights, I always opt for the window seat whenever possible. This allows me to lean my sleepy head against the wall of the plane for a bit more comfort, and I can shift my position so my spine remains in a straight line throughout my nap.

Middle seat? Too claustrophobic, and there’s never enough neck support – regardless of a neck pillow or those headrest flaps some airlines have on their seats.

To be clear, I’m not opposed to an aisle seat, but I usually opt for them on shorter flights when I might choose an in-flight movie over a snooze. Some will argue that the aisle seat reigns superior for the leg space and the ability to disembark swiftly and eye the snack/beverage cart.

But in reality, we’re all getting our drinks and snacks within seconds of each other, you can stretch your legs when your middle seat companion gets up to use the bathroom, and let’s face it, you’ll never be as efficient at disembarking a plane as the true pros.

Courtesy is characteristic of the window-seat sitter

Speaking of getting up to use the bathroom or stretch your legs, I find that if a person knows they’re in a window seat, they’ll opt to use the bathroom before boarding so that they won’t need to disrupt their neighbor. That’s just considerate.

And they’ll seize the opportunity to get up when another seatmate gets up so that you won’t need to be bothered more than once.

Frankly, as the aisle seat holder, you’re destined to be disturbed on your flight much more than someone in the window seat. We window seaters might be nudged (let’s hope politely) to raise or lower the window shade, but that’s usually the worst of it.

Aerial view = more adventure and excitement

There are definitely times where sleep and comfort won’t come easily regardless of your flight time or seat assignment. Personally, travel anxiety, books I’m reading and clutter in my head can just as easily keep my eyes wide open.

But on the bright side, as a photographer and visually oriented person, the window seat gives me the best views of fluffy clouds, or a spectacular sunset, or golden sunrise, etc. Whether you snap for the ‘gram or for your portfolio, you can’t achieve that from the aisle or middle seats.

Most of all, even though I’ve been flying for years, I still get a kick out of seeing my departing city or country shrink into the distance, and the butterflies in my stomach when seeing the horizon of my destination come into view.

And those feelings of adventure and excitement are what keep me coming back, flight after flight, to my window seat.