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Sorry, aisle-seat fans: The window seat is the best in the air

May 15, 2020
5 min read
United Dreamliner Polaris Premium Plus Economy Cabins Zach Griff - 33
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Picking the perfect airplane seat is hard. If there's one thing we can all agree on it's that that virtually no one voluntarily chooses the middle.

In fact, as travel starts to slowly recover from the coronavirus pandemic, we've already seen some airlines proactively block middle seats entirely. Additionally, going forward passengers are likely going to pay more attention to their seat assignment. These two factors combined are resurfacing the age-old debate between choosing an aisle or window seat.

Though I was an aisle-only flyer many years ago, now more than ever I'm on team window seat. And here's why.

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Increased privacy

Regardless of the cabin you're flying, window seats generally offer the most privacy. You don't have anyone climbing over you to use the bathroom or asking you to move in order to make room for their belongings.

If you're a taller passenger, you also won't have to worry about galley carts or other passengers hitting your legs, knees or shoulders throughout the flight.

Related: The hidden costs of saying goodbye to the middle seat

Likewise, the window seat is much less exposed to other passengers. It offers a more private experience across the board — whether you're sitting in an Apex suite or the last row of coach. This feeling might be claustrophobic to some, but I personally prefer the ability to tilt my laptop away from others to avoid people snooping on my work or reading my texts over my shoulder.

United Polaris "true" window seat (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

In my mind, the privacy that the window seat offers far outweighs the freedom of getting up whenever you want in an aisle.

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More comfortable for sleeping

To maximize sleep, I need privacy and a comfortable surface. Window seats in all cabins offer the former. Though in some cases like in biz on United's newly retrofitted Dreamliner, you need to select "true" window seats for a private cocoon.

In premium economy and coach, I find sleeping in a window seat much easier since I can rest my head against the fuselage. Combined with the added privacy, this makes napping and resting much more pleasant.

Additionally, in the aisle, I've often been woken up by other passengers or flight attendants passing through the cabin during a long-haul flight. By sitting in the window, you avoid that entirely.

Furthermore, though we're grounded, you might recall this phrase from the safety briefing: "be careful when opening the overhead compartments as items might've shifted during the flight." When I used to sit in the aisle, it got hit more than once by a loose item falling from the overhead bin when deplaning. You certainly don't have to worry about falling luggage when seated at the window.

The views

If you follow my Instagram (which you should now!), you'd know that I'm a big aviation enthusiast. I love all things planes and can easily stare outside the window snapping pictures for the duration of a flight. I particularly enjoy taking time-lapses of takeoff and landing and capturing other cool shots along the way.

For me, my pictures wouldn't be nearly as good if I sat in the aisle and used my iPhone's zoom feature to get a shot out the window. Furthermore, by sitting in the window, I can control the shade (and cleanliness of the window itself). This means that I can close it at cruising altitude to reduce the glare on my computer screen, but make sure it's open for the rest of the flight. (Nonetheless, I do try to accommodate my fellow passengers' lighting preferences when seated in the window).

Maximize social distancing

Social distancing will likely be a big reason I'm going to have lots of competition for window seats going forward. In an era when people are going to want as much privacy as possible when flying, there's no denying that the window is the best for that.

Related: The best premium cabins for onboard social distancing

Aside from the fact that you're farther away from others while flying, you're much more likely to avoid other people during the boarding and deplaning process. When boarding, you'll likely be the first person to arrive at your row.

United economy on the Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

As the plane fills up, you'll also be furthest from the aisle and fellow passengers. When deplaning, you can take your time and be one of the last off, again reducing the number of interactions that you have with others.

Bottom line

In the age of the coronavirus, we're likely going to see passengers be even more methodical about their seat choices. With blocked middle seats (at least for the short term), you're going to need to decide between the aisle or window.

In my case, I now always chose a window seat after years of selecting the aisle. You get more privacy, a better sleeping surface and great views — all while maximizing social distancing.

Featured image by United 787 economy cabin (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)