Travel Tip: Choose Your Plane Seat Wisely (Then Act Accordingly)

To help keep all my fellow consultants feeling like one united front, we compile a monthly newsletter with a cutesy name. In addition to some business updates and other important info, we profile one staff member in a “get to know you” manner. And of course, one of the questions we ask is, “Window or Aisle?” Consultants know the answer to questions like this without hesitation, and will absolutely judge you on your own choice and rationale. We spend too much time flying not to have given it serious thought!

I used to be a window-seat kind of girl; now, though, I usually opt for aisle. However, the reason for that decision change brings me to a bit of airplane etiquette. Each seat on the plane comes up with a little bit of downside and a little bit of upside (okay, so maybe there’s no upside to a middle seat). So, it’s important to consider your own preferences, choose wisely, and then be courteous to your fellow seatmates by following certain etiquette depending on your chosen seat.

Torin Plane

My nephew may not have flown on a real plane yet, but he was very decisive in taking the front seat of this one. Also, I should note that he’s very good at saying “please” and “thank you”… something I wish that all air passengers would learn.

Quick aside: I know that a lot of this etiquette is obvious and not groundbreaking, but I get the impression a lot of people don’t follow it simply because they haven’t stopped to think about how the little things can inconvenience others. (As evidenced by my window seatmate this Monday who got up to use the lav three times on a flight that was only three hours. Come on, now!) Be nice to your fellow passengers and we can actually make United’s “fly the friendly skies” campaign into a reality ;)

If you’re going to take the window seat, you get a few benefits, the first being a little bit of extra space, since you can lean over the armrest and onto the plane wall (though that’s pretty dirty). You”ll also get control of the window shade. Hooray! However, just because you have the right to control the window shade, you should still be conscious of your seatmates. If the sun is shining directly in their eyes, it’s polite to close the window shade. However, if you want the window shade closed (to do work without laptop glare, to get some sleep, etc), that’s your decision to make.

If you plan to take an aisle seat, you won’t get any say over what happens with the window shade… but you do get easy access to the aisle. This is why I ultimately like aisle seats these days – I try to stay as hydrated as possible in flight, so I like to be able to go to the lav whenever I want. When you’re in the aisle seat, you can’t exactly decline your seatmates’ requests to move so that they can get out, but it’s generally understood that those who are choosing an aisle or middle seat shouldn’t be getting up too frequently. If I’m in the aisle seat and the person in the window seems to want to be mobile (e.g., wanting to get up more than once every 90 minutes or so), I usually politely ask if they’d like to switch seats so that they can more easily go to the lav. For those in a middle or window seat, time your bathroom breaks to be whenever the person in the aisle gets up – that’s much more polite than asking them to move, though of course sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.

Speaking of getting up – make sure you always stand by pushing off your own seat, not someone else’s. Try to avoid grabbing the seats in front of you at all costs. (Similarly, if you’re walking back from the lav when there’s turbulence, reach up to use the overhead bins to steady yourself, rather than grabbing each aisle seat as you pass.) It’s really obnoxious to have your seat shaken by someone behind you, and I have once had someone inadvertently pull my hair when they gripped the top of the seat to leave their row. Ouch!

If you’re in the aisle seat, please also take note of exactly which space is yours to occupy. Hint: it’s not that big empty space that frequently has carts and people walking down it! During boarding, I try to pull myself pretty far into my seat to avoid getting whacked by backpacks and oversized baggage. (Yes, that’s very rude of people to not mind their stuff, but so many people haven’t learned their lesson that I’d rather just protect myself even if they’re in the wrong.) In flight, though, the aisle still isn’t yours to occupy. Keep your feet under the seat in front of you, rather than sticking them out into the aisle, to avoid tripping other passengers or the flight attendants.

And what about those of you in the middle? Well, no one takes a middle seat by choice – there just aren’t any benefits to it at all! (PS – that means if you’re traveling with someone else and you aren’t able to get assigned seats together, make sure at least one of you has an aisle or a window; it’s really not fair to ask someone to move from one of those to a dreaded middle just so that you can sit with your companion.) The window and aisle seat dwellers should hopefully acknowledge that you got the short end of the stick, and cede the armrests to you – but you’ll still have to share. Whenever you use an armrest and you don’t have a seatmate next to you, try to take either the front half or the back half of the armrest, so that the other person can place their arm accordingly. It just feels way too confining if your seatmate has their forearm across the whole thing and you’re afraid of bumping into it!

Of course, you may not be able to get your preferred seat, depending on how close in you book the flight and what status you have with that airline. If you don’t get the seat you want, I’ve generally had good luck with looking for a new seat shortly after the online check in (OLCI) window opens at 24 hours before departure, though. Usually at this point, all the pre-battlefield upgrades have been assigned, and so a lot of really great seats open up that were previously occupied by elite customers. If you’re flying an airline where you don’t have elite status yourself, airlines also often stop making you pay a fee for premium seating at T-24, so you can pick an exit row or bulkhead at no charge. Hooray!

One final tip: if you don’t fly a route often enough to know the plane, its configuration, and which seats are the best seats, check out SeatGuru.com. A quick search will pull up your exact plane and configuration, and the associated seat map. Very helpfully, the editors at SeatGuru have noted all the quirks of each particular seat – this one has a big IFE blocking most of the foot well, that one doesn’t recline, etc. It’s really helpful for long-haul routes where you want to be as comfortable as possible!

Any tips of your own or seat etiquette to share?

Comments

  1. I love this because flying drives me crazy when people don’t follow etiquette. My two biggest pet peeves are: 1) Watch your elbows! and 2) If you choose to chew gum, do it with your mouth closed! No one needs to hear you cracking your gums or smacking your lips.
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    • YES to the gum thing. I was mostly writing about seat etiquette in this one, but on the food front, it’s also rude to bring any kind of food with an odor. I will never understand why McDonalds and other burger/fries places are allowed in airports… when someone brings that on a plane, the whole place reeks! I usually try to go with cold sandwiches or salads.

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