How to get the best seat on a plane
Ever spent 15 hours stuck in the middle seat in economy class? Then this guide's for you.
Ask any stranger on the street whether they prefer the aisle or the window seat and you can guarantee a quick-fire response.
There is no grey area in this comically divisive debate. Window-devotees consider people who favour the aisle to be barking mad, and aisle-devotees are just as incredulous. Try it. Ask the person next to you which camp they fall into and they'll not only answer without a second thought, they'll most likely launch into a much-rehearsed soliloquy as to why.
Mark Vanhoenacker, British Airways pilot and author of How to Land a Plane, remarks: "When I ask friends to describe what kind of air traveller they are - window seat or aisle? - they usually respond with a certainty that suggests they figured out this air travel lark the very first time they got on a plane."
Of course, there are pros and cons to both. Window seat passengers have a solid surface to curl up against and unbeatable views to gaze out over, but they're also barricaded into their seats - forced to make a nuisance of themselves every time they need to get up and use the bathroom.
Passengers with an aisle seat, on the other hand, have the freedom to move around the plane as often as they desire, plus a little more room to stretch their legs out into the gangway. But there's always the danger that when they'll finally managed, against all odds, to nod off on a long-haul flight, they'll be woken by a neighbour who needs to clamber over them – or have their kneecap shattered by an errant drinks trolley.
No-one in their right mind, of course, would opt for the middle seat - the worst of both worlds.
Travel expert Gilbert Ott, the man behind God Save The Points and a keen proponent for the window seat, thinks he's found the winning formula.
"With the curvature of most aircraft, you do actually have slightly more space in the window seat," he says. "But the magic spot is the bulkhead or exit row window, where there's often enough legroom to tiptoe past your neighbours without spilling their drinks."
What does your choice say about you?
Practicalities aside - most admit that their seating preference all comes down to one thing: whether they'd prefer to wake or be woken, disturb or be disturbed.
Some can't bear the awkward and apologetic exchange when they must disturb not just one but invariably two fellow human beings should they need to escape the confines of their seat, while others have no problem with it.
Dr Becky Spelman, chief psychologist at Harley Street's Private Therapy Clinic said: "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."
It makes sense then, she says, that those who prefer the aisle are more likely to be of a reserved nature, less irritable and more considerate of others. That, or they're a claustrophobe or simply the victim of a weak bladder.
Behavioural Psychologist Jo Hemmings agrees.
"Champions of the window seat tend to be more selfish," she says. "As well as less anxious, seasoned flyers who are more confident in disturbing others.
"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."
Whichever camp you fall into, however, it's the source of much contention.
"A lot of arguments erupt on planes due to seating arrangements," Dr Spelman remarks, "not to mention delays at check-in counters because people are so forceful and time-consuming in their negotiations."
The statistics: Which is more popular?
According to Airline Weekly analyst Seth Kaplan, it's almost an even split.
"Based on one (anonymous) airline's statistics, and having spoken to others in more general terms, the distribution is remarkably even," he says. "In the case of the airline's figures, windows were preferred over aisles by just about one percentage point."
A study conducted by Expedia in 2014 found that 55 per cent of their customers chose the window, versus 45 per cent who opted for the aisle. In 2016, the company further revealed that 34 per cent of passengers were willing to pay extra to secure a window seat, compared to just 15 per cent who would shell out for an aisle seat.
A Quartz report presented almost identical results in terms of preference (just over 50 per cent in favour of window), but interestingly noted that men were more likely to prefer the aisle seat than women.
The conclusion? It's far from an exact science, but indications have the window seat as the winner in the popularity stakes, only by a narrow margin.
Which is the safest seat on a plane?
In 2007 Popular Mechanics analysed all crashes since 1971 and found that the rear seats (behind the wing's trailing edge) were safest – survival rates were 69 per cent as opposed to 56 per cent over the wing and 49 per cent for those at the front of the plane.
See also: Which is the safest seat on a plane?
Which is the perfect plane seat?
A study by easyJet in 2014 pinpointed 7F as the most in-demand seat among European fliers. On easyJet's planes, these are the closest to the front that can be reserved for the cheapest price.
How to snag the seat you want
Check in online as soon as that email alert hits your inbox, usually 24-48 hours before the flight, and make your seat selection. Don't wait until you show up at the airport - everyone else will likely have beaten you to it.
Use the ExpertFlyer app, a free tool with up-to-the-minute seating charts that allow users to play musical chairs right up until final boarding, based on which seats become free. If the flight isn't full, you can sometimes even score an entire row to yourself.
Travelling with someone? Don't book neighbouring seats, book a window and an aisle. The middle seat will probably stay empty if it's not a full flight, so you'll both get more room to spread out. And if someone does pick the middle seat, chances are high that they'll be willing to swap with one of you.
The Telegraph, London
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