Why an Aisle Seat is Always Better — And How to Make Sure You Get One

I always prefer an aisle seat because I want to be in control of my own destiny. I can lean into the aisle for extra room (but watch the drink cart!) and I can get up for the lavatory whenever I wish.

Crucially, I also have at least one armrest I don’t have to fight for.

This means giving up being able to gaze out the window (lost Instagram opportunity), and an obligation to get up when someone else wants to use the restroom, but those are easy tradeoffs.

The hard thing for most passengers in the back of the plane is that airlines often sell aisle seats, even without extra legroom, for a premium. Airlines realize that customers prefer these seats, they’re limited (some passengers will invariably have to sit in the middle), so they can get more money from those passengers in exchange for the seats.

Aisle seats and sometimes window seats towards the front of the aircraft are hot commodities. If you want them you can pay extra for a better seat – to avoid a middle seat in the back or something by the lav – or choose one of the few that may be made available for assignment free, usually in the middle or back of the plane.

An airline’s elite frequent flyers are usually given whatever coach seats they wish for free.

If you don’t like the seat assignment that’s available to you, you can create a free alert for better seats to open up.

In general the best coach seats, occupied by an airline’s elite frequent flyers, open up within 5 days of travel as some of those customers get upgraded to first class.

And of course if you don’t like your seat, ask at the airport – at check-in, at the customer service desk, and at the gate – in hopes of changing it if your flight isn’t completely full.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. @Paul
    Technically if someone really want to get a view from the wing, inside the cabin is probably not the best view 😛

  2. Why are aisle seats “always better?” You have the same armrest control in the window, and I could make an equally valid argument about controlling my destiny in the window — in the aisle you have to get up when others want to, whereas in the window I only have to get up when I want to. Plus I get, you know, a window to look out of while you get bumped with drink carts. And as a aviation man, surely you agree that looking out the window has merit beyond instagram?

    At the end of the day, it comes down to preference, but to say that one is “always better” is just silly

  3. I prefer window if I’m going to settle down for work (or play) using the tray table without having to worry about packing everything up so Mr Full Bladder doesn’t trip on my cords.

  4. Aisle seat also gets spilled on more than any other.
    And if you fly United, still no charge for aisle or window seats.

  5. I prefer the window. No one bothers me.

    I too “can get up for the lavatory whenever I wish.” The guy on the aisle just needs to move for me. His problem, not mine.

  6. I sit in the aisle to watch the shapely flight attendants. As I turn into an old fart about to kick the bucket, life’s small pleasures bring me joy.

  7. good tip on EF alerts and the fact space opens as elites upgrade. I fly alot as im into the ms mileage game but this still eluded me. Thanks!

  8. I prefer aisle too, but one downside is that you get clocked in the head during the boarding process as people wearing backpacks walk by, pivoting as they walk the aisle, looking for their row. It happens to me at least once, every other flight.

  9. I also like the window better. Still one armrest, and most importantly, control of the shade. I tend to get queasy if I can’t see outside, so aisle seats can be a problem if window guy lowers the shade.

  10. I was an aisle man. Now it is the window seat for me. Not only does one get to gaze outside but the window seat controls the window shade. I’m shocked that people taxi and takeoff with the shades down. On some flights the shades are down for the whole first class cabin. Talk about spam in a can.

    On many widebodies one can have both an aisle and a window seat at the same time.

    The best seat in coach is one where no one sits next to you. The best chance for that is sitting at the back. On international flights it can make a big difference.

  11. I don’t get the point of this article? Sure, elites start to upgrade a few days out, but those seats are rarely available for free for non-elites…

  12. I always take the window. Hate people clambering over me if I’m working or trying to sleep. Have a large bladder so I’m not THAT person…

  13. Clickbait! The title of this post is “… and how to make sure you get one.” But nothing in the post tells you how to make sure you get one, unless you consider being an elite the answer.

  14. @Dave – maybe you need to re-read the post? eg setting up a free expertflyer seat alert, re-checking for availability inside the elite upgrade window

  15. Being a small person, I hate the window seat. People think they’ll just infringe on my space because I’m small, and, there I am, pushed into the side of the aircraft. I once had to push back because I felt like I was being crushed. They just weren’t stopping. Unlike aisle, window-seated folks only have so much room to move and then there isn’t any more. Although I do agree–then you have the drink cart issue. That’s why I say the middle seat does not get the armrest between middle and aisle. Sometimes that’s the only armrest aisle folks can get–they can’t put elbows on aisle side because of the carts and other passengers moving down the aisle. Another pet peeve, folks who can’t walk down the aisle without pushing on your seat back. I have a bad back and it actually hurts when they do this. People have no consideration.

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