Aisle Seat Lavatory Rules

If you’re in the aisle seat, is it fair game to go to sleep?

And if you’re not in the aisle seat — and you have to use the lavatory — do you wake the person sitting next to you in order to get up and go, or do you hold it?

Does it depend on how long the flight is?

I always prefer an aisle seat over a window, ‘to control my own destiny’ trumps gazing out at the scenery. I’ve always thought that meant I am obliged to accommodate any request for my seat opponent to get out. And on any flight 3+ hours I assume that will happen once, usually after a meal if there is one.

Of course, banking on free upgrades, I’m not always in the aisle because most people prefer aisles. And upgraded late I get the leftovers.

American domestic first class 2-by-2 seats

American 787 economy seats

So that means if I need to use the lavatory I have to ask someone else’s forbearance. I’ll take preparations on a short-ish flight not to need the facilities, but if I do I think it’s reasonable to ask the person to get up. Even if they’re asleep.

The only times I’d really try to avoid that? If the person in the aisle seat sleeping:

  1. is my boss
  2. is a client

Taking the aisle seat means you control your own destiny, but it comes with the inherent risk that you’re going to have to accommodate the passenger next to you. But it’s still a cost-benefit calculation.

Does the aisle seat passenger have an obligation to be accommodating to those in the window (or middle) that need to get out? Is it ok to wake the person in the aisle? Would you wait it out to see if they get up on their own? Would you ask a flight attendant to wake them for you — is that passive aggressive, or less confrontational?

On international flights, in business class, that’s a really strong reason I think to pick a carrier with ‘all aisle access’ (generally 4-across seating … window — two middle seats — window). Goodness knows I don’t want to be woken, have to wake up someone, or climb over them (or be climbed over!) mid-rest.

Herringbone business class seats onboard Delta

Reverse herringbone business class seats onboard Cathay Pacific

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, 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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  1. Totally agree. I had some asshole recently not give me the a nasty look when I woke him up on a trans-con to use the restroom. I asked him if he wanted me to shit on him instead.

  2. On a recent flight from LHR to SEA my seat was changed due to a new plane assignment. I got stuck on a window seat with a grumpy lady in the aisle. I waited until she got up to go to the bathroom to get up and I told her that I would not be returning immediately to my seat, it would be another 20 minutes or so as I was just off a 10 hour flight from Africa and needed to do some stretching. I returned to my seat with extra packaged cookies to offer her for her inconvenience and she rudely said “just keep them.” 5 hours later I needed to get up again and it was such a rude show of displeasure on her part that I needed to get out of my trapped location on a 10 hour flight. I think that 2 potty breaks on a 10 hour flight is perfectly acceptable. The middle seat passenger also left when I did to minimize the interruption.

    I don’t know what I could have done differently, other than wear a catheter.


  3. I think the “price” of an aisle seat is that you absolutely must make allowances for those between the window and you, even if you are asleep. I much prefer the aisle seat for this reason (I am much more likely to need the restroom than to be soundly sleeping, anyway).
    I have a personal theory that the attitude about this issue follows political party lines. But, I don’t want to start one of “those fights,” so I’ll not express which party I think feels which way. ; )

  4. Flying to London today nonstop from PHX with an aisle seat. I feel like the people next to me can get up as many times as they want, even if they have to wake me every time, even if it’s every hour…because I know what I would want if I was stuck in a middle/window seat!

  5. I totally agree with MBH. I sit in aisles because I have to. I’m more than happy to get up for any of my row-mates and have no problem if someone wakes me. Come on, people, a little common courtesy? Few of us like to fly, but we all have to do it. Let’s do our best to be as pleasant about it as possible.

  6. I would definitely make every attempt to wait them out if they are sleeping; perhaps not so much politics as politeness hammered into me growing up Canadian! And I can do a pretty good job of impersonating a camel when I have to. I have done more than one transatlantic flight without having to bother those around me (besides hating airplane lavs)!

  7. I totally agree with the majority of commenters. The isle seat is a mixed blessing, and if you are going to choose to sit there, it comes with a cost. I always choose an isle if I can, and if I get stuck not on an isle, I always warn the isle passenger that I get up a lot and that I would be happy to switch. If they decide to stay on the isle, they have no reason to complain when I get up.

  8. @CJ – Good God, you held it in for 5 hours? As you get older, the need to visit the ‘loo’ becomes more frequent. I have to go every two hours. So, those of you out there, if you don’t like my inconveniencing you, take the window seat and keep your peace. Pretending to be asleep/dead in the aisle seat, or putting wrinkles on your face by giving me a dirty look is not going to solve anything. I have to and I will be getting up every 2 hours.

  9. My travel pattern cross pacific ocean (Asia). When my flight schedule falls into night I take window and when daytime I take an aisle seat. When I seat in window I always ask the people seating with me that I have a bladder issue and apologize and try to hold it as much as I can, I never have an issue getting up and cross the seat. But when I seat in the aisle I tell people that if they have to go and I am sleeping to tap me or wake me up and there would be any problem. I think communicating with your fellow passengers for long haul flight come a long way to enjoy the flight. Based on my own experience.

  10. Cannot believe someone would complain about getting up to let window passenger by – it takes, what – 5 seconds? What is this world coming to that such a small thing is a hassle. I always sit aisle – can’t stand feeling trapped – and would never dream of causing an issue over this. *smh*

  11. Holding it may work for the young but not me. I get up often, maybe 4 times on a 5 hour flight.

    I am cheerful when my window seat mate needs to get up. If I’m in the window on a night flight, I warn the aue passenger in advance (they could switch with me if they don’t want to get up as often as I need)

    It’s a health issue

  12. Sorry–if you gotta go, you gotta go. Sometimes I can climb over my sleeping seat mate, even with my short legs, but other times I have to wake them. Boss/client/cranky person has no influence on my urges. Fortunately the dehydrating effect of flight lessens their frequency, but on a TATL flight I’m up 2 or 3 times..

  13. On every redeye I’ve ever taken, I’ve had an aisle seat. I tell my seatmates that I plan on sleeping, but they should feel free to wake me up if they need to get out. It’s just common courtesy.

  14. It’s comforting and heartening to see so many people on the same page on this. I like the idea of “warning” the aisle person if I’m stuck “inside.” I’m going to try that next time. At least, as you pointed out, they can’t really complain when you DID let them know. And, yes, it’s an age/health thing. I’m not going to forgo all liquids just so some jerk can keep his or her seat for 4+ hours.

  15. Love your website. My only criticism is, is it possible to remove comments such as the one by meow? I found it so distasteful. I am not a prude by any means and I don’t have a limited amount of curse words that I draw upon at times. I just do t think public forums are quite the place to be so crude.

  16. When I’m in the aisle (which I prefer), I try to tell the middle/window folks to poke me if they have to get up.

  17. It’s just courteous to stand and let someone out. Anyone that finds that objectionable should have taken an inside seat to minimize disruption. Admittedly, at my age, I need to get up more often to use the facilities and also to stretch. I am not about to risk thrombosis by sitting for hours. I do try for the aisle seat since I am slightly claustrophobic. So being inside in the middle or windwow seat adds stress, which adds to my need to get up more often.

  18. It’s just courteous to stand and let someone out. Anyone that finds that objectionable should have taken an inside seat to minimize disruption. Admittedly, at my age, I need to get up more often to use the facilities and also to stretch. I am not about to risk thrombosis by sitting for hours. I do try for the aisle seat since I am slightly claustrophobic. So being inside in the middle or window seat adds stress, which adds to my need to get up more often.

  19. If I am on the aisle, before we take off I tell anyone else in the row to feel to get up whenever they need, I always welcome a chance to stretch my legs and if I am asleep to just wake me. I have never had anyone abuse the process. Who knows if the other person has a medical condition that requires them to get up more often. It just isn’t a big deal.

  20. I always sit at the window. When I have to go, I try to wait for a good opportunity to not inconvenience the person at the aisle (people above, please don’t spell it isle!!!!). This usually gives me 30-60 minutes of waiting time if someone is sleeping. If they are still asleep after it has been a while, I just wake them up.

  21. Totally agree the the person seated in the aisle should have no issues getting up when needed.

    However, to all those with bladder problems and the like, I would request you go out of your way to get an aisle seat so that you don’t have to make people get up more frequently than what would normally be acceptable. (End PSA).

  22. I always choose an aisle seat and on long flights explicitly tell people to awaken me if I’m asleep and they need to get out.

    When I’m trapped away from the aisle on flights > 2 hours I warn the people between me and the aisle that I will be getting up to use the lavatory approximately once an hour when I’m awake.

    I’ve had people grumble when I awaken them but truly don’t care. My health trumps their sleep, or movie, or book or whatever else they are doing. I’ve only really had one person push back, when I was relocated from my aisle bulkhead seat to the inner realm of a 5-wide row that only had two people in it. I warned the person on the aisle that if she wanted to sleep she should let me have the aisle seat. She declined and was visibly miffed about 4 hours into our Frankfurt->Denver flight the 3rd time she had to get up (and then up again 20+ minutes later when I returned). I offered every time to switch seats with her and she always refused. She was less than happy by the time we reached Denver. But I was nicely hydrated. 🙂

  23. mbh said it best. it’s the price you pay for sitting on the aisle. that said, i do think that those sitting elsewhere should at least try to minimize the disruption to the aisle passenger when possible (e.g. using the restroom when the aisle passenger gets up, waiting until after meal service, etc.).

  24. I usually take the aisle and really like the idea of telling the window/middle seats that it’s OK to wake me (even though I rarely sleep on flights). I’ve never thought of this before, but it’s really a nice gesture.

    When I’m in the middle/window and the aisle is asleep, I will try to hold it for a bit to see if they wake up, but when you gotta go, you gotta go.

  25. Usually this is never an issue, as I usually have the aisle, and my row mate is almost always my wife. She can get up whenever she wants!

  26. I got stuck with a window once flying ATL to Brussels, my seat mate was nice and understanding when I had to go and when he went I would go as well even if I went just an hour earlier, this way I kept the bladder as drained as I could. But I have heard of aisle seater’s who rude to inboard people for wanting to use the toilet. no reason for it

    But since then I always book the aisle seat, I would be nice if there a way around all of this without buying a first class ticket

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