Welcome to our series on the unofficial rules for every seat on a plane, where we break down the responsibilities that come with each to promote common courtesy in the skies. This installation focuses on the window seat. We’ve also examined the middle and aisle.
When it comes to the best seat on a flight, travelers are split between the aisle and window for obvious reasons (window: the views and avoidance of drink-cart knee-bonking; aisle: more breathing room, convenience for lavatory trips and exiting the plane).
No matter what seat you’re picking, we can agree that flying is a modern marvel. You’re 30,000 feet in the air, soaring through the clouds at high speed to get to destinations near and far.
Window-seat-seekers often see the romance in that scientifically supported magic, seeing this perch as a coveted treasure. It brings the chance to see the Earth’s majesty from a rapidly changing vantage point. You soar like a bird over the landscape of our diverse planet, its flora and fauna and fast-casual chains and freeways below. Mountain ranges rise and fall as your plane hums along its invisible path.
Frequent fliers may not feel as moved by the experience, preferring to sit here not for the scene but for its nook-like comfort. You can hole up, sleep relatively undisturbed and deal with the rest of life upon landing. These folks keep the shade shut, opting to catch up on emails, TV shows or shut-eye without a glare beaming into devices or their eyes.
No matter what camp you fall in, here are the unofficial rules for both breeds of window-seat passenger.
The window shade breeds contempt and conflict among plane passengers. Some could never imagine shutting the thing, blocking the window’s best feature: the ability to see outside. Others prefer to keep it down, opting for better sleep and better views of entertainment systems. Both parties have a point.
Because you selected — and perhaps even paid extra — to sit at the window, you have the final say in whether the shade stays up or down (excluding times flight attendants instruct you otherwise). That being said, just because you’re the boss doesn’t mean other people will respect your authority. Flying is generally a communal activity, and unless you’re one of the incredibly lucky souls to get a row to yourself, neighbors may ask you to adjust from your own shade preference.
Some questions to keep in mind before you make that decision: Is the person asking you to change its status a child? A parent with a child who’s trying to sleep? A person who has never flown before? An anxious flier? Also consider your route. Are you flying into a new time zone, especially overseas? Controlling the window shade may have an effect on fellow passengers’ internal clocks, as well as yours.
Ultimately it’s up to you, the occupant of the window seat, to decide whether you’ll be a benevolent or omnipotent ruler.
Our human bodies are not always easy to control. There’s nothing unethical about needing to use the restroom frequently on a flight, or wanting to stand up and stretch. But if you’re a person who fits either of these travel styles, don’t book a window seat.
Sometimes requests to exit your row have nothing to do with bodily functions. If you pack your carry-on bag strategically so you have everything you need within reach when you’re locked in by the window, you can avoid making everyone stand while you grab your headphones/neck pillow/melatonin/beef jerky packed in the overhead compartment.
Particularly given the tiny nature of seats in economy, it’s a hassle to squeak in and out of airplane rows these days. Don’t plague your rowmates with a barrage of requests to leave your seat.
Per the rule above, the way to be the most considerate window-seat passenger is to follow your neighbors’ lead. Watch for the opportune time to make a break for the lavatory: when the middle is exiting, too. That’s your queue to get up, capitalizing on everyone having to rise, anyway.
This rule is ordained with the middle-seat passenger in mind. While you’re tucked deep, deep into the row as the window-seat holder, you’re also often blessed by a little alcove between your armrest and the window. Take advantage of those extra inches by leaning into that nook when possible. You’ll alleviate some of your squished neighbor’s misery in the process.
If you’re claustrophobic, this position is not for you. The window is for people who don’t mind huddling up in a confined space for long periods; people who understand that with great power (controlling the shade) comes great responsibility (not getting up unless everyone’s getting up).
The view from the window may be comforting if you’re claustrophobic, but once you look ahead or to your side to see how you’re crammed like a sardine, you could lose that sense of relief. Opt instead for the aisle, or, if your phobia is stemming from a general fear of flying, turn to apps that help nervous fliers.