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?

Herringbone business class seats onboard Delta

Reverse herringbone business class seats onboard Cathay Pacific

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.

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. This is easy.

    You can sleep in an aisle seat. But don’t be annoyed if someone sitting next to you wakes you up to go to the bathroom.

    That’s why I always get window seats! No one wakes me up — but I go to the bathroom as needed. And I get the views! (Though I am sure to not drink much liquid before a flight.)

  2. I buy extra legroom seats so I can get up and get out of my window seat without the others needing to get up. But lately I read some fussbudgets have decided this is rude to scoot by even in the extra legroom.

    Now I can understand why they wouldn’t want some Trumpanzee squeezing their smelly 500 pounds by but I am still built like a commando so can step over people like landmines, which I will continue to do because that’s why I buy legroom seats.

  3. Ditto to above. Don’t overthink it. Older men and women may be afflicted with enlarged prostates and/or overactive bladders. So they should do all of us a favor and sit in an aisle seat.

  4. Just reading this post made me need to go, Gary. It’s one reason I prefer aisle seats. OTOH we have a son who some years ago (when LHR had a snow closure) got rerouted into the back row of a CO flight from India to EWR. He mentioned he got up ONCE during the entire flight.

    I’d write more but I have to go again.

  5. I almost always choose window. Long flights I wait until one or the entire row get up and I go with them to minimize disturbances. Though when I am occasionally on the aisle or middle I really do not mind at all getting up to let other people out.

  6. I will ask anyone, boss, client, the Rock, to get up and let me out if I need to go. And I usually need to go every 90 minutes.

    And I regard it as my duty to cheerfully get up whenever asked, no matter how often, if I am lucky enough to have an aisle.

    The folks in the aisle should be happy to get up as sitting that long in those cramped seats is bad for health.

  7. I should add that if there is an opportunity to get up because my aisle sitting seatmate did, then I jump on it. Even if I don’t think I need to go (I probably can, and save a disturbance later).

  8. @Greg: Those of us who know you in real life know you are built like a couch commando. Seriously, lard-ass, you have to buy clothes from Omar the tent maker. You have to wear your extra chromosome in a backpack.

  9. It’s hard to imagine even thinking about this. I get up when I need to go, no matter the situation, and when in the aisle expect the same of my seat mates. If I’m not in the aisle I warn people that I’m getting up every 60-90 minutes throughout the flight. I drink lots of liquids to stay hydrated. If they get bothered by it I always offer to switch to their aisle seat so as not to disturb them. If I think about it I offer before we’re even off the ground. If they don’t go for it I continue waking them up every hour or so. My health (i.e. being very well hydrated and getting periodic walks) is more important than their sleep…

  10. A few weeks ago, I was in F on AS flight in a window seat. I had to go and the guy in the aisle refused to get up and made me crawl over him. Not two minutes later when I exited the bathroom, he was standing in the aisle getting something out of the overhead. Total tool.

  11. Thankfully, my boss is entitled to fly paid F, and I don’t have external clients, so this is never an issue for me. In the rare instance when I do not have an aisle I will get up every hour if I need to do so as I have a weak bladder. Don’t take an aisle if you don’t like it. And conversely I would never object to getting up for someone else.

  12. Ah, JC the pleasant is back to spread cheer among the world.
    JC the pleasant suffers from transference. Don’t be like JC the pleasant. Seek psychiatric help.

  13. @747always: Nice to see Greg still has his hand up your butt making your lips move.

  14. Well, if I am not the one sitting in the isle and I have to go I just let the person sitting in the isle that I have to go. I let them decide if they prefer getting up or don’t mind be climbed over. Then I act accordingly.
    If that person is sleeping I just climb over and try not to wake her. Whoever sits in the isle should know that the privilege of quick isle access is balanced by the pain of giving others the same access.
    I really don’t think that anybody should remotely consider “holding it”.
    Each seat configuration has pros and cons. Just deal with it. That’s life!

  15. I prefer the aisle seat too. However, I do tell my row-mates that they are free to wake me up if they need to stretch their legs/go to restroom if I’m sleeping.

  16. On my last LONG flight (CPT-AMS, 12 hours) I was in Premium Economy, but middle of 3. Aisle guy was huge, and I did have to wake him up several times. The problem was, he was a VERY heavy sleeper and it took four or five pokes in the shoulder to get back into my middle seat (not to mention getting out in the first place). Not fun.

  17. I always take aisle seats because I want to be able to get up and pee whenever I want, and I sometimes fall asleep, but I’m always OK with getting up for someone who needs to pee.

    In business class I always go for an aisle seat in the center section for this very reason.

  18. I always choose an aisle seat, and if I want to sleep, I will tell the person next to me that they have permission to tap me on the shoulder if they need to get out.

  19. I chose the aisle seat so I can get up when I want to. On long flights I may wish to do so every couple of hours. If You’re like me, you should choose and I’ll seat also. I also understand that it comes with the burden that people in the window in middle seat may disturb me. However, it only makes sense that when I get up, they feel the need to do so in the next hour or two, they should get up as well. On 95% of my long flights, this is how it rolls. If You’re like me, you should choose and I’ll seat also, not the window seat know when you will disturb your passengers endlessly. I also understand that it comes with the burden that people in the window in middle seat may disturb me. No problem. However, it only makes sense that when I get up, they feel the need to do so in the next hour or two, they should get up as well. On 95% of my long flights, this is how it rolls. Most people are sensitive to this issue and are respectful of their cabin mates.

  20. I am always in the aisle seat. I like to get up when I please. I also have no issue getting up for my window or middle when ever it is needed. Freedom for all!

  21. I always get the window seat (love looking outside). During long flights when the person on the aisle seat is in deep sleep and I have to go to the BR, I just climb over the person and into the aisle to avoid waking him or her up. Works great.

  22. @JC stop transferring. Seek help. You really need it. Ps. Hope you’ve stopped leaving skid marks.

  23. We can always count on little greggy to spew hate. Perhaps one day she will grow up? Probably not.


  24. @Jim: To be fair, little Greggy has several talents. She also likes to lie about being a vet as well as invent other accomplishments.

  25. Much prefer aisle especially if I am stuck in 737 steerage. I’d rather accommodate two neighbors than be trapped. Even when certain AA FAs seem to intentionally bump into aisle passengers as they pass.

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