Your Airline Seat Preference Reveals Your Value As A Customer

Aisle seats are better than window seats. Everyone knows this, it’s why airlines in general sell aisle seat assignments for more than window seats. Aisle seats also aren’t as dirty as window seats.

When you’re in an aisle seat you direct your own destiny. You get up to use the lavatory whenever you wish and don’t need to worry about waiting on other passengers to gather their belongings to let you out, or your seatmates falling asleep and needing to be woken to let you out. I find window seats claustrophobic.

It turns out that the preference for an aisle seat over a window seat also means you’re a better customer of an airline’s loyalty program, based on data.

AsiaMiles CEO Paul Smitton told an interesting story on the Let’s Talk Loyalty podcast last month. His program now has 12 million members and on average people save miles for two years before redeeming.

Smitton has worked at a number of airlines, beginning at Air New Zealand where he was hired as a trainee of out of school. He told the story about launching the Air New Zealand loyalty program based on Continental Onepass in six weeks – without IT, branding or customer service staff – immediately out of the trainee program, because Air New Zealand had heard Qantas was about to do the same.

But what struck me was his story about “one airline where [he] worked” (which might be Qantas or Virgin Atlantic) where they’d found that aisle versus window preference predicts the value of a customer. Asking a member’s interests, including seating preference, told them straight away what their lifetime value would look like.

It actually makes sense the more you think about it. It’s not foolproof, there are exceptions, but as a general matter:

  • Aisle seat preference is a business traveler, who also likes to sit at the front of the plane and get off plane quickly.

  • Window seat preference is a leisure traveler.

It’s nice to gaze out the window but you can do that in a new video game. When you fly it’s aisle all the way.

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. I suppose there’s something to do this, especially if the route is flown many times. Personally, I’m trained as geographer and love to watch the changing landscapes and “read” the ground and sky. (I’m also a commercial pilot so enjoy watching and feeling what is going on.) But then I guess that makes me an exception. What does get me are people who ignore magnificent and rare sights. Going from Chicago to Beijing was a spectacular trip over the Arctic and Siberia, but I think everyone else just read or slept.

  2. Gary, yesterday I flew a five and hour trancon by myself and selected a window seat. Was in F and never got up once during the flight. Beautiful views during the whole flight as the we crossed the county. I fly around 100k in a typical year, and usually purchase high end tickets. I’ll take a window every time.

  3. Guess I am the exception to the rule, whether commuting or leisure I always pick a window. Better opportunities for views and photos I find. Interesting data though.

  4. I will take an window seat for longer flights, esp. red eye. I dont want some doofus opening the window at the crack of dawn when I’m slumbering.

  5. I am a business traveler, and I ALWAYS pick the window. I know tons of others that do as well. This may hold true for the majority, but its DEFINATELY not the hard and fast rule.

  6. I preferred an aisle seat in the past. But during a pandemic an aisle seat is much worse than a window seat. When someone walks past you in an aisle seat, they are exhaling on to your face!!! And the media is just now starting to report how unprotective all masks really are unless they are an N95. I have been wearing an N95 everywhere, a mask is required, but especially on airplanes, since this pandemic began. I still avoid an aisle seat anywhere on an airplane. That is likely to change after herd imminity is reached in the US.

  7. @John
    Hopefully you open the window right before landing…. On my first trip to Italy i was in the middle seat and my seatmate and her husband or boyfriend had both windows in economy one behind the other and both had the windows shut the whole time, even during landing and taxiing to the gate. That annoyed me as I would have loved to look at out at the landing.

  8. I pick a window and usually try not to get up during the flight. Not having to worry about having to move to meet another’s needs, I can relax, work, and, or rest by carving out a small niche with control over light sources and movement.

    During Covid, it reduces interactions with others and allows additional spacing with the ability to direct the air flow.

  9. Despite the data, some of us frequent travelers escape by watching the world go by, or sleeping against the window. Getting up to let everyone go to the bathroom is a pain in the butt.

    Sometimes it’s best to settle in against the window and enjoy the downtime. If you sit in the front of the plane, you get out quickly regardless of the position in the row.

  10. @drrichard
    I was just telling my son about my flight from Chicago to Hong Kong back in 2008; flying over Siberia and Mongolia during the winter was breathtaking. I left my (aisle) seat and looked out the rear door windows for hours.

  11. I always pick the window seat because I quite often take some interesting pictures from the air.

    One time I was awed by the scene of the Factory Butte in Utah from the air and I was actually going to the area to take Factory Butte and its vicinity Badlands photos on that journey!

  12. Take a window/aisle with spouse when seating permits…best of both worlds since the only person you inconvenience is someone you know.

  13. I used to be an isle guy. But in the last couple of years have chosen the window as I have more privacy and not asked to let others in and out multiple times a flight. I am not a huge traveler 140 flights a year average pre Covid, 75 last year partly due to total knee replacement . I feel valued by my airline. I may be the odd man out as I arrive early and don’t like running through airports. One last thing I don’t carry on luggage that should have been checked.

  14. As a frequent get-upper, I sit aisle.

    I’d have to wear Depends if at the window, and I haven’t succumbed to that purchase.

    Will I? I’m clueless.

  15. Personally, I LOVE the window seat, & that is leisure or business. However, I have a tiny bladder so I always choose an aisle seat. Despite that, I actually hate aisle seats for several reasons. Travelers hang on to the back of aisle seats to make their way forward or back. They frequently smack us aisle seaters in the head with their over-stuffed backpacks (without any sort of acknowledgement or apology). Our arms constantly get knocked off the arm rests. Bodies & luggage are constantly smacking us (again, with no acknowledgement or apology). There are a LOT of very inconsiderate & entitled travelers …jmo of course

  16. This million miler loves the window. I control my own destiny by not being interrupted, not be awakened, and by not being bumped into by passengers boarding the plane. Also I throughly enjoy the view- we are so lucky to live in age where we can soar above the clouds- why wouldn’t you want to see it?

  17. I think it’s ridiculous to present this as a fact. Another business traveler here and I will always take a window seat.
    You don’t “control your destiny” by choosing an aisle seat. You may and will be asked to get up and let your seatmates out, probably more than once. That means packing up the laptop, cleaning or taking up the food, etc. That’s much bigger inconvenience than asking someone to let you through.

  18. Frequent business traveler here. I always choose window. No interruptions while I work, can lean against the wall if resting, no random people/carts bumping me every few minutes, fewer prying eyes on my laptop screen, I can check out the view while in the air or on the ground, and I control when the shade is up or down.

    Unless you have a tiny bladder, the window seat is clearly superior.

    I think this article’s data is questionable.

  19. I used to prefer the window and sometimes still do if I am going to sleep or if it is a short flight as I curl up and read. However, as I’ve aged my overriding preference is for the aisle as I need to use the restroom more frequently and hate bothering everyone else to get in and out. Some of you may understand this someday.

  20. I hope someone can ask AsiaMiles CEO Paul Smitton if the following significant data point is accurate.

    Passengers who have a preference to sit in the back of the aircraft next to the lavatory already have diarrhea or want to meet other travelers that do.

  21. Amen, Wiley Dog!

    Yeah, wifey and I fight over who gets the window seat. As noted, flying up front, next to your life partner or bff, trading off who gets the window is very satisfying and enjoyable.

  22. Guys – it’s clear that the immediate posters are the ones contrary to the what’s being presented. His personal points were a bit tongue in cheek. The real point of this story is from data – the airline knew this to be true based on their data. It’s not opinion. Lighten up guys, it’s ok if you like the window 🙂

  23. The only time I liked my window seat the in F on a 747 to SYD and saw the Harbor bridge at 10am . It was great. other then that. my night flights i want an Aisle seat.

  24. Silly to make such a broad claim based on just a few decision criteria. As we can see in the other comments, people choose window seats for many different reasons. Bathroom access and COVID-19 safety are just two factors. For me, time of day, length of flight, the route, whether I’m alone or not, what I want to do enroute, my mood, and energy level all factor into my choice on any given flight.

  25. Like many of the other commenters I disagree. I’m a million Miler on United with gold status for life, and I probably have more than a million miles on other airlines like TWA, Pan Am, and National that are long gone. I’m also a commercially licensed pilot with multi-engine instrument ratings and I always choose the window seat. The author mentions that if you are on the window you have to wake the person on the aisle up to get by them conversely if you’re in the aisle seat you get woken up every time the person on the window wants to go to the bathroom. I like to see what’s going on before and during takeoff and Landing and if it’s a pretty night I like to look out at the moon and Horizon for the city lights below.
    One time I was on a flight from Florida to Boston on New Year’s Eve and there were four of us on the plane as passengers and the flight attendant sat down next to me in first class and I actually pointed out the window as we went by washington, baltimore New York City etc. she said she had never seen them before because normally they’re busy and I have a tiny little window in the door up in the service area.
    But then again the last time I went from England to France I took the ferry instead of the Channel, I didn’t really want to spend any time in a tube underneath the ocean when I could be on top of it seeing the world.

  26. All the exceptions are commenting, and each one has a good reason to prefer the window, but for me it’s aisle, aisle, aisle. I want to get up when I want, and don’t mind getting up for the inside people. I feel trapped in the window seat.

  27. This would explain why BA ignore my registered seat pref’ ( window) 100% of the time and I have to move myself or swap people in the party around. I mean that or BA’s IT is utterly c*ap! Actually it’s probably just that

  28. This is less a hard and fast rule and more a matter of probability.

    An aisle sitter is more likely to be a business traveller than a window sitter. Phrase it like that to avoid all the non-statisticians completely misunderstanding.

    Actually, it would be genuinely fascinating to see some more data like this and build a mathematical model to predict where someone would want to sit.

  29. What a stupid article, who wants to be bumped, poked, woken up and coughed over on a 18 hr flight …. not me YIKES!!!

  30. It’s simple – If you don’t choose a window, you’re not a real AvGeek. You’ve given up the wonder and the magic of flight in your rush to go pee whenever you want.

  31. @ Jon Anderson – OMG, not only am I probably older than you, but have been flying longer too. I’ve never considered myself an AvGeek – too old for such a silly avatar.

    Since I gotta pee often, I choose aisle as I don’t want to disturb others. On flights over the pond, I go business, and there’s no need to bother anyone.

  32. I’m not sure if there’s some reverse psychology going on here. Perhaps the author actually prefers the window seat and wants everyone else to think it’s cool to pick an aisle seat?
    I’ve always preferred the window seats for view, better to see what’s outside than just the back of the seat in front. No constant arm knocking by passing cabin crew and passengers and who really cares how quickly we can retrieve our kit from the overhead luggage compartment? No-one leaves the aircraft until the doors open anyway. When I sit by the window there’s also no getting up for anyone else who needs to go for a walk or to visit the toilet.

  33. On my frequent flights to Mccarran Airport, I always choose an aisle in the main cabin. Last month I was upgraded to first class and stayed on the aisle. It’s just easier when you’re 70 years old and need to get around.
    That being said, I am flying to Florida on Monday and I chose a window because I want to enjoy the view. And it’s only a two hour trip.
    I think the variables are endless.

  34. Besides the fact that it is a pain to constantly get up to let others get out, Invariably your aisle mate always needs to get up and turn around and slowly get something out of the overhead.
    Meanwhile, his butt is a mere few inches from your face for an eternity. Disgusting. Window seats rule.

  35. Frequent business traveler here. I always choose window whether in 1st class or sitting in the coach bulkhead seat. I don’t like being closed up in a dark tube so I can control the window shades. I have a nice wall to lean against and great views.

  36. This is a very interesting article. I actually dislike sitting in the aisle seat. When I travel, I don’t like using the restrooms on the plane, so on a five hour flight, it is rare for me to leave my seat. I make sure to properly hydrate myself before I get on the flight, so that I can relieve myself beforehand. I’m tall, so sitting in the aisle is tough because someone always bumps my arm passing by or I end up getting my arm hit by the refreshment cart. I really like looking out of the window while flying and I hate having to stand up, each time someone needs to go to the restroom. When I’m traveling for work, I choose to sit in a window seat. When I travel for leisure, I still choose the window seat and I always fly first class. My wife and I realized about 10 years ago, that the additional cost associated with a first class seat purchase, is well worth the level of comfort and service that we receive.

  37. I hate being in the aisle seat. People want you to get up several times so they can go to the bathroom. If you’re large like me you get bumped every time someone walks carelessly down the aisle. It makes it impossible to get some sleep.

    On a 14 hour flight I got woken up every 30 minutes or so because no one notices or cares that my shoulders are wider than the seat back.

  38. I think, while you make a valid observation, it’s more complex. When I’m forced to fly short haul economy I do indeed seek out aisle seats. Ideally exit row. But on an overnight flight I’d always choose window if available or next best central seat but never aisle for the obvious reason of a good nights sleep. Also, on daytime long haul to the US I always choose a K window seat so I can control daylight. Yes, I’m that idiot doing email while everyone else drinks red wine and watches movies but isn’t there a clue in ‘business class’ what you’re travelling for?!

  39. Most prefer the aisle seat, but they sit there for hour after hour and never get up. Then they act disturbed that I get up once an hour to stretch, and I’m inconveniencing them.

    Sorry but the science is clear. We need to stand up regularly.

  40. Aisle seat only on short flights, or if catching a connecting flight. If hoping to rest, don’t take an aisle seat, or you’ll be getting up to let seatmates out/in, and have passengers walking the aisle regularly grabbing your seat for balance.

  41. That’s probably right, if you’re flying on some shitty little narrow body short haul plane. But even then, it’s only up to a point.

    Now that I’m, and have been, tier one on *A, and OW, I almost always pick window, as I don’t what the cart hitting me, or like other have said, someone else asking me to let them in and out. If I’m sitting in economy – the ability to lean on the wall, for slightly better stretch, is a pro level forethought. On Qantas, if I’m in economy, on the A380, and it’s a light flight, I’ll sitting at the front, in an Isle, hoping for a full row, and as my status gives me access to the onboard first lounge, that’s about the exception.

    If sitting at the front, anyway, I’m not worried if im in the top 2-3 off, or 5-10 — it makes little difference, as I have accelerated access via immigration and no luggage anyway.

    I was probably spending $100,000 a year on flights excluding last year, which was probably $30,000 including three RTW flights, before covid arrived. Now paying out of pocket to fly business or first, so the kids can come free in economy.

    If my airline was undervaluing me on a very stupid metric like this, they’d have lost a lot of loyalty, from someone who maintains all three top level tiers, including skyteam, which I barely ever fly.

  42. @Gary,
    I think you may be right for the wrong reason. High flying executives do tend to be older than most younger types. When you get to that position, and money, you will take the aisle seat because you neeeeeeeeeeed to go! So, the airlines got it right for the wrong reason.

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