Window Seat Politics

traveling to new york

The window seat is the most sought-after seat in an aircraft – not only for the view as you take off and land, but for the extra headrest it provides. However, securing that spot isn’t always possible… Our writer gives some tips on how to retain your sanity, despite your aeroplane karma.

Everybody has a seat preference – either the window or aisle, but never the middle (“sardine”) seat, where there’s neither a view nor leg room. For that reason, middle-seaters should be given first choice of the armrests.

Personally, I prefer the window seat. I love the rush at take-off as the blurry runway vegetation transforms into a patchwork of greenery stitched together by long threads of tar transporting slow-moving terrestrial travellers. Far below I trace the rivers that carve their way to distant shores.

Yet no matter how early I check in online, window seats seem to fly out of cyberspace faster than Han Solo’s Millennium Falcon escaping the Imperial Guard. I search for any remaining one that may offer a partial view over the wing before I move my attention to the leggy aisle seats. If these are taken too, I’m left with no choice but to suck it up and endure the constriction of the middle seat.

On a recent domestic flight, in order to claim my elbow room, I ensured I was one of the first to board. Karma had a different agenda for me. There, in my row, already seated, were my flanking fellow passengers. Aisle Guy stood to let me squeeze past. As I manoeuvred into position to sit, he fell back into his own seat to reclaim the armrest. My imploring glance had no effect. He spread himself evenly between his ample leg room and his well-rested arms.

Hoping for better luck from the well-groomed, friendly-looking chap next to the window, I hid my envy as I turned to make eye contact – in vain. His head rested against the window and his eyes were shut tight. I had no choice but to settle down with my elbows tightly tucked between the hard armrests and my ribs. I pulled the seatbelt tighter, like a corset, in the hope of creating more elbow room.

Thinking the rumble of the jet engines would get Window Guy to sit back and open his eyes, I resisted the urge to re-align my elbows with his ribs. As we hurtled down the runway and left the ground, his head slid back across the window, leaving a wide trail of hair gel on the glass pane. His eyes remained closed. I leaned over to take in whatever I could see between his forehead and the window, but was swiftly put back in my place by a sudden glare from an eye that shot open like a reverse-acting Venus flytrap. Was this “friendly-looking chap” actually human? How did he sense I was in his personal space?

As the flight progressed, I looked longingly across the aisle at the couple sharing the window opposite. They swayed backwards and forwards like out-of-time rowers as they took turns pointing out geographical areas and exciting cloud formations. Why couldn’t my Window Guy be more like that? Instead, he continued to slumber. What cruel joke was this? What kind of beast books a window seat and fails to look outside?

During our descent, his head slid forward on the greasy trail left from take-off, effectively closing any aerial glimpse I might have enjoyed. The gentle jolt of our landing pulled him out of his dream-world. As the start-up tones of cellphones indicated our arrival at our destination, Window Hog gave me a glance, as if to say: “It’s all yours.”

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