What Exactly Is Proper Window Seat Airplane Bathroom Etiquette Anyway?

The internet has opinions

A young woman asleep on an airplane.
To wake or not to wake

You’re six hours into a redeye flight, window seat, and your seatmates have been sleeping for 5.75 of those hours. Two beverage services in, and you’ve gotta go. What do you do? Wake them? Stealthily maneuver your way over them? Accept your fate? What is proper window seat airplane bathroom etiquette?

That’s more or less the question posed to the r/TravelHacks subreddit by a well-meaning user unfamiliar with “general etiquette around using the bathroom while in a window seat,” which has seen users from all corners of the internet chiming in on best practices for the better part of the last week.

“Going on my first red eye, international flight soon. I’ve only ever done short domestic flights. And I’ve never used the bathroom on a plane,” almondmilkbrat posited. “I heard someone say that if you’re in a window seat you should try and use the bathroom when the person sitting next to you gets up to use the bathroom. But other than that, is there any general etiquette that I should be aware of when in the window seat? Especially when it comes to possibly having to wake someone up to use the bathroom.”

Now, as you can probably imagine, the responses are a bit of a mixed bag but, by and large, the general consensus is: just go. And at whatever cost, for that matter.

“I sit in window seats. I have a cast iron bladder and hate airplane bathrooms. One time the aisle seat was asleep and the guy in the middle just climbed out over her, like a regular Spider-Man move, then came back and did the same. She never moved,” one user offered.

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“I always sit in an aisle seat and I buy it knowing I’ll have to get up for those in the middle and center seats. If you have to go, go. Don’t hold it because you’re worried about inconveniencing others,” said another.

(Anecdotally, I once had a flight attendant regale me with tales of a passenger who had decidedly pissed their pants in lieu of asking their seatmates to let them out. So while it may seem like a pretty black-and-white issue to most, rest assured that it is most definitely not.)

But that still begs the question: what is proper etiquette?

Personally, as someone who drinks an absurd amount of water on a regular basis, I always select an aisle seat so as to avoid any potentially uncomfortable situations, but if you must sit in a window seat, there are a few basic courtesies you can extend to your seatmate(s).

First, and if you can help it, wait until they are done using their seat back tray table — if they’re, say, working, but especially if they’re eating. Be conscious of wires as you pass by, should they be plugged in. If you notice them starting to nod off, ask then — not once they’ve entered REM sleep. And do ask. As many were quick to point out, passengers sitting in the aisle seat do so knowing that at some point during the flight, they’re going to have to get up to let others pass. I’d rather be woken up to be asked a question than be woken up to find a stranger straddling me…or, alternatively, to find that that stranger in the seat next to me had pissed their pants.


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