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Why Passengers Prefer the Right Side of the Plane

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A small study confirmed a distinct bias.

Jess McHugh
January 10, 2018

Forget the debate between aisle and window seat. The newest question concerning seat selection is over passengers’ preference of a side of the plane.

Air travelers tend to prefer the right side of a plane, according to a small study led by a psychology lecturer at Queen Margaret University and carried out at the University of Edinburgh.

Dr. Stephen Darling led a group that surveyed some 32 people as to their seating preferences. All of the participants were right-handed, according to the BBC (a detail that is not surprising given the fact that 70-95 percent of the population is right-handed).

The researchers changed the orientation of the seating diagram to rule out a preference for a side of the screen and found that participants overwhelmingly still chose the right side of the plane.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, people also favored seats toward the front of the aircraft and those that were not in the middle of an aisle.

“The result clearly showed that the orientation of the plane made no difference to the preference, with most participants still making an active choice to choose seating on the right of the plane,” Sergio Della Sala, a member of the research team, told BBC.

“The research shows that people’s preference as to which side they sit on in an airplane is dictated by our mind’s rightward bias in representing the real world,” Darling added.

A rightward bias has been demonstrated in other studies stretching back decades. A study in 1978 for instance asked passersby to choose between four pairs of identical nylons or four identical nightgowns. They overwhelmingly chose the objects that were on the right side of a department store window, justifying their choice by saying that it was of higher quality, not knowing that the objects were in fact the same.

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