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Jan 15, 2019 10:39:09

Let's Talk About the Middle Seat on Airplanes

by @nicksimard PATRON | 748 words | 🐣 | 73💌

Nick Simard

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Ahhh, the dreaded middle seat. I've never met anyone who would choose the middle seat, over the aisle or window. And yet all planes have these abominable seats.

The degree to which people hate the middle seat is especially obvious when flying on Southwest, since it's open seating on a first-come-first-served basis. Check in early enough and you can get into a boarding group that will allow you to avoid the middle seats.

Yesterday I flew to New Orleans for our twice-annual work retreat and on both of my flights (first one an hour long and second one about 3 hours long) I had to go ALL the way to the back to avoid being trapped between 2 happy-they-didn't-get-the-middle-seat folks.

But, dammit, I succeeded! No middle seat for me.

On the longer leg of my trip, I had a couple of middle-seat-related things that I thought I'd mention.

  1. I chose the aisle seat because I feel trapped when I'm sitting by the window. If I need to use the bathroom, I don't want to be beholden to whether the middle and aisle passengers are awake. The lady who ended up choosing the middle seat next to me actually asked me if I would take the middle seat. I don't think she spoke much English, as all she said was "you take the middle seat?". Now, I'm a nice guy (usually). In some rare cases, I would consider taking a middle seat in order to make someone else's flight more convenient.

    For example, if a family was separated and my taking a middle seat helped them stick together I'd probably do it. Having traveled with kids myself, I know that it's unpleasant even under the BEST of circumstances. Or, if a couple was traveling together and ended up across the aisle from each other, but with one of them in the middle seat, I might consider taking the middle and letting the person sit closer to their 'cross-the-aisle-partner.

    But I promptly said "no, I need leg room with the aisle" as I stretched my leg out to demonstrate. I'm 6 feet tall and apparently broad enough that middle seats lead to me being squished. Sorry, lady. Naw'gunna happen. Plus I wanted to avoid the following situation...

  2. In the seat across the aisle and one row back (incidentally the very back seat of the plane), I could hear a woman and man arguing over the elbow rest that separates the window seat and the middle seat. The woman was complaining because the man had rested his elbow on it, and she felt that if SHE had to be squished in then he could do the same and not use that armrest.

    Poor guy seemed like the kind of person who was super uncomfortable with these types of confrontations. To be honest, that makes the rest of the flight pretty damn awkward. Now he has to sit next to this lady, fearful that he'll offend her with his elbow placement.

    ASIDE: Later in the flight, I saw the lady sitting in the aisle seat with her head leaning on the man in the middle seat. So that means they were traveling together, and apparently, he hadn't let her use the armrest that separated THEM. Otherwise, where would this woman get off thinking that BOTH armrests would belong to the middle seat. The man had also stayed out of the bickering. I wonder if this woman does it every flight and he's just over it.

It did get me to thinking, though. If the aisle seat has the armrest that is in the aisle and does not use the inner-most armrest, the middle person can use that one. And then the window person can use the armrest next to the middle seat passenger. Otherwise, if the aisle sitter uses the inner armrest then it means the middle person has to use the one that divides them and the window person. In that case, the window seat gets the one next to the wall. It's a delicate dance that must be navigated carefully. 

Maybe the middle seat gets NO armrests and has to be uncomfortable the entire flight because they didn't have the forethought to book the flight earlier or, in the case of Southwest, to check in earlier?

What type of flyer are you? If you're in the aisle or the window seat do you think the inner armrest is yours? Or, should the middle passenger be treated humanely and get ONE armrest?

From Nick Simard's collection:

  • 1

    @nicksimard Wow this is quite a thorough discussion of the good ol' middle-seat phenomenon. I fly on SW all the time and see the same thing you do. Everyone picks either window or aisle leaving the middle seats for late B group and C group people to "ride bitch" as I like to say. I am a window person, and I have never considered it being squished in. I manage fluid intake and bodily functions to the point that I rarely need to use the lavatory even on a 5 hour flight. My problem with the aisle seat is the space below the seat in front of the aisle seat is smaller and causes problems with my backpack. Also, I have broad shoulders and find myself constantly "pulling in" when people walk back and forth in the aisle. As far as armrests go, I let the person in the middle have it.

    Brandon Wilson avatar Brandon Wilson | Jan 15, 2019 23:35:12
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      @brandonwilson Yeah I ended up writing may more than I had anticipated haha. I enjoy the window seat if it's a flight on which I plan to sleep (like a red-eye flight or super early and long). When I fly to retreats I've moved to just the one carry-on (eBags TLS Mother Lode Weekender Convertible), so I get all my foot room back. I used to have a bulky backpack under there and was always annoyed at how little space I had for my feet.

      Nick Simard avatar Nick Simard | Jan 16, 2019 20:46:41
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