It’s never easy being one of the unlucky passengers that get stuck in the middle seat. According to one survey, “A majority of Americans would rather get stuck in traffic (56 percent) or go on a blind date (also 56 percent) than sit in the middle seat on a full flight.” While there’s no denying that window and aisle seats are preferable, that doesn’t mean your flight has to be miserable. With a few handy tips at the ready, you can survive a middle-seat flight just fine and maybe even be comfortable enough to sleep.
Middle Seat Etiquette
There is such a thing as “airplane etiquette,” though the rules are hazy according to whom you ask. However, most agree that the person in the middle seat gets dibs on both of their armrests. Because they can’t lean to either side like someone by the aisle or the window, middle-seat passengers should get priority for resting their arms. However, if you don’t use one or both armrests and your neighbor starts to use it partway through the flight, you can’t expect to just bump them off at any time without politely asking first.
Another issue that comes up for middle-seat passengers is the issue of getting out to use the bathroom or stretch their legs. Be very clear when you intend to get up – it’s rude to simply stand up and begin pushing your way past your seatmate. Instead, give a gentle tap on the shoulder of the person on the aisle to let them know you want to get up. As always, it’s best to use the bathroom right before your flight to minimize the times you’ll have to crawl past your neighbor during the flight.
Maximizing Your Space
If you’re stuck in the middle seat, your space can seem especially confined. To reduce this problem, always store all of your carry-on items in the overhead bins. Don’t bring a bulky backpack or briefcase and stuff it under your seat as it will only limit your movement further.
Use your drop-down tray if you’re feeling a bit cramped. Though it jets out towards you, it may actually make you feel like you have your own designated space rather than being crowded by your neighbors.
If you’d like to fall asleep, a neck pillow is your best friend. It solves the issue of not being able to lean to either side with the risk of accidentally straying into your neighbor’s space. Inflatable neck pillows are a great space-saver for airline passengers.
Relax & Distract
Part of the issue with traveling in the middle seat is feeling like you have no privacy. Whether it’s a nosy neighbor who keeps peeking at your laptop or a seatmate who wants to chat for the entire three-hour flight, it’s nearly impossible to escape when you’re stuck in the middle.
To avoid these issues, come prepared with a few weapons in your arsenal. An eye mask and neck pillow make it clear that you want to sleep. Putting on headphones or earbuds with your MP3 player also keeps chatty neighbors at bay (hint: you don’t even have to have music playing – simply wearing the headphones will give you the privacy you want). Tablets are great for playing games or doing work without everyone seeing your screen; books and e-readers are helpful for getting some alone time as well.
As an added bonus, using any of these products can also help you to relax and keep you distracted from the slightly uncomfortable and awkward experience of sitting in the middle seat on your flight.
These tips can help make the middle seat experience much more bearable. If you’re truly opposed to sitting in the middle, make sure you understand the airline’s seating policies when you book your flight. Some offer priority seating to members while others force you to pay extra to select your seat in advance. With a few airlines, first-come-first-serve seating means that you’ll want to arrive at your gate early for premium seating.