How to survive the middle seat

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Most people would rather get stuck in traffic, visit the dentist or go on a blind date than be stuck in the middle seat during a flight. They will go to great lengths to avoid the middle seat, from taking an aisle seat on the next available flight to staying overnight at a hotel at the airport in the hope of securing a window or aisle seat the next morning.

What gets us riled up about the middle seat?

– a nosy or overly chatty seatmate

– having to crawl over someone to get up to stretch our legs or to use the bathroom

– not being able to stretch out

– sitting next to someone who is overweight

– having nowhere to rest our head

So how can you dodge the middle seat?

The best way to survive the middle seat, is to try and avoid it altogether. Book early and select an aisle or window seat during the booking process.

Alternatively, you can try when checking in at the airport counter – just make sure you arrive early as your fellow passengers will be endeavouring to get the best seats as well. It is worth inquiring about the possibility of being allocated an exit row seat, but be warned, this may cost extra. Of course, if you are exceptionally tall and are travelling on a long flight you may be prepared to pay a little extra to ensure your comfort.

If you are unable to secure a window or aisle seat at the check-in counter, you can try again with the gate staff as they have final say on seating arrangements and may seat you in a more preferable location, if available.

Once the plane is in flight and everyone is settled, ask the flight attendant if a window or aisle seat is open. You may have to move to a less desirable section of the plane, say at the back near the toilets, but at least you will have some legroom.

If all else fails and you are stuck with the middle seat, we offer some tips to make your flight more pleasant.

Commandeer the armrests – proper travel etiquette sees the person in the middle seat receive priority on the armrests. Make sure you board the flight quickly so you will beat your fellow passengers to your seat and can mark your armrest territory. If you prefer the space on the armrests closest to the seatback, then politely claim it.

Make sure you use the bathroom before you board your flight. Hopefully this will save you having to get up from your seat in-flight. Nobody really likes having to interrupt their movie, book or nap to let a seatmate up to use the toilet.

Pack neck pillows, eye masks, headphones or whatever else will help you to sleep and be comfortable in your carry-on luggage.

Ensure that you store your carry-on luggage in the overhead compartment rather than under the seat in front of you to secure you a little more legroom to stretch out.

What are your preferences for an airplane seat? Do you have any tips on surviving the middle seat?

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Written by Andrea


Total Comments: 29
  1. 0

    Preferring an aisle seat for easier access to the bathroom is a waste of time – the last time I looked there are no baths in the toilets. I can’t see the point in adopting this US euphemism for the toilet or WC. And while I act like a cranky old bloke, I might as well object to the discussion being framed in terms of situation on an “airplane.” I thought we Aussies travelled in aeroplanes, or aircraft. Sorry to be a pedant!

    • 0

      Well stated, Andy! We need to maintain our own language in order to protect the dignity of our national status.

    • 0

      I agree! We are losing so much of our culture and our language. We need to stand up for these obvious language takeovers. Don’t be sorry to say something. I teach literacy to children and I am always pointing out what is American spelling- it is becoming so confusing for them when printed material can’t get it right. Our official language is Australian Standard English.

    • 0

      Good on you Andy! Just reading the above article and the thing that stood out, rather than the advice, was the use of ‘bathroom’ when the meaning was obviously intended to be ‘toilet’. It’s really annoying seeing Australian English being eroded. Maybe we could start a campaign?!

    • 0

      I, too, resent the Americanisation of our Australian English, whatever happened to “the forthcoming ” as opposed to the current “upcoming” and how could you trust a nation that spells socks ‘sox’

  2. 0

    Oh, I can find lots of others, too. How about “to go” for starters? We have a perfectly good phrase for that – it’s “take away”

    • 0

      And there’s another that annoys me “from the get go”. I always have known it as “from the start”……why must we copy the americans?

    • 0

      I knew someone once who worked in America for a couple of years and in her first job she mistakenly took the chair away from another persons desk (thinking it unoccupied) but when the desk occupier returned, my friend had to apologise for the mistake of removing the desk owner’s chair and said. … Oh! sorry – did I pinch your seat?”

      A complete misinterpretation of the sentence occurred because none of the other American office workers had heard that expression before! There were some very serious looks directed at her from other office workers until my friend, realising they had no idea of the context in what she was trying to convey, quickly had to explain the meaning of the phrase as it pertained to herself and she apparently became the focus of much laughter each time she took hold of a chair! ….. You’re not going to pinch my seat again are you?”

    • 0

      Oh How much I do agree with you, Andy, Helengran, Lorra, Kiri, Ozykiwi, and Ductape, I am fed up with the attempted americanisation of our language. Yeah, we’re all Aussies, bloody proud of it, and don’t need another country’s way of speech. I tried to impress on an american the other day, that meter is an instrument for measuring something, hygrometer, tachometer odometer, metre is a measurement of height or distance, we say millimetre, centimetre, metre and therefore kilometre. a thousand metres; her reply was , “that’s how we spell it, and we are not changing our way whether you like it or not.” That’s a small example of their spelling which is not very good, as I have seen in a chat room on a game site.

  3. 0

    How about checking construction of sentences – the paragraph starting ‘Pack neck pillows…’ needs rephrasing, to avoid seemingly being advised to ‘sleep and be comfortable in your carry-on luggage’. Seems a drastic solution!

    Having just returned from Europe, I think to use the words ‘sleep’ and ‘comfortable’ in connection with air travel is being very optimistic!

  4. 0

    Don’t you just love it when another passenger is already occupying your window seat – after you’ve requested it and subsequently been allocated it – on the pretext of – “You don’t mind if I sit next to the window do you? Not so much a query but more like a statement…..and to save the day you reluctantly agree. only to find that the seat you NOW occupy has someone in the seat in front of you, who suddenly lowers THEIR seat backwards without warning, taking your coffee with it and into your lap. NICE ONE SHEILA – AND YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE!!!!

    Happened to me once! Such rudeness I thought you rarely found except in New York!


    • 0

      poor Ductape…I’m afraid I would have to say, yes I do mind, would you please allow me to sit in the seat allocated to me. That said, my husband always travels with me, so we would have two seats allocated and the rude bird would be totally out of luck. If the destination is somewhere I haven’t been then I like a window seat, and I pay for prior allocation to ensure that. Otherwise, I prefer the central area, so that I can get up and stretch, having had a knee replacement less than 12 months ago.

      Those seats crashing down on you is a real hazard. I have made my displeasure about this known as well. Last flight a seat crashed down on my meal and threatened to upend it. After I pointed out the problem I was shown the courtesy everybody should be shown, and no more drama.

      I would vote for anyone who would exclude sniffing people from travelling on long flights. I like to arrive as well as I set out!!

    • 0

      Oh dippity – if only I had your strength of character and presence of mind! I did voice my displeasure at the coffee spill but never received a ‘sorry’ – not even a little one – just a shrug of the shoulders…. And I agree totally with you on the sniffing.

  5. 0

    s, Andy ‘ i totally agree…2 years ago 2 us-americans asked me for a bathroom at the
    innsbruck trainstation…i answered…’sorry, they don’t even have showers here’ ha ha ha.
    i try to avoid us-slang as much as possible…& don’t watch us-films…i also try not to buy
    us goods as much as possible…i don’t like their lifestyle/violence & their vulgar english
    but i just love all the irish/scottish dialects…talofa

  6. 0

    I agree about the importance of avoiding American speech. I taught schoolchildren for many years and was the only one who called the students ‘children’ or ‘girls and boys’ , not guys!
    As for flying, I know it can be uncomfortable, but really, I’m grateful for cheap fares that have opened up domestic and international travel for so many of us – and any trip where the aeroplane lands safely is good enough for me. I’ve survived an crash so safety is my only consideration. And I don’t care if the food’s no good – what do we expect 30 thousand feet up in a metal projectile?

  7. 0

    I will always remember the comment made to me by another passenger sitting next to me on a flight from New Guinea when I stupidly asked the question, I wonder how far these things will fly if the engines suddenly quit. His reply: “Without engines – they fly like a greased crowbar!” Trust me, to ask a dumb question like that!!!

  8. 0

    Good on ya cobber, that was a bonza comment.
    Looks like another example though of cut and paste journalism, using an American article as the basis.

    • 0

      Yeah – It probably is but I’d never heard it before until he told me and it was an awfully long time ago. Anyway it appears he was wrong because that plane that landed in the Hudson not long back certainly ‘floated like a butterfly’ didn’t it? And before you jump on me again Pete – that one isn’t mine either!

    • 0

      I hate to hear people using the American slang, “How ya do’in?” “Doing what I usually say. What’s wrong with the good old Aussie phrase, “How’re ya goin mate?”, sounds so much better.

  9. 0

    Sorry, I was referring to the original article, not yours. I couldn’t see how to reply to the first group of comments.
    No worries.

  10. 0

    Hate the Americanisation of English (aussie or otherwise).
    Comment about getting to Check In early is very valid, can assist in avoiding Excess Baggage as well because as the flight fills they become more “picky”.
    Easy to avoid the middle seat. Do not fly! As a former Air Traffic Controller and Air Safety Investigator I avoid flying. And please do not start quoting statistics at me!
    Re the comments on a person sitting in the wrong seat – If this occurred I just used to say that’s OK it really only matters if we crash (seat allocation is used as part of the body identification process).

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