Surviving the Middle Seat

interior of a plane

[Ivan Hafizov] / [Hemera] / Thinkstock

The worst seat on the plane, without question, is the middle seat of the middle row. If you’re stuck in this seat in the last row on the plane, you have my eternal sympathy. Airlines should just institute a “free alcohol for anyone in these seats” policy. For some reason, this is usually where I end up being seated. The only thing I can attribute this to is that I must have done something terrible in a past life. Really terrible. Unspeakable even. That and I always forget to check in early and select my seat. Savvy traveler fail.

I used to be so grateful just to be on the plane and going somewhere that I would humbly accept any seat with a seatbelt. Now I sigh heavily, throw my bag in the overhead compartment, and try not to make eye contact with the two people sitting next to me lest I end up locked in a 14 hour one-way conversation or providing tech support for the technologically inept who are unable to operate their personal entertainment device.

Unfortunately some of us have to take those seats so practice your passive aggressive glare, get your headphones out, and let’s review survival procedure for the middle seat.

Organization
Assuming you were able to avoid the worst-case scenario in which there is no overhead compartment space available and you are forced to stuff your bag under the seat in front of you, organize your thoughts and your travel bag in order to maximize your space. I usually have my “seat pocket” bag with all of my essentials for the flight. Toothbrush, book, wallet (don’t leave it behind…), iPod, journal, snack, gum. That way when I get to my seat, I can just grab the essentials in one fell swoop, stuff them in seat pocket in front of me, and then stretch my feet out.

Be Assertive About Getting Up
While sitting in the middle seat is an excellent opportunity to further develop your passive aggressive tendencies with sidelong glares and heavy sighs, try to avoid it. Yeah, I know it’s annoying and cumbersome to have to constantly ask people to move so you can get up and walk around, but do it anyway. Just take turns and change the side you get out on from time to time. Always get up when the person next to you gets up.

Headphones
A part of me hates that we’ve become so habituated to the idea that you can sit next to someone for hours upon hours and leave without exchanging more than a few words. On the other hand, sometimes people are crazy. What? It’s true. I’m a people person. I love to talk, but sometimes…I just really don’t want to spend hours mindlessly listening to someone drone on about their four cats and that one time they got lost in a parking lot looking for their car. Headphones are critical.

Alcohol
Lufthansa has free beer and wine. Excellent business model. After a few drinks, I don’t really care that my personal entertainment device doesn’t work or that the lady in front of me has her seat in my lap. It’s cool.

Back of the Plane
I personally believe that if you don’t spend some time of your flight staring out the window, you’ve wasted your money. Be sure to head back to the plane to hang out with the flight attendants and take advantage of the windows back there. It helps with mental well-being when you’re stuck between two strangers for 14 hours.

Dude, You’re on a Plane
Sometimes we get too caught up in the stressful details of flying and how obnoxious and exhausting it can be to wedge ourselves into tiny seats for hours while watching B-grade romantic comedies. We lose sight of how incredible and exhilarating and just generally amazing it is that we’re flying! Next time you find yourself griping about flying, remind yourself that it could be worse. You could be on a covered wagon instead…

By Nikki Hodgson

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