Are you currently being jabbed in the midriff by the elbows of dueling strangers? You must be seated in a middle seat on a flight. And we are sorry.
It’s never easy being the meat in a stranger-sandwich. (Unless that’s your thing, which, no judgment here.) You can’t even get up to the restroom when you need it, but you do have to be alert in case your window-seat neighbour requires a bathroom visit. No sleeping for you!
But a middle seat doesn’t have to be all bad. After all, if you’re limited to a middle seat, you might be able to book closer to the front of a plane and make a swift exit as soon as you land. And if you’re a talkative person, you have double the opportunity to make a new friend. (Just know when to end a conversation.)
Use the restroom before you board and choose the “right” middle seat
When you’re stuck in a middle seat and next to a seatmate who’s fast asleep, crawling over them mid-flight isn’t ideal. Obviously, you should get to a bathroom before your flight to take care of any important needs. (I take off my contacts before I board, in case I fall asleep early during a flight.)
Here’s a useful tip the next time you’re left with only middle seats as options: Look up your plane’s seating arrangement on Seatguru and find out if your flight has a 3-3-3 configuration (or something similar) and book a seat in the middle 3; this way, you’ll be able to exit a row from either side in case one of your seat mates falls asleep.
Plus, you won’t be disturbed by your own seat mates needing to climb over you to get to the restroom. If you’re seated in the middle of a 3-4-3 arrangement, your chances of getting to a restroom without bothering anyone are slightly higher, too.
Obviously, if you’re flying on a typical 3-3 arrangement, there’s not much you can do to avoid this. As we mentioned, when left with middle seats as options, try to book toward the front of the plane so at least you can exit sooner.
Book an exit row or bulkhead seat
If you’re left with a middle seat and able to afford it, you can make the experience a little less frustrating by booking an exit row, premium economy or bulkhead row seat. In exchange for an extra fee, you’ll get a little more legroom, though you should check Seatguru to make sure.
On the reverse, you might want to avoid the middle seat close to an exit row or at the very back of the plane, as some intentionally may not recline; these seats are designed so that they can’t get in the way of an emergency door. (Again, check your flight’s seat map on Seatguru to avoid this.)
Place your bags in an overhead compartment bin and pack a second carry-on
We get it: Sometimes you absolutely want your bag with you in case you need headphones, a book or whatever else you’re carrying, but consider putting the bag in the overhead bin the next time you fly in the middle seat.
Obviously, it’ll give you more room, which you absolutely need when flying with a passenger on both sides. Just be sure to remove any necessities from your bag before you place it in the bin.
I always pack a small bag within my carry-on so I can easily remove things I need for a flight without holding up passengers in the aisle. It usually contains headphones, a charger, and a snack. You might also want to remove your jacket or sweater in case it gets especially cold on the flight.
(Plus, you can place behind your neck or back if you need extra support).
As C Boarding Group writes, if you’re feeling especially cramped, you should use the tray table to get a nap in while you can. It might be a little more comfortable than being squeezed by your seat mates while seated upright.
If it’s a red-eye, consider bringing a sleep aid, a neck pillow and download a few movies onto your Netflix app on your phone so you can get through the long haul as best as you can.
Recline your seat and take up both armrests, dammit
I recently sat on a flight back from Chicago and let a gentleman in the middle seat take over our mutual armrest because he deserved it, dammit. It’s an unsaid rule, but I fully believe in the idea that the armrests are yours to take when you’re seated in the middle seat. After all, the window seat gets to lean on the plane and the aisle gets the bathroom! The middle seat gets nothing but back pain.
The easiest way to establish the ground rules as a middle seat is to plop both arms down as soon as you sit; this way, your seat mates will never know they had the option of enjoying your mutual armrest. And yes, it’s another unpopular opinion, but recline your seat as far back for your own comfort, too. The middle seat is terrible as it is and you deserve the luxury of a slight recline.
Or just avoid the middle seat entirely
If you want to avoid the middle seat, there are a few ways you can manage to change seats last-minute. As close as possible to 24 hours before a flight, you should check in and try to book a better seat; around this time, some airlines upgrade customers with any elite status, freeing up coveted aisle and window seats.
Also, be sure to download your airline’s app on your phone. Using the app, you can check your flight’s seat map as it’s updated and snag a better seat. They’ll often have entertainment options via the app, too, so at least you’ll have something to do while you’re not sleeping.