The Middle Seat Memoir
I know most complaints about the middle seat, but as an ex-airline employee, I’ve flown the middle more than most. Here’s my middle seat memoir.
As a perk for working for an airline, we get to travel for free or for a deeply discounted price; for that we have to wait until the very last minute to get a seat that’s not otherwise occupied by a paying customer or a fellow employee who is ahead of you on the seniority list. As a result, the middle seat is my friend.
The look on people’s face when I show up is precious at times. People have said, “Are you sure this is your seat?” yes, I reply smiling, much to their chagrin.
Sometimes though, the passengers at the window and the aisle are traveling and was hoping to have the middle empty, so one of them will gladly move over. Always fun when its the middle seat person that moves :-).
Being a middle seat flyer, you get treated pretty badly at times. People totally hog the armrest so its usually impossible to sit. I usually try to sit forward when they are sitting backwards or normal (without reclining the seat). This makes me uncomfortable, but I don’t want to upset someone as my seat is at a lower cost than theirs.
I never fight anyone for the armrest as that’s just stupid, but I’ve seen elbow fights which are fun to watch. Even when I pay for my own tickets, I don’t do the arm rest hustle. It’s just not worth it. I do see passengers wait for the right moment when the other person moves and jams their elbows into the back of the armrest and take it over. The look of scorn on the other person is precious.
Business Class Middle Seats
Middle seats are not only available in Economy Class and Premium Economy Class, some airlines have them in Business Class too. Air France, Emirates, Turkish Airlines and United comes to mind. And yes, I’ve done the middle seat on Turkish Airlines, although, I did not really fly in the middle on Turkish as I was able to switch to a window just before takeoff. But have flow the middle on United.
Business Class Middle is not too bad at all. I mean, you still have a nice seat and service and a nice meal. So not much to complain about, except that you have to step over someone to get out. But on some airlines you have to do that anyways when you have a window seat in Business Class.
Premium Economy Middle Seats
These are not too bad as you have additional legroom, so something is right. Also, some airlines will feed you first and give you real cutlery and a real glass.
My longest journey is from Sydney, Australia (SYD) to Vancouver, BC Canada (YVR) on Air Canada (AC). The gate agent told the couple that the middle seat will not be empty so they should switch so they won’t talk over the person in the middle (me). They said no. The flight attendant also said the same thing and they still said no.
Lo and behold, during the flight, they talked the whole time and passes stuff across me especially when they are filling out the customer forms. As an airline employee, you can’t complain, so I just went to sleep and tried to ignore them. They never said sorry or anything like that.
I’ve sat between really cool people though, who questioned the rationale of a 6’ 1” man sitting in the middle seat. They’ve never offered to switch though :-). Of course I would politely decline.
White Knuckle Flyers
My hands have also been gripped by white knuckle fliers, while they make a cross and hold on for dear life when the airplane barrels down the runway. I look over and let them know its going to be alright. They say nothing, but squeeze my hand tighter.
Best Middle Seats
It’s not all doom and gloom in a middle seat. If you get the Exit Row, you’ve scored, although, they are usually quite narrow. There’s also the Bulk Head middle seat which has a lot of legroom, but chances are you may have a baby in a bassinet as well, so be prepared.
To Swap Or Not To Swap
The fun thing about the middle seat is that oftentimes, people with a middle seat want to swap with someone with an aisle or a window so they can sit next to their travel companion who also has a middle seat. Well, this is just bad etiquette. Why should someone be uncomfortable so that you can be comfortable? This always gets me. Have you seen this happen?
When I get the middle seat as I oftentimes do, I just say hello, laugh and say “the guy that’s going to make you uncomfortable has arrived, sorry about that :-).” Most people laugh or just ignore me and let me in.
I’ve had great conversations from the middle seat; one guy told me his entire life story between Amsterdam and London on a KLM flight. It was intriguing. He wanted to talk and I listened.
One thing that’s bad is that I have wide shoulders so its a little bad at times as I can’t fit in the seat. In those cases, I lean forward also as not to make the others uncomfortable. I’ll also recline if at all possible to make everyone more comfortable apologizing all the way.
Why Would Anyone Pick A Middle Seat?
On a recent flight on KLM on a paid ticket, I got the window and another guy got the aisle. We wondered who in their rightful mind would pick the middle seat if there were other seats open? Well, we chose to ask the person when they arrived.
As we were close to closing the door a lady arrived; immediately, we struck up a conversation with her ;-). She said that she had started in Mumbai, India (BOM) and she was unable to see the seat map as she was flying Jet Airways (9W) and apparently they did not have through check-in with KLM, so she was given a seat once she arrived in Amsterdam. And the middles were the only ones left. Bummer. We did not even talk much after that except to ask her to let me out so I could stretch during the flight.
I too have been on paid flights and gotten a middle seat as I could not get access to the seat map online or had to wait for a seat at the airport, otherwise I had to pay for a seat, which I ‘m not really a fan of doing. So it happens.
Which Middle Seat Sucks The Most?
Airlines maximize their configuration to make the most money from flights. As such on an A380, there are 10 seats across usually in a 3-4-3 configuration. On some 77s there’s a 3-4-3 which is quite tight and called high density in the industry, the 747s has 3-4-3, the 767s has 2-3-2, the 787 3-3-3, the Airbus A330s and A340s has 3-4-3 tapering to a 2-4-2 in the back and the DC-10s and L-1011s had 2-5-2. So it varies by aircraft.
I think the seat that sucks the most is when you’re in the middle of a 2-5-2 as then you are truly in the middle.
So what’s been your middle seat experience? Please leave a comment and share this post with others whom you think will enjoy it or have a middle seat memoir of their own.
One thought on “The Middle Seat Memoir: It Doesn’t Always have To Suck”
My husband and I usually pick the window and aisle seats because he gets claustrophobic and I love looking out the window and havibg something to lean on if I want to sleep. If someone is assigned our middle seat, we explain that we’re married, so might have some interaction, but we try to keep that to a minimum. My husband is a very quiet person, so we don’t chat with each other very much in airplanes. If we don’t have to make a connection, I find that choosing an aisle and window seat as far back as possible lessens the chance of someone being seated between us. Maybe that’s how we’ll finally meet IRL, Kerwin. You’ll be the guy who plops down in our middle seat in row 33 as they’re closing the door. 😉