If there’s one thing that all flyers can agree on, it’s the sentiment, “I hate the middle seat.”
If you have to sit in the middle seat on a short-haul flight, it’s just about bearable.
But if you have to sit in the middle seat on a long flight, you already know that time slows to almost a standstill as you wait for the flight to be over and done with as quickly as possible.
Thankfully, there are several ways to survive the middle seat to ensure your in-flight comfort is just that little bit better.
Table of Contents
- 1 1. Ask to Be Re-Seated
- 2 2. Claim Those Armrests!
- 3 3. Recline Your Seat
- 4 4. Board Early
- 5 5. Use a Neck Pillow and Other Comfort Aids
- 6 6. Use the Bathroom Before You Board
- 7 7. Stow Your Bag in the Overhead
- 8 8. Keep Yourself Busy
- 9 9. Use the Tray Table
- 10 One Reason to Love the Middle Seat
- 11 The Middle Seat is Actually Safest
1. Ask to Be Re-Seated
The best way to survive sitting in the middle seat is obviously not to be sat in the middle seat.
After you have taken-off, ask a flight attendant if there’s a spare aisle or window seat somewhere, anywhere, please God, on the plane.
I’d say that this works about 10% of the time with your luck depending on the time, day, and month you fly.
2. Claim Those Armrests!
One of the unwritten rules of air travel is that if you’re stuck in the middle seat, both the armrests on either side of you are yours.
It’s practically middle seat etiquette.
After all, the person sitting by the window gets to enjoy the view and can lean against the window for comfort, and the person in the aisle has more room to stretch out.
Don’t worry about claiming both armrests, as it’s something that the vast majority of passengers understand.
If you’re seated next to a passenger who tries to claim your armrest, you can play it one of two ways.
I’ve previously made a joke where I’ve said that “These airline seats keep on getting smaller and smaller, huh?”, hoping that they would get the hint, which they thankfully did.
I’ve also gone for the straightforward, honest, yet polite approach, “I’m feeling really cramped and uncomfortable sitting in the middle, so do you mind if I use this armrest to make this journey a little more comfortable?”
Befriending the people who you will be stuck between can also be helpful to instill some goodwill in them.
3. Recline Your Seat
Passengers seem to have mixed opinions when it comes to the etiquette of reclining your seat on a plane.
Personally, I avoid reclining my seat unless the person in front of me reclines theirs, and then I have no choice but to also recline.
You’ve probably noticed this domino effect when you fly.
If I’m ever sat in the middle seat, though, that etiquette goes straight out the window. I recline my seat without giving a second thought to the other person sat behind me. Even though, ironically, they are also stuck in a middle seat.
When you’re stuck in the middle, doing what you have to do without unfairly affecting your fellow passengers is fair game.
4. Board Early
If you board early, you will be able to take your time settling into your seat by gathering all the items you plan to use during the flight without disrupting the people who will be sitting next to you.
This can help create some goodwill with your seat neighbors.
5. Use a Neck Pillow and Other Comfort Aids
Bringing a neck pillow is a simple, cheap middle seat hack that can make your flight that little bit more comfortable.
For me, trying to sleep sitting upright in the middle seat without a neck pillow is near impossible, so I make sure to always bring one if there’s a chance I will be sat in the middle.
Bringing a blanket because planes can be cold, and a sleep mask, too, can also be a good idea.
6. Use the Bathroom Before You Board
The person sat in the aisle seat knows that they will have to get up every time the people in the middle and window seats need to use the bathroom, which is practically an inevitability on long flights.
But if you’re stuck in the middle and find it awkward to ask the person who is sitting next to you to get up, it would be a good idea to go to the bathroom just before your flight, so you won’t have to soon after you board.
7. Stow Your Bag in the Overhead
You’re stuck in the middle seat, which is uncomfortable enough, so the last thing you want to do is deprive yourself of legroom, too, by placing your bag underneath the seat in front of you.
So, make sure that you take everything you need for the flight out of your bag, and then place it in the overhead before you take your seat.
8. Keep Yourself Busy
One of the best ways to survive sitting in the middle seat is to bring things to keep your mind busy.
If you’re flying long-haul, you’ll be able to enjoy the in-flight entertainment system.
But if you are flying short-haul, and don’t bring a book, headphones, a tablet, or your laptop, your flight will seem a lot longer than it really is.
9. Use the Tray Table
There’s no denying that the person sat by the window has the best seat on the plane for sleeping.
But dropping the tray table down, rolling your jacket up, and placing your head on it can be more comfortable than trying to lean back in your seat and nap if you forget to bring a neck pillow.
One Reason to Love the Middle Seat
I can’t deny it’s rare, and maybe I’m just trying to make you feel better if you have an upcoming flight coming up and will be stuck in the middle.
But if you will be sitting in the middle seat, you are more likely to get an upgrade, as flight attendants take pity on middle seat passengers and single them out for an upgrade.
The Middle Seat is Actually Safest
Besides having an opportunity of getting a free upgrade, the middle seat is actually the safest seat on the aircraft.
More specifically, the middle seats at the back is actually the safest place to sit on a plane, with a 28% fatality rate, compared to a 44% fatality rate if you sit either side of the aisle.
Ella Dunham, a Freelance Travel Journalist and Marketing Manager, boasts an impressive career spanning eight years in the travel and tourism sectors.
Honored as one of "30 Under 30" by TTG Media (the world’s very first weekly travel trade newspaper), a "Tour Operator Travel Guru" and "Legend Award" winner, Ella is also a Fellow of the Institute of Travel, a Member of the Association of Women Travel Executives, has completed over 250 travel modules, and hosts travel-focused segments on national radio shows where she provides insights on travel regulations and destinations.
Ella has visited over 40 countries (with 10 more planned this year).