How to Survive a Middle Seat

10 Hacks to Survive the Middle Seat on an Airplane

We’ve all been there. Seat 22B (or 28E) or when you get that dreaded C Boarding Pass on Southwest Airlines. That middle seat beckons you. Like a horror movie it gnaws at the back of your mind. A chill runs down your spine. You know you are in for hell.


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For an experienced business traveler this should be a rare experience. Honestly, it shouldn’t happen ever if are a seasoned pro (shame on you if it does! LOL). So when it does happen that one time during the year, are you prepared for it? Probably not.

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Or, if you one of the rookie travelers that grace our skies, there’s a good chance you might get stuck in a middle seat.

The Middle Seat Travel meme

Regardless of your travel status, there are certain strategies you can employ to survive the middle seat. Here are a few strategies I recommend!


10 Hacks to Survive the Middle Seat


  1. Ask for a seat change. Chances are this won’t work (there’s a reason you are in the middle seat in the first place), but it definitely won’t work if you don’t ask! So ask a gate agent. If you are traveling Southwest, not much you can do.
  2. Pay for a seat change w/ miles. Some airlines will let you “upgrade” your seat location with miles (or w/ a small fee). For example, Delta offers this for a fee – you can read how here. If the airline’s fee is reasonable, and it’s a long flight, it might be money well spent.
  3. When you do get seated, keep your eyes peeled for an open seat nearby. Some airlines won’t let you switch seats (especially into their more premium seats) but many do. And since other travelers are probably thinking the same thing, you have to be quick. As soon as boarding is complete, make your move! Be bold about it.
  4. Pick your middle seat wisely. With Southwest you get to pick your seat (not true w/ other airlines). So, pick one that has someone small sitting in the window seat. No need to be next to two broad shoulders body builders. And if you absolutely
    know you are destined for the middle seat, sit up front. At least you can get off a little quicker. No need to add the extra pain of disembarking last too. Be careful, because sometimes there will be a window in the back of the plane or even an aisle. Sometimes. Speaking of picking seats on Southwest, here’s an article I wrote that talks exactly about that.
  5. Claim your elbow room! If you are ultimately stuck in the middle seat you have to claim your elbow room! And never release it! The way I figure it, if you are the unlucky soul who has to ride middle seat, then you deserve BOTH armrests. But just to make sure, claim them. Never let your arms leave ’em! Ever! Don’t reach into the seatback pocket. Own em, they are yours for the flight!
  6. Recline your seat. I hate it when someone reclines their seat in front of me and I rarely recline my seat back. I view it as my contribution to being nice. But, when stuck in a middle seat, all bets are off. Recline it. Enjoy it. Since I am a little taller I also use my knees as a stop to make sure the guy in front me of cannot lean back. Not fair? Don’t care! Maybe get a travel pillow (like the Trtl) too for some extra neck support.
  7. Stow all of your bags up top. No need to lose leg room too. As you are boarding the plane, drop your luggage into any space you see – regardless of if it is near your seat. This is also the one time and one time only where it may be ok to check  your bag. Even then, I don’t recommend it. But if it’s it’s a really long flight, and a full flight, and you don’t have a connection, and if it’s your return-home flight, I will allow it. See my 101 Travel Hacks for the Business Traveler for my opinions on checked bags.
  8. Use the tray table. Drop that tray table down as soon as you can. Lean forward. It will create a little space between you and your compatriots (who are not thrilled w/ a middle seat passenger either). The tray table nap might get you through an hour. The tray-table-lean-forward-and-watch-a-movie-on-your-phone trick can get you through another hour. And by then, you are halfway done.
  9. Go to the bathroom before you get on the plane. No need to be stuck in a middle seat AND have a full bladder.
  10. Stretch! Get up and stretch mid flight. Even if your aisle buddy is zonked out, wake him/her up and get up. Stretch. Walk around. And, stretch before you get on the plane. My back locks up after sitting for an extended period of time. In the middle seat it’s even worse. So loosen up before you get on the plane.

Final Thoughts on the Airplane Middle Seat

There you have it. You were dumb enough to get stuck there so really…you deserve it! Just kidding. Sort of.

Since I am feeling nice, here are three bonus tips on surviving the middle seat for you, before you go:

I generally don’t talk to my fellow passengers. But in a middle seat, I will consider breaking that rule. You are stuck w/ these folks for a few hours. Maybe one of them will be nice, or interesting, or maybe even be compassionate about it and lean away from you. 

Download some movie / TV content, charge your devices, and get some sweet Bose noise canceling headphones. Don’t be stuck in a middle seat AND bored. 

Stay even keeled about it. Nothing lasts forever. No need to lose your mind over what in reality is a small period of time in your overall life. Suck it up. It will end eventually. Then get smarter and avoid it in the first place!


What are your middle seat tips? Join the conversation! Leave us a comment or tweet us @CBoardingGroup.

PS…you might be interested in these great articles on travel hacks & travel tips:

10 Hacks to Survive the Middle Seat on an Airplane

Survive the Middle Seat on an Airplane

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