The middle seat. (Just writing that gave me chills.)
This post originally appeared on Map Happy.
Few things are more reviled in travel. What is it good for? Well, possibly getting the whole aisle to yourself. But that benefit goes out the window with assigned seating.
But it's not all bad--the middle seat comes with certain benefits. So for those who have found themselves stuck in the middle, here are ways to make your central situation a little bit better.
Bathroom before or soon after take-off.
Seat etiquette dictates the aisle seat occupant be ready and willing to stand at a moment's notice to accommodate the less fortunate. But we all know this isn't always the case in practice. The best defense, in this case, is a good offense.
If the middle seat comes as a surprise, whether its a last-minute booking, seat change or late arrival, the first thing to do is hit the bathroom. This will reduce the chances you'll have to get up mid-flight once everyone is settled in (or even asleep). Plus, it'll give the window seat occupant a chance to get up as well without having to disturb two people in the process. It's a win/win.
Pack strategically to maximize leg room.
Do whatever it takes to save space. It's not a myth: airline seats have shrunk considerably since the 1980's. It's not just the broad-shouldered among us (e.g. me) who suffer anymore. Average seat widths are at a suffocating 17-18 inches, and seat pitch (the space between two seat backs) has shrunk as well. Meanwhile, the average person grows wider by the minute.
So you may have to shrink away from your aisle companions to allow everyone a reasonable amount of shoulder space. But you can make up for it by adding a few extra inches of personal legroom.
Though you can cram as much stuff as possible into carry-ons to avoid absurd baggage fees, there are other ways around that particular money pit. Like gate checking, credit card benefits or making use of overhead bin space. If all else fails, pack light enough so that even with a bag under the seat you'll have enough legroom not to be disastrously uncomfortable for the entire flight.
Being properly entertained will help.
If a book, movie or TV show is engrossing enough then the world around you will melt away. It will matter less that you're jam-packed between two strangers thousands of miles above the ground. Pack accordingly.
Note on screens: if privacy is important, consider getting a privacy filter. They come in all shapes and sizes--great for phones, tablets and laptops regardless of brand. And it's considerate. Screens can otherwise be distracting to neighbors, or if viewing something R-rated or potentially embarrassing, like marathoning the first season of Spongebob Squarepants (you know, hypothetically).
Seriously. I feel like this should go without saying, but still I see it all the time--especially on trains. Newspapers take up all the space and then some. Rude.
Keep the paper tucked away for later and grab an in-flight mag instead. It'll eat up time all the same, and will take up much less room. Better yet, get a digital subscription.
Hope for a 2-3-2.
The only time a middle seat isn't an automatic sentence to misery is with a 2-3-2 seat configuration. It doubles the chances that the person on the aisle will be awake and willing to budge should you need to move about the cabin. It's the best of a bad situation.
There is an upside to the middle seat.
The middle seat occupant gets free reign of both armrests. Always. Anyone who says otherwise is wrong and misguided. The window seat gets the far armrest and the view; the aisle seat gets the aisle armrest, additional leg space and increased mobility.
Stuck in the middle, the only benefit is the freedom to rest both arms simultaneously. Think of it as a consolation prize.
Sam Wright Fairbanks is an editorial fellow at Map Happy.