Apparently, getting the unfortunate honor of occupying the middle seat on an airplane is not just an inconvenience for some people, but a full-on traumatic experience. The company 3M wanted to know just how many people hated the middle seat, so it commissioned a survey. According to 3M, 56% of Americans would rather get stuck in traffic or go on a blind date than sit in the middle seat. One out of every two people said they would rather take an aisle seat on a later flight, and 20% actually said that they would stay overnight in the airport rather than sit between two people. (For more, read 5 Changes To Airline Rules You Need To Know.)
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And what are some things that people dislike most about the middle-seat experience? Topping the list were nosy neighbors, overweight people on both sides, the window seat person needing to get up and use the bathroom, and not being able to stretch out.
It's clear that some people have strong feelings about the middle seat, but is there anything that you can do to avoid a flight of traumatic discomfort?
If you have never been the kind to stay loyal to an airline, now you might have a reason. As you build up your frequent flyer miles, certain perks come with it. Some airlines allow you to choose your seat before others, while others will offer free business class upgrades as you amass more miles. Membership has its privileges, especially when you want a comfortable seat.
Take a Gamble
Airlines still overbook their flights and that can work to your advantage. Get to the gate early so you can be first in line when they start offering the discounted first class upgrade. Sometimes you can get lucky and pay a very reasonable amount for more room up front. Would you pay an extra $25 for comfort? (For related reading, see 7 Air Travel Perks That Used To Be Free.)
Talk to the Gate Keeper
You have to know the pecking order. If available, check in online the night before and pick your seat. If that doesn't work, talk to the attendant at the check-in counter and if that doesn't work, talk to the person at the gate. Get there early because others will try the same thing. You will probably have the most luck at the gate. You can also tell the attendant that you want to be placed on the list for a better seat, in case somebody misses their flight.
Score the Exit Row
Exit row seats are normally assigned at the last minute, but sometimes you can pay a small fee to land a spot. It won't help with the people on each side but you'll have more leg room. Once again, frequent flyer miles may carry some weight with these exit row seats.
The Bottom Line
Plug in your headphones, grab a magazine, put on a fake smile and deal with it. In the end, somebody has to sit in those seats and if it's you, just remember that it's going to be over soon.
Also, don't forget that loyal customers have more pull when it comes to making changes, so spend your flying money with the same airline. It might just give you some extra elbow room. (To help you score a cost effective vacation, read Best Frequent Flyer Credit Cards For (Almost) Free Travel.)