How to Survive the Middle Seat

T+L editor tips on making the best of an always annoying situation.

(c) Csondy. Photo: Getty Images

So, it happened. You waited until the last minute to book your flight and now you’re stuck with the dreaded middle seat. You're mentally preparing yourself for a flight filled with awkward grazes of your neighbor's arm, passive-aggressive huffs and puffs over who gets which armrest, and a stiff neck from attempting to sleep without a place to rest your head.

Though no one would argue that the middle seat is the ideal spot to park yourself for a flight, there are ways to make it better (really!). Below, T+L editors gave us their tried-and-true tips for surviving the middle seat.

Prepare. Pack your carry-on and personal bag methodically. Place your book, iPad, and anything else you will definitely need during the flight in an easily accessible pocket. This way you don’t have to test the boundaries of your limited elbowroom while digging through your stuff after you’ve been seated.

Board as Early as Possible. It will give you time to get yourself situated without maneuvering your bags, coat, and other belongings around your seatmates—a move that could force you to choose between asking your already glaring neighbor to get up one more time, or settling down with an extra bag below your feet.

Claim the Armrests. As the middle-seat occupant, etiquette says you get both armrests. Place your arms on them as soon as you sit down to claim your space.

Limit Your Carry-On and Store it in the Overhead Bins. This way you’ll give yourself the tiny bit of extra legroom beneath the seat in front of you so you can, dare we say, stretch out.

Take a Deep Breath. Relax, and make an effort to be as pleasant as possible. Your neighbors will thank you, and your trip will be far more enjoyable.

Make Friends With Your Neighbor. Say hello, crack a joke, do whatever it takes break the ice and establish some goodwill. Remember, they are not the enemy.

Get a Neck Pillow. Even if you forget one, buy it at the airport. Trust us, the extra cost is nothing compared to trying to fall asleep while your head flops around like a bobblehead doll on a dashboard.

Get Noise-Canceling Headphones. Chatty neighbor? Screaming baby? No problem! Pop those noise-canceling headphones on and soak in the pure bliss of silence all around you.

Bring Good Reading Material. Grab that book you’ve been too busy to read—get lost in a good book and, before you know it, your (somewhat cramped) journey will be over.

Use the Bathroom BEFORE Your Flight: This trick will only work for so long—a bathroom trip is inevitable on longer flights. But, there’s nothing worse than getting settled in and then having to ask your neighbor to move 10 minutes after take-off so you can use the restroom.

After Boarding is Finished, Look Around. There may be open seats, and if you ask nicely, the flight crew might let you switch. Chances are, if the doors are closed and no one is in a seat yet, it’s fair game.

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