When traveling with a friend or loved one, do you book the aisle and window seat and hope that the middle seat remains empty? It is a strategy I have used for years, to varying degrees of success, but apparently, one that is quite controversial.
Do You Book An Aisle And Window Seat In Hopes The Middle Seat Stays Empty?
Hannah Sampson of The Washington Post explores the issue, gathering data points from those who are in favor and those who are against the practice. While planes almost always wind up going out full, you can maximize your chance for an open seat by booking an aisle and window seat toward the back of the plane. Even with a high load factor, it is those middle seats in the rear that tend to fill up last.
The last time I tried this was on an 11-hour SWISS flight from San Francisco to Zurich. It did not work.
There is a right way and wrong way to do this. I would never do this if I was not willing to actually take a middle seat if the plane filled up. The worst possible display of rudeness is when a couple keep the aisle and window and talk back and forth over the passenger seated between them.
Typically hate when people do this. The few times I’ve been the middle person, the couple stayed in their respective seats but talked, argued, and passed things over me. If you’re going to stay in the seats you chose, you need to pretend like you don’t know each other.
— TWO GUYS ON A PLANE (@twoguysonaplane) December 17, 2022
There are some risks to doing so. Chiefly, you may (rarely) find that your seatmate in the middle seat does not want to switch:
losing my mind, just offered the aisle seat to the guy sitting between me and my gf on a flight, and he said he’d rather stay in the middle seat between us
— Zack Bornstein (@ZackBornstein) December 8, 2022
I have no idea why anyone would want to be between a couple, even if they are quiet, but you do run that risk. Perhaps it was meant to punish the couple for the presumptivness of assuming that a person would trade a middle seat for an aisle or window seat, but come on…that’s trading up, not trading down. This can hardly be compared to the sweat swapping antics we read about where a traveler wants to trade a less desirable seat for a more desirable seat.
Nevertheless, it is a risk I am willing to take when I travel in economy class. In my case above, the young lady with the middle seat was very happy to take the aisle. Ecstatic, actually.
Even Sara Nelson, the “world’s most powerful flight attendant” employee this “trick” in an attempt to score a whole row:
We’re a “couple” of flying fanatics who do this every time. Better chance of getting the row to ourselves. We’re both window (DC side) flyers though, so if someone is booked in the middle they get the aisle (and I typically take the middle because that’s the kind of “boss” I am). pic.twitter.com/p6CpmleCTY
— Sara Nelson (@FlyingWithSara) December 17, 2022
Finally, note that some airlines (like United Airlines) are blocking passengers from doing this. If you are traveling with someone and assign a window and aisle, keep an eye on your reservation because United often (but not always) will move you to two seats next to each other. The better option with United is to book two aisles. That way you can both easily get up and also chat across the aisle.
I will continue to book a window and aisle combo in hopes that the middle stays open. While that is less likely these days, it is a risk worth taking. Still, it is not wise to demand that your middle seat seatmate swap with you. As always, ask nicely and do not presume.