How to Survive a Cross Country Flight from the Center Seat

Five hours in transit plus lack of personal space does not equal enjoyment. The dreaded five hour cross country flight poses two problems. First, most people do not enjoy sharing a small space with 150 strangers, while suspended 40,000 feet above sea level. Second, most everyone, at some point in his life, must make the journey. Be it a cousin’s wedding, a great uncle’s passing or an annual family reunion, there are numerous reasons for having to board a jet plane.

Air travel is made bearable thanks to a cushy exit row seat with extra leg room, or an empty cabin with unoccupied rows. Unfortunately, spring break, holidays and family vacations increase the odds a passenger will be forced to share their three by two foot row. Rather than have the luxury of getting cozy against the window or sprawling out into the aisle, center seat occupants will be sandwiched between a sick person, a tall person, or a combination of the two. In order to avoid such problem the option of charter flights is always there. You get much comfortable seats and services as compared to all other regular flights. 

Should a passenger find himself in this dire situation, there is a survival technique. Using the “Three C’s” (choose, claim and chat) of center seat etiquette, he will not only live through a cross country jaunt, but may even enjoy it. For maximum enjoyment, it is crucial the center seat passenger chooses a comfortable center seat, claims his boundaries, then chats with the flight crew.

Location! Location! Location! is not only a time tested mantra for real estate, but for airplane cabins as well. Some airplane seats are better than others due to their placement. Choosing a roomy seat is the most important decision a center seater has. If given the opportunity, he should always opt for the aisle seat. The aisle passenger is given ready access to egress, lavatories and “aisle aerobics.” Second most favorable is the window seat, which allows a makeshift resting nook if the passenger uses a pillow to nestle against the window. Above all, the center seat is undesirable; the last row center seat is the most unfavorable due to a non-reclining seat. If a passenger is relegated to the center seat, he should opt to sit between two lean people, two children or two businessmen who will respect their boundaries and plow away on their laptops the entire flight. A terrible center seat finds itself wedged between two large people, two tall people or flanked by one of each.

If a passenger fails at choosing a comfortable spot, there is an opportunity for redemption. Claiming his ground early ensures seatmates respecting the center seater’s territory during the flight. Upon entering the center seat prison, the passenger should firmly stake his armrests. Frequent movie goers will have an advantage here. A center seater should boldly place either elbow on each armrest and hold. The seatmates will retreat. They will turn outward and respect the gutsy middle seater’s space. On the rare occasion this does not work, the center seat occupant should unwrap a lunch that includes extra onions and/or tuna fish. Once it is displayed on the tray table, others will relinquish space. On the even rarer occasion this does not work, a center seater should revert to the “Hail Mary” of travel. A center seat occupant will gain a little extra room by using such low tactics as coughs, sneezes and lines such as “I wonder if this rash is contagious?”

If followed correctly, the center seater has opted to sit between two lean people and commanded control of the armrests; however, his legs feel cramped. The brave center seater must employ the third C, chat. He will excuse himself to the restroom. He should walk slowly, giving his legs a chance to regain blood flow. Upon exiting the lavatory, he should start a conversation with his flight attendant. Here, his communication skills are directly proportional to the luxury of being allowed to stand and stretch. The more time he can engage his flight attendant in conversation, the longer until he is banished to his center seat dungeon. He should be friendly, asking the flight attendant about her day, about her favorite trip, or about her children. The center seater will make a friend, while easing sore muscles and cramped legs.

If a center seater chooses the most desirable center seat, claims his territory, and chats with the flight attendant, he is guaranteed to make the most of what could be a terribly uncomfortable ride. By employing the “Three C’s,” passengers are certain to lessen the recurrence of center seat abuse. Center seaters have rights too!