Recently I’ve seen a couple of posts about parties with two people booking a window and aisle seat, hoping for an empty middle. There was this one from Live and Let’s Fly and then another from Your Mileage May Vary..This can be either picking a window and aisle seat on airlines where you can pick your seats, or choosing a window and aisle seat when you are flying Southwest. I’ve seen it discussed as a “travel hack” or “pro tip” and I wanted to give my thoughts on whether it was okay to book a window and aisle seat and then hope nobody sits between you.
Booking a Window and Aisle Seat (and hoping nobody sits between you)
There are a lot of different thoughts on how best to pick seats when traveling with a group.
(SEE ALSO: Well, how would YOU arrange 6 kids on a plane?)
In some cases, you might be buying a Basic Economy ticket where you don’t have any choice of what seat you get, but if you do have a chance to pick seats, there’s a couple of different ways that you can arrange your party, depending on how many people you are flying with.
(SEE ALSO: How to get a good seat on Frontier for free)
The same holds true if you’re flying Southwest and their “open seating” policy. Depending on your boarding position, you may be in a situation where you have most of the plane wide open to you, allowing you to pick your seat configuration. While I have some pretty strong feelings about whether you should save seats on Southwest (short answer: don’t do it), what some people do when flying in a group of two is sit down in a window and aisle seat and leave the middle seat open. The hope for airlines where people pick their own seats is that the middle seat in between of you will not be chosen (after all, most people will choose a window or aisle if possible). Or on Southwest, again, the hope is that people will pass up the middle seat in hopes of finding a window or aisle somewhere else.
Is it okay to book a window and aisle seat and leave the middle open?
In most cases where I have seen people advocate for this strategy, they say that if someone does sit in the middle (usually because they were assigned that seat or there are no other empty seats), the person on the aisle will offer to move over to the middle. Most people will gladly exchange a middle seat for an aisle (or window), so that leaves the couple together in the window and middle, with the other person getting an “upgrade” from their assigned middle seat to an aisle seat. If nobody sits in the middle seat, then you get a little bit of extra room.
My Southwest Boarding Strategy When Flying Alone
This is similar to but not quite the strategy I use when flying Southwest by myself. I usually have an early enough boarding position to have my choice of seats. I prefer the aisle seat, so when I board, I look for a(nother) average to above-average sized man sitting in the window seat with an open middle. Then I get my laptop out and put my head down and don’t make eye contact with anyone walking down the aisle. If someone wants to take the middle seat next to us, I of course get up and let them, but I’ve been pretty successful with this strategy. In fact, on my last Southwest flight, I think there was only one open seat on the whole plane and it was next to me. As I type this out, I wonder if other people might consider this strategy rude – let me know in the comments what you think. To me, someone is going to have an empty middle seat, and I don’t think anyone has any “right” to it, so I see no reason why I shouldn’t do whatever’s possible to increase the odds that it’s me.
When it’s not okay to book a window and aisle seat and leave the middle open
As laid out above, I don’t have a problem with this “airplane hack”. I don’t see anything wrong with hoping for an empty middle seat and falling back to a backup plan where you as a couple are together in the middle and window. Where I do have a problem is the following scenario, which was reported on again by Your Mileage May Vary. In this situation, the couple aas flying Southwest and picked a window and aisle seat, hoping for an empty middle. So far, so good. But then someone came to sit in the middle seat and the couple just let them take the middle, and proceeded to spend the entire flight talking around him. That is not cool people!
Of course, you also have the following situation, as reported by God Save the Points – a couple was split in business class and economy. The husband, who had been upgraded to business class, went back to economy to offer the person sitting next to his wife an upgrade to business class in exchange for his economy aisle seat. Before he could offer, the person brusquely shot him down. So he offered the business class seat to another passenger. Oops! 🙂
The Bottom Line
One popular airplane “hack” is for two people traveling together to book an aisle and window seat, hoping for an empty middle seat and a little more room. The thinking is that if you get an empty middle, great, but if someone comes to sit there, the person in the aisle scoots over to the middle and lets the other passenger have the aisle. As far as I’m concerned, that is an okay strategy as long as you actually scoot over to the middle if another passenger comes by. I can’t think of a scenario where it’s appropriate for two people traveling together to intentionally sit apart and talk around another person for the entire flight.
What’s your take on this strategy? Leave your thoughts in the comments
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Sur! Why not?
Blocking the access to open seats during boarding with a laptop is such an deplorable behaviour..
We actually sit aisle & window, but if someone wants the middle, I give them the window and sit next to my 6’4” husband. It works out for most.
It’s not exactly *rude* to do what you’re doing on SW, but it puts the burden for asking on the harried person who was one of the last people to board the flight and probably already feels a sense of airline desperation. (We need another term besides “air rage” — I don’t feel rageful when I fly, but I do often feel stressed.)
Of course, I say this knowing full well what a hypocrite I am in another context. When I am swimming laps and I see someone else is waiting for a lane, I have the choice of offering to share — the pool leaves it up to us, basically. I sometimes do proactively offer to share, but other times I just put on my snorkel and pretend I don’t see them, especially if they look like they are athletic. Athletic/fast people are terrible splashers. 🙂
Yeah – that’s kind of what I was thinking as I was actually writing it down. On the other hand, it’s not like “my” empty seat is the only empty seat on the plane – unless this is literally the last seat on the plane, there are others that our hypothetical harried person can sit down at. This is why counterintuitively this strategy works best at the front of the plane. You might think that it would work better towards the back since theoretically fewer people make their way to the back, but actually it’s better towards the front, because people choose to pass me (and my beefy window companion) in the hopes they’ll find something better towards the back. And they usually do!
I like the window and my husband likes the aisle. Most of the traveling we do is on Southwest. We try to get an early boarding position and head to the back of the plane. We figure if there are going to be open middle seats they will likely be towards the back. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but neither one of us gives up our seat. However, we don’t talk around the middle passenger. We normally don’t even say anything to each other so while the middle person may suspect we are a couple, they don’t know for sure. A couple of times on flights that were not totally full, we were friendly to the flight attendant and she actually directed people to other seats, leaving our middle empty.
I avoid this situation entirely by booking “isles across”when flying with my wife……
That’s another good way to do it!
We don’t do this to “game” anything. Husband likes window, I like aisle. We don’t even talk to each other during flight so we aren’t disturbing person in the middle ♀️ purely for comfort, full middle seat or not
I like the aisle seat. My wife likes the window seat. We all pay money to be on a plane in the seats we choose. We do not talk constantly as we are seasoned travelers who often just throw on headphones, and watch movies, or listen to music.
If we need to speak to one another, just like if I had kids, or other people spread across the plane, I am going to speak to her while excusing myself to the person I am speaking around.
I do not feel bad about this action, but if it does indeed bother someone, such as life in the public realm. Sometimes things happen that we do not like.
We just pick aisle seats across from one another?
We either book two aisle seats or a window and an aisle. We don’t scoot over if someone sits in between us because we typically don’t talk to each other. We are reading or watching movies. Most times people don’t know we’re together until we are deplaning or filling out customs forms.
I once flew from NY to Orlando FL on Southwest. There was a group of cheerleaders and two adults in line. the adults had paid for early boarding so they saved 10 seats for the teenagers by draping coats over the seats. No one challenged them, they just kept going farther back. Was that fair??