Travel Etiquette Tip: Getting to the middle seat

It has become clear to me that a lot of travelers are not clear on how to get to a non-aisle seat politely. I’ve covered it before, but after a recent flight I figure a rehash is in order. On this particular flight a few weeks ago I had the aisle seat, and when I got to my row I stowed my bag and sat down with my book. I never put my seatbelt on until everyone is seated so I can stand up and get out of the way easily. As I sat there reading my book, I noticed out of the corner of my eye that the line wasn’t moving anymore. I glanced up and realized there was a young guy standing there, just staring at me. He hadn’t said anything, so who knows how long it would have taken me to see him if I had been more into my book! I quickly jumped up and he slid into the window seat without a word.

A few minutes later, I was reading my book again when someone just started squeezing in front of me. It completely took me by surprise—I didn’t even see the woman come up! I said, “Hang on a minute!” and again jumped up to get out of the way.

When I have to get into the middle or window seat, I will smile at the person in the aisle-seat and say, “Hi! I’m sitting there.” Then I pause, giving them a chance to get up. If by chance someone doesn’t move I will ask them politely if they mind getting up. Sometimes they ask if they should get up, but typically people are happy to stand up and move out of your way. After all, it’s part of the deal with flying.

Readers, what is your experience with the middle and window seat? Do people usually stand up (or wait for you to stand up)?


  1. what odd behavior! i always give people the heads up of where i need to go so they have the chance to get up. it’s more comfortable for everyone that way.

  2. This seems like such common sense/good manners but it’s always amazing there are so many people who don’t have one or the other (or both!).

  3. I had the opposite problem. I was sitting in the middle seat during the flight and asked the guy in the aisle seat if I could get out. He refused to get up and I had to squeeze through with my bum in his face. It was so rude.

  4. When I have an aisle seat, I also don’t put my seatbelt on – AND I don’t dive into a book. I keep my head up and watch passengers entering the plane to see who’s eying my row. Then I am ready to get up and let them in. It seems like in both cases, your row-mates felt like they were disturbing you… maybe there are ways you could help make it easier for them to know how you want to let them in?

  5. I usually let the aisle person know I’m sitting there and the aisle person gets up – it’s the obvious thing for him/her to do. When I’m sitting in the aisle, I’d expect someone to inform me they were sitting in the middle or window so that I could get up as well. It’s weird that those passengers just stood there and waited for you to notice them.

  6. I find that, with the exception of some petite women (whom I can easily squeeze past), most offer to stand when I indicate I need to pass. But I am almost always at the bulkhead or in an exit row where this isn’t a very big deal. Common sense would be for the person to get up, but common sense is anything but these days, and the “friendly skies” are not so friendly anymore…

  7. On a recent flight from ORD-LAX, I was sitting on an aisle seat and flipping through a magazine when this kid of about 11-13 yrs old came out of now where and tried to squeeze his way to the window seat. I was shocked and very annoyed, but I thought he was just a kid and kid’s don’t really know better right? Then, I noticed that he was with his mom so I stood from my seat and let her in the middle seat.

    Later that night, I was about to purchase in flight wifi so I had my credit card, wallet, ipad, headphones, etc out when the lady tugged on me and asked me if she could pass. This annoyed me because I was in the middle of typing my information when she did this. Despite that I placed all my things on my lap and folded back the tray table and immediately the lady sprung and tried to squeeze her way out. The other passengers probably thought I was insane when I yelled “STOP!” Now I knew where that kid got it from. Not only did she not assess if it was a convenient time for me to get up after seeing that I had a credit card in my hand, she also didn’t think I’d mind having her ass up to my face.

    Sometimes, I don’t know what people are thinking.

  8. I’ve also noticed that the people with the window seats are always last to board! Happens to me all the time!

  9. I always give the aisle sitter a big smile and point at the window seat and say “I’m sitting there.” i can not tell you how many times they don’t say anything and don’t even bother to get up. When I sit in the aisle seat, I do the same thing as Andrea Hill but I guess what goes around doesn’t always come around when it comes to window seats – at least for me 🙂

  10. It’s normal to just get up and be polite but people act weird on planes at times. Tired, fear of flying, who knows what contributes to all of this.

  11. If I am in the aisle and don’t need to put my bag in the overhead bin, I try to be one of the last people on the plane. Makes life easier that way.

  12. Mr and Mrs Wazzock are everywhere.

    Sometimes they come along with all their little wazzocks….

  13. I am a window girl, so I have seen it all. I love on Asia flights the people who just bring their knees to their chest rather than get up. I was hoping you’d address the window/middle people who grab on the seats in front of them rather than their actual row. This makes me crazy, as it is so jarring to other passengers.

  14. have experienced variations of ALL of these but still wonder what ever happened to an old fashioned “can you please excuse me….I’ve got the (middle/window) seat”. To me that beats a pointed finger and an “I’m there”.

  15. In 30 years of flying, I’ve never had to fly middle-seat.

    That being said, I do stand-up so that the middle-seat passenger can get to it without issue…as I don’t want their mid-section in my face.

  16. I always sit in the aisle, and I never buckle my seat belt until the door of the plane closes. I get up and let the middle and window passengers get in. A former FA, it might make boarding slower, but usually keeps someone from dropping a soda, a bag, or food into my lap.

  17. I prefer an aisle seat but if I have a window or middle I usually apologize to the person/people in the row: “Excuse me…I’m sorry…I’m sitting in window seat”, etc. Most people will get up (when I’m in the aisle I most definitely do but it’s pretty amazing the amt of people that will stare at you like you have 2 heads.

    Same with trying to get out of said seat (which I try not to do unless it’s a long flight). I will never forget my flight from DFW to Anchorage; I was sick with a migraine and the woman on the aisle would not budge when I asked (politely) to get up. “2 heads” expression, tray table left down, etc.

  18. Part of the reason I act like gate lice to board early is because I’m in the window, but I do politely say “I’m in there next to you” or “excuse me, do you mind getting up so I can get in” or sometimes I just point. Usually this is because I cleared an upgrade late or didn’t clear at all. I would never just stand and stare. I may (if asking didn’t get your attention) politely tap you on the shoulder.

  19. I always choose an aisle seat and three times in the last year I’ve had my headphones broken by someone over-keen to get into the middle/window seat. The first one managed to snap one of the earpads off my $200 noise cancelling headphones an hour into the 8 hour flight, then broke my adaptor getting back out as soon as the seatbelt light went off. The most recent one was a drunk guy trying to vault over me (no exaggeration) into his seat, snapping my adaptor on the way. So yeah, please be careful.

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