Etiquette tip: Empty middle seat

How often is the middle seat open? Probably not that often these days, right? But it does sometimes happen, and man is it great! However, sometimes sharing the middle seat can be a little tricky. On a recent flight, the middle seat was empty, and as we took off I thought: Hallelujah! Until the lady next to me pulled out her large purse and dropped it in the seat. I figured that surely she was just getting something out and would put it away quickly. But no, she left it there the whole flight. Another time, the guy in my row put his laptop on the seat (and it was a big one so it took up all the space) and left it there for like two hours of a four hour flight.

My recommendation is to treat the middle seat like you did when you were a kid on road trips with your siblings: draw a line down the middle, and try not to encroach onto the other half. I know it’s tempting to get everything you might possibly need out of your carryon and put it on the middle seat, but it’s just not necessary. Obviously if you need to set your laptop on the seat while you reach down to get something out of your bag that’s not a big deal, but leaving it there for the whole flight is rude IMO. Like with all etiquette, just try to remember that you are sharing the plane with a lot of other people and treat them the way you would like to be treated!

Readers, what do you think about sharing the middle seat? Is it first come first serve, or should you just take your half?

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  1. It’s a shared space but doesn’t need to be divided vertically. Not OK for one person to take the entire seat though.

  2. When i fly Swiss Business in Europe, the middle seat is free. Sometimes they put a tray over the middle seat. I think that that’s a great use, table down so that both passengers can use it for drinks,…

  3. For a start it would be polite to ask first whether the empty middle seat can be used for xyz. I would personally always say yes, as I don’t really care about an item.

  4. All I care about is the seat tray – I love to put my drinks/etc. on the empty middle seat tray so I can use mine without worrying about spilling.

  5. As issues of etiquette, this is minor. Generally share, with common use of tray table. Nothing to get into a tizzy about though.

  6. I don’t see what the big deal is. What is the reason for not wanting people to put a purse or laptop on the middle seat? So you can put your stuff there?

  7. Should be considered share space or temporary storage to move things around, getting up, etc. I usually look for the leg room in the middle seat and not the seat itself and its more rare to see someone taller than myself that needs that space.

    I’m not very tall but just makes a difference in a regular coach seat. I have been accustomed to the main cabin extra (AA) seats so being in a regular coach seat was eye opening nonetheless.

  8. Why not just “ask” to put your stuff there too? I use quotes because it’s more of a statement than a question.

  9. If the middle seat is empty, it’s first come, first served as far as I’m concerned. I have no problem with the person next to me using it if they grab it before I do.

  10. ’tis the shoulder to shoulder space that matters, and nobody in the middle makes that dandy. Staking a claim to a little of the seat or tray for belongings seems easy enuff.

  11. Did you comment or just sit there? If you didn’t you accepted the behavior and validated their actions

  12. The shoulder/leg space is much more useful to me than storing stuff on the seat itself. I couldn’t care less if the other person puts a bag or laptop there.

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