Life Lessons From the Center Seat


I recently had to travel for work. There was a trade show in Orlando.

(No, I did not get to experience Harry Potter World or the Magic Kingdom. I spent the week encapsulated in a giant bio-dome where I was a panelist on the riveting topic of telephones. Hmm, that sounds bad – let’s go with a conversation on how people communicate. Yes, I like that; given I have a master’s in communication studies it makes me sound like an expert.)

In any case, the opportunity to espouse my career knowledge required penance in the form of cross-country travel.

Travel to your initial destination always seems easier. Perhaps it’s the excitement and possibility of the adventures you may encounter. Perhaps it’s the nausea-inducing anxiety about being fully prepared for your presentation.

My trip *to* Orlando was also bolstered by being on the receiving end of JetBlue’s “Extra Space Seat” – a set up in which I could fully extend my legs in front of me and still barely touch the seat in front of me. When the center seat wasn’t taken, my seat-mate and I enjoyed such spacious accommodations as though we were important first class people.

Granted, I did traverse our great-nation from San Francisco to Orlando via New York City, but hey – them were the cheap tickets. (And you thought I was the directionally challenged one…) Ok, fine. I am directionally challenged, but in this case I was simply being a good corporate citizen, striving to remain within the policy confines to save my company money even under the incredulous, “Geez that flight sounds awful. Why the hell’d you pick that one?” from your boss. (I should have learned my lesson after a company manager mocked me for venturing down to the hotel restaurant in my sweats for a burger because I refused to pay $27 for a $10 burger via room service on principle.)

In what should come as a shock to absolutely no one, my flight out of JFK was delayed. By several hours. I was able to enjoy a decent dinner with two colleagues I discovered on the same “good corporate citizen” itinerary. Sadly, our bonding was cut short upon our Floridian arrival. See, they’d checked bags. I am staunchly anti-bag check. Roll, stuff, bunch and sit on that airline approved carry-on wheely bag; if it doesn’t fit you don’t need it. (Patience, such as that needed for waiting for checked luggage, is not one of my many virtues. Cramming things into a carry-on, is.)

So when we rolled up to the gate (and then waited another 20 minutes on the tarmac for someone to come help – c’mon, you knew we were coming!) at 12:30 a.m., the full force of having departed my house at 5:30 hit me and I completely ditched my travel pals for the comforts of a taxi ride filled with prayers that the hotel hadn’t written me off as a no show and given away my room. (I won’t lie. Fear of being shuttled off to a hotel for misfit toys ran deep through my sleep-deprived veins.)

I had a really nice room waiting. My presentation went well. I survived a shmoozy cocktail party with a few sentences of small talk, a glass of wine, and only mostly staring awkwardly at my phone in the corner. And with that, three days passed and it was time to return to the city by the bay.

“Bing-bing” dinged my Trip-It Pro Alert, “Congratulations, you’re still going to have a layover. But at least your return won’t be an 18-hour adventure. Alas, because of those cheap tickets you bought, you’re gonna be in the dreaded middle seat – on both legs of the journey. Sucks to be you!”

At least that’s how I interpreted the alert with my mobile boarding code and 23E seat assignment.

And this trial would not be on the airline with delightful amounts of legroom, even in the cheap seats.

The impending dread solidified as I boarded my non-JetBlue flight and made my way past the hoi-polloi of first-class, whose legroom was still pathetically narrow. (Dear JetBlue, Mad love for your setup that allows for an average-sized woman of 5’5 to actually cross one’s legs – even in coach.)

Make no mistake, the center seat sucks. But it did afford me some enlightening insights that I feel compelled to share.

  • You will never appreciate personal space the way you do when crammed into the center seat of an aluminum sardine can (as airlines strive so valiantly to re-create that literal experience for us.)
  • The only time actual yoga sounds appealing is after you’ve spent four hours in Airline Recline Pose. This pose is where your knees are introduced to your chest (despite your obviously incorrect believe that you are not this flexible) because you are in airline sardine steerage and the passenger in front of you reclines his seat the moment your flight is wheels up (simultaneously bringing you a new intimate awareness on the physical specifications of your tray table).
  • An airplane is a compact ton of metal hurtling through the atmosphere, keeping you alive via re-circulated air. You will emerge dehydrated and watery-eyed.
  • Don’t be that guy who marinates in cologne, causing the aforementioned itchy and teary passenger to eye your wannabe vintage concert-tee (purchased in the airport gift shop 30 minutes ago, no doubt) as a much more suitable replacement for the barf bag when your obsession with Obsession for Men (no need to take eau de toilette marketing so seriously) grossly assaults the senses of rows 15-32.
  • There is no reason to shoot dirty looks at the crying baby. They’re just as unhappy with their center seat, but have not yet been blessed with the filter of societal politeness. (This is what headphones are for. Use them.)
  • If your entire row can enjoy your movie/music/soundtrack just as well as you can, first make sure your headphones are actually plugged in to you device. If so, turn down your volume; if this is not possible, get better taste in media.
  • If you are seated behind the mid-Emergency exit rows, you are officially steerage. No snacks for you!
  • Passengers seated in the center are automatically afforded territorial rights to both armrests. Should an aisle or window dweller attempt to poach the cumulative three inches of space, the center-seat sitter is completely within her rights to fight you for them. BACK. OFF.
  • If you are seated in the emergency exit row, it is your duty to be a hero. You have an extra six inches of legroom. You owe it to the rest of us.
  • Undoubtedly you will end up on the same flight as someone you know/met at the trade show and spend time in the boarding line bemoaning the plight of center-seaters only to find out they’ve been upgraded at the last moment (or at least ended up in an aisle seat after all). This person sucks and may be disparaged in a blog written as you are uncomfortably hunched forward in said center seat.
  • In the event you choose an window seat on a flight under two hours, use the facilities BEFORE boarding the plane. The 7P theory (piss poor planning produces piss poor performance) is no excuse to inconvenience seat-mates who may have momentarily found a comfortable position because you need to take a couple of those 7Ps literally.
  • The overhead compartments are a precious commodity. They are not for smaller personal items. Do not be the douchebag who flaunts this rule!
  • Douchebags who force fellow steerage passengers to gate check their luggage because their puffy jacket and slender briefcase couldn’t bear the thought of getting cooties from the ground located underneath the seat in front of you should be shamed.
  • Said shaming should result in forfeiture of one’s aisle or window seat. (I am even willing to magnanimously surrender my center cell so that overhead bin abusers can be shamed by sitting center with all their stuff.)
  • It is not physically possible to sleep in the center seat. Or sit comfortably.

These days, air travel is simply a glorified Greyhound bus. And the center seat sucks. But despite my love for the create comforts on JetBlue, I’ll take the human-squishing in the center seat when it saves me more than six hours. (Also, the above recommendations will really help.)


Filed under Work

2 Responses to Life Lessons From the Center Seat

  1. Paul

    hahaha, great article!
    I 100% agree with the “center aisle gets all the armrest space” rule. I was aisle seat on both my flights this week and completely forfeited my armrest.
    Also, the 7Ps comment…Classic! So true.

    Oh yea, and take all those points, and then imagine being a foot taller…with most of those 12″ being legs…not fun, even in the aisle.

  2. koydancer

    Being small has its benefits….

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