Flying in the middle seat is rarely a pleasant experience, but it’s considerably worse when you never saw it coming. While many airlines allow you to select a nonmiddle seat ahead of time, even that strategy isn’t foolproof.
After all, somebody has to sit in the middle, right? When a flight is overbooked, people are moved for any number of reasons. If something goes awry, that someone stuck in the middle could well be you.
If you hate the middle, however, you can minimize your chances by planning ahead. Here’s how:
>> Select your seats early. Most major airlines allow you to select your seats on many paid fares and award fares. If you don’t select your seat when you purchase your ticket, you can generally log into your account (or search for your flight using your confirmation number) and select your seats later.
If you want to avoid a middle seat, your best bet is exercising your choice as early as you can.
>> Don’t book basic economy. Some fare types don’t allow you to select a seat — specifically, the basic economy fare. These fares are marketed as “bare bones,” and they are. Take the American Airlines basic economy fare, for example. With this low-cost fare your seat is assigned at check-in, or you can pay extra to select a seat.
If you want to avoid the middle, avoid basic economy fares or be willing to pay a little extra for a seat assignment.
>> Book early boarding. If you have an assigned seat, you’re probably safe. But, what if your airline doesn’t assign seats at all?
Yep, I’m talking about Southwest Airlines, a carrier that boards by groups instead.
If you want to make sure you sit where you want, you can pay $15 per leg for early boarding. This will get you in the “A” group, which means you’ll have your pick of seats before others board the plane.
>> Check in early. Southwest Airlines gives preference to people who check in early as well. If you check in 24 hours early, for example, you’ll get in the earliest boarding group. Those who check in last are typically part of the “C” group, which gets the remaining middle seats that are left.
If you want to give yourself the best shot at a seat you like with Southwest, checking in exactly 24 hours before your flight is the way to go.
Still, checking in early with other airlines is smart, even if you have a confirmed seat already. By checking in and printing your boarding pass as soon as you can (typically the 24-hour mark), you can solidify your claim on your chosen seat and ward off any shenanigans (like a flight attendant moving you to accommodate someone else).
>> Pay for an upgrade. Last but not least, paying for an upgrade is one of the best ways to sit where you want on a plane. You don’t have to upgrade to a different fare class, either. Many times you can pay extra for “premium seats” with extra legroom or a preferred spot on the plane.
When you pay for a seat, you can almost guarantee it’s yours. So, try not to balk at the idea of paying an extra $15 or $40 for a seat of your choosing. If you wind up in the middle against your will, $15 or even $40 might seem like an amazing deal.