It happens to the best of us. Airline status and travel experience aside, last-minute flight bookings, flight cancellations, and other unforeseen circumstances can leave you in an airplane situation we all dread: the middle seat assignment. Suddenly your travel excitement is put on pause, and visions of cramped legs, a stiff neck, and the awkward armrest dance fill your mind. And let's be real — flying in seat 36B is never going to be an incredible experience, but there are steps you can take to make the middle row a little more pleasant. With the help of travel experts, here are eight ways to make life in the middle seat totally doable.
- Put all of your bags overhead. You're going to feel a bit cramped in the middle seat no matter what, so having as much space available at your feet is crucial. Alanna Smith with TravelPirates recommends putting everything you'll need once airborne (i.e., headphones, phone, charger, etc.) in a small tote bag so you can maximize your foot space.
- Pack the right equipment. Perhaps the most enjoyable way to spend your time in the middle seat is to sleep. Be sure to bring all the essentials to help you get some shut-eye. Ear plugs, noise-canceling headphones, comfortable clothing, and the right travel pillow will help. Cabeau recently released the new Evolution S3, which straps to the seat wings to prevent your head from falling forward. Stiff neck, be gone!
- Prep your body. Dr. Eric Chang, plastic surgeon with The Institute of Advanced Reconstruction, advises travelers, "The day before you take off and the day of flight, be sure to avoid high-sodium foods as much as possible to keep swelling at bay. Drink plenty of water, avoid alcohol and caffeine (which act as diuretics and cause frequent trips to the bathroom), and be sure to walk around on long flights to help circulation."
- Get active with gentle aerobic exercise before and after your flight. "An easy walk around the block with a few deep-breathing exercises or a relaxing swim or bike ride are great ways to keep the blood flowing and loosen up any tight muscles or joints," recommends Brad Walker, director of education at StretchLab.
- Focus on your breathing. Walker also advocates breathing exercises to help with any discomfort. "Take deep breaths regularly. Start by taking a big breath in to fill up your lungs. Hold it five to 10 seconds, and then exhale by pushing all that air out of your lungs. Do that four or five times every hour and you'll keep that vital oxygen flowing through your entire body."
- Load up on entertainment. If you're unable to catch some zzz's (not all of us were born with the sweet, sweet ability to easy sleep on planes), then be prepared with an activity to keep your mind occupied. It's a great opportunity to get a little work done, read a book, or binge-watch your favorite shows with no remorse. Smith recommends having one or two shows on deck. "Have you recently discovered a binge-worthy series on Netflix? Download some episodes to your preferred device and get lost in the show. It will help you forget your middle seat, and the time will pass quickly."
- Make friends with your neighbors. "You never know how far a small amount of kindness will get you, especially when you need to ask to go to the restroom for the third time or you find yourself in a mini battle over the armrests," offers Mable Tang, accounts director for Thai Airways. Alex Dalton of Travel Experts agrees, saying, "Some of the best middle seat adventures I've had are when I had a great conversation to whisk the time away."
- But politely stand up for yourself. It's an unspoken courtesy of flying — give up the armrests for the person in the middle. "Airline etiquette dictates that the middle seat gets both armrests, so don't be afraid to calmly address the issue with your fellow travelers," adds Tang.