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To the people who willingly chose the middle seat: We have questions

Defending the worst seat on the plane is a tough job

(iStock/Washington Post illustration)

One of Twitter’s main characters this week was a man who allegedly chose to keep his middle seat on a flight between a couple instead of switching to the aisle.

“Losing my mind,” wrote the man who tweeted about the experience, a writer-director named Zack Bornstein who did not immediately respond to an interview request. “Just offered the aisle seat to the guy sitting between me and my gf on a flight, and he said he’d rather stay in the middle seat between us.”

The situation raised a lot of questions: Who are these middle-seat lovers? What do they want from us?

Many of the thousands of replies suggested that the vast majority of the flying public cannot fathom why someone would ever choose the middle over a window or an aisle. Serial killer, they said. Psychopath. Lunatic. Energy vampire.

But among the masses emerged a few faint endorsements of the middle seat. Or, at least, fliers who will tolerate it.

“In the middle seat I don’t feel obligated to lean one way or another and generally sit pretty comfortably,” one person wrote.

Another added: “I’m not getting hit by someone walking down the aisle or stowing luggage either.”

The unofficial rules for every seat on a plane: The middle

Kyle Burke, a computer science professor in Central Florida, said on Twitter that he had been the guy in the middle on a flight years ago — but he switched seats when asked.

“I didn’t want to sit between a couple that was upset with me,” he told The Washington Post. At 6-foot-7, Burke, 41, said he doesn’t fit well in plane seats, anyway. So if he’s flying on a red-eye, he prefers the middle instead of an aisle, to avoid getting jostled in his sleep.

“Sometimes my knee will go out into the aisle and then people are bumping me as they go by,” he said. Same problem with an elbow.

On a regular flight, he doesn’t feel that strongly about where he sits, but he doesn’t “look down” on the middle.

“There have been times where flying during the day, I like the middle because I’m talkative,” he said. Sitting in the middle gives him double the chance of having a chatty neighbor.

Frederick, Md., resident Samantha Jones told The Post by email that she usually chooses the middle seat if she’s traveling alone. She’s glad not to get hit by luggage or people walking down the aisle, and, as a mother of three, she said that “having personal space is a far off memory,” anyway.

“Middle seats have the least amount of responsibility,” she wrote. “I don’t control the window shade and only have to get by one person to get out or go to the bathroom.”

Danny Groner, a marketing director in New York City, said he cares more about getting to his destination on time than where he sits. But he often ends up sitting in the middle, because his wife prefers the window.

He defends the middle by pointing out the general understanding of armrest etiquette.

“The person in the middle tends to be rewarded with both the armrests on the left and the right,” said Groner, 39. “Having those two armrests is actually quite crucial, especially if you are a 6-foot-tall man like myself and you might be crunched with your legs up in front.”

The great airplane debate: Should you ever switch seats?

Kate Trigger Duffert, 33, of Louisville typically opts for a window seat but would choose the middle if the plane’s curve cuts down on her legroom. Everyone in economy is cramped, she said in an email, and both the window and aisle have drawbacks.

“Middle allows the same amount of interacting with others, prevents getting hit in the aisle, and [lets you] have the full under-seat space for legs without plane curve interference,” she said.

She added a plea for common decency: “If everyone shows a little grace and respect for the bizarreness of sitting in tiny seats in a flying metal tube, the middle seat can be a really great option.”

Some airlines have looked for ways to make the middle more attractive. Spirit Airlines’ middle seats are an inch wider than their aisle and window counterparts.

Through the spring, Virgin Australia is running a lottery to make the option “fun and wonderful,” with random prizes for people who choose or are assigned to the middle.

Despite the occasional fan, middle seats are still not likely to get much respect.

“There’s nothing redeeming in the middle seat,” Scott McCartney, the longtime, now-retired Middle Seat columnist for the Wall Street Journal, said in an email. “It’s like dental surgery — everyone feels sorry for you, and we all know the pain.”

Now a travel consultant and faculty member at Duke University, McCartney said the position’s infamy was part of the reason for the column’s name.

“Basically I suggested the name because the middle seat is the thing we all try to avoid and dread in travel — and many travel tactics are geared to avoiding or escaping the middle seat,” he wrote, adding: “People really care about the middle seat.”

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