Is this middle seat taken?

I really don’t mind the open seating policy on Southwest Airlines. I’ve had no problems getting a window seat (my preference anyways) near the front of the plane on recent trips and I’m not really all that particular about which of those window seats I end up in on most flights. But there is the occasional drawback to the process.

My flight yesterday morning was about 80% full. That’s a healthy load but it also means that a number of middle seats were unoccupied, including 4E adjacent to the 4F I chose. A woman sat down at 4D about halfway through the boarding process; no big deal as I didn’t expect a whole row to myself. About 3 minutes before the boarding door closed, however, something rather bizarre happened. She moved from the aisle to the center window commenting that she thought it would be more comfortable.

My seatmate, studying the safety briefing card prior to departure. Note the empty aisle seat to her left.


I can understand that maybe one too many bags caught her shoulder or shin during the boarding so I suggested that once the boarding door was closed and she knew that would no longer be an issue she could slide back over. Not so much, it turns out. She noted that she “didn’t really want to move again” and stayed in that middle seat for taxi and departure.

I did get up about an hour in to the flight to use the lav and when I returned she settled in to the aisle seat once again. It seems that my forcing her to move anyways resulted in her choosing to give both of us more room. I wonder if she thinks I am a jerk for making her get up at all.

I know there’s no guarantee of an empty middle and I don’t really mind all that much; I fit in the seats just fine (and she was tiny). But it seemed completely crazy to me that she felt the arrangement was more comfortable that way. Am I the only one who sees this as completely irrational behavior?

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. Maybe she found you attractive, or was missing male companionship in her life and wanted to get closer? Seems like all options are on the table…

  2. I think you meant to say she moved from the aisle seat to the middle seat? In the post you stated she moved to the window seat (on your lap, perhaps?) 😉
    I do agree it a bit bizarre. If I were you, I would have kindly asked her to perhaps go back to the aisle seat so both of you can have some space. In general, I feel older people prefer aisle seats since they have a tendency to go to the lavatory moreso than younger people. Thus, I don’t think she was bothered at all when you went to the lav.

    1. I did ask; that’s the thing. I saw the crowds in the aisle and understood when she moved to avoid those. But when I suggested she could move back after the door closed she essentially said “thanks, but no thanks.”

      (And I fixed the post; she definitely didn’t sit in my lap.)

  3. I attended a college football game when I was a teen and sat next to a very old grandma, there with her grandkids. I had a bottled drink I brought in with me, she promptly asked me for a taste. In teenage awkwardness I declined. When I finally finished the bottle she asked if she could have it. I agreed and she poured from another container into this one and then drank from it. I still laugh at her requests and at my own awkward sociality about it; I’m sure you’ll laugh about this for years to come!

  4. “Is this middle seat taken?” – What are things people don’t say on airplanes for $200 please.

  5. I have a thing about sitting as far forward as I can, I suffer from motion sickness and my theory and experience is there is less movement (and noise) in front of the engines and wing. I prefer a middle seat in the first 3-5 rows over a window/aisle seat behind that. You do get some weird look though.

    1. I like sitting towards the front, too. And if a plane looks full I’ll take a middle in the front over a middle in the back every time.

      But I’ve never taken a middle when the aisle adjacent to it was empty.

  6. I once had a guy insist on sitting in the middle seat when the window seat was empty. He of course still took both armrests, so I was stuck with 1 on the aisle on a pretty long flight. I have no idea why he wouldn’t move over.

    He spent the entire flight doing work/coding. Based on the stickers on his laptop, I assume he worked for AirBnb. They might hire some smart people, but they lack common sense & basic social skills.

  7. Just wanted to pile on, maybe she confused you with Gary and wanted to know which Ink card she should sign up for?

  8. That woman was me, an avid reader of your blog. Thanks for dashing my dreams of having some private time in the air with my favorite blogger.

  9. I had something similar happen once, except I took the aisle and she took the middle while the window stayed empty, and she declined to move over. At first I wondered if it was going to be some crazy power play to get me to take the window and offer her the aisle. But it became clear that she was super-afraid of flying (tears were involved on takeoff) and couldn’t bear to look out the window. In the end I did take the window and give her the aisle….

  10. When I sit down and the middle seat is empty…I immediately throw all my junk (purse, jacket, bottle o’ water, etc.) in the empty seat. Trying to make a point.

    1. It is not my seat and I don’t pretend that it is.

      Like I said, I am mostly just confused why anyone would think that was the best arrangement of bodies in the row.

  11. Ah, a real cougar. Anyone who studies the laminated safety sheet must have heard the middle seat is safer.

  12. Do you think she wanted the window seat? Did you offer the window so you could sit in the aisle seat? What a weirdo. I would have moved.

  13. Some people are social creatures than others. Maybe by sitting closer to you, she thought you may chat with her more or strike up conversation. Who knows.

  14. I died laughing!

    I’m imagining myself on a less than full Southwest flight flying alone with my toddler and lap child and having someone willingly choose to sit next to me.

    As luck would have it, we almost always sit in the back half of the plane and by the time I have everything situated and off of the third seat, boarding is almost over anyway.

    I’m sure it was a terribly awkward moment but I hope you can laugh at it now!

  15. Why do guys think they are so hot? And why do guys think that an older woman is irrational or hitting on them? That’s what’s weird.

  16. This brings back horrible memories as this happened to me on a SYD-SFO flight! I still look back at young me (early 20s) and wish I had gained more confidence to tell her no. I did lift up the arm and scoot over a little into the middle seat. Ugh. People are jerks.

  17. Im definitely going with the “she was hitting on you” thats my story and I’m sticking with it. LOL

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