Thursday 24 November 2011

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Why I Take the Middle Seat

5 to a room is a little crowded
There's a lot of things that being a family of five doesn't lend itself well to. Amusement park rides are usually two people per row, so somebody (that would be me) has to ride by themselves. Hotel rooms are usually set up for a maximum of four people, so somebody (me again) has to sleep on an air mattress or on the floor. Airline seats are a little different, as they normally have three people per row, but that means that a family of five are still going to be sitting with one stranger.

Not always though. The Alaska Airlines MVP desk suggested to me that I book both the window and the aisle seat for the row where two of us will be sitting, leaving the middle seat empty. This idea had occurred to me before, but it seemed a little mean to leave the airline with only middle seats to sell. However, if they were going to suggest the idea to me, I was more than willing. It's definitely had it's good side, as I'd say about 35-40% of our flights go off with that middle seat empty, leaving the boy and I in poor man's first class.

The side with no seat worries
Almost as much fun as the empty seat though, is getting to make somebody else's day. When the middle seat does sell, we're obviously not going to make somebody sit between me and my son, so when the poor person who thinks he's been consigned to a middle seat between two strangers for six hours gets there, we offer him the choice of moving to either the window or the aisle. This makes for some happy people! I take the middle seat, and my son gets the remaining edge seat. Strangely, only once has anybody taken the window seat, but that works out well as my son prefers to sit there, and when you've let somebody escape the middle, they very rarely complain about having to get up and let you out if you need to move.

The best part of this maneuver though, is some of the people you get to meet. When somebody's mood swings from depressed to relieved, they're usually fairly friendly, and I've been offered an endless amount of free drinks and heard tons of great stories from people as a result. I once got to give an aisle seat to a military K9 handler making his way back from Korea on leave. He'd already been traveling for almost 24 hours, but he still took the time to tell me some stories about working with dogs, including a rather funny one about Korean prostitutes, dog biscuits, and a gender confused elephant (yes, I did think long and hard about making that the title of this post).

Not everybody is friendly though. We came on the plane once to find an Asian man sitting in our aisle seat. He was trying very hard not to make eye contact with anybody, but since we were going to let him move to that seat anyways, we decided to just squeeze past and take the other two seats. Even once we sat down he wouldn't look our way, so we decided that maybe he just didn't speak English or didn't realize that he was in our seat. It really didn't matter, so we settled in, but then just before takeoff his wife came up from the back of the plane and told him that she wanted his seat and that he could go back and sit in 29B. He knew enough English to argue that with her, but as you can imagine, she won the argument and he trudged off to the back of the plane. The lady sat down and right away checked to see if she was in the right seat. When I explained that she was welcome to the aisle seat, she thanked us profusely and offered to buy me a drink (I really need to start drinking something other than Diet Coke). I hope her husband enjoyed row 29.

Of course sometimes we never make it to offering somebody a choice of which seat they'd like. On occasion gate agents have asked us to free up a seat for somebody, and we've always done that for them. Same thing when flight attendants ask. I lost an empty middle seat one time when my daughter gave it to a lady who was traveling with a puppy that she wanted to sit next to, and I nearly lost my middle seat to my wife another time when I found myself seated next to a Patrick Dempsey look-a-like who, ironically, was on his way to a doctor's conference in Orlando.

The dog my daughter gave our empty seat to.
Even though the middle seat wouldn't be my first choice of places to sit, it makes it a little more tolerable when you know you've made somebody else's day better. Of course, one of these days I'm probably going to run in to somebody who actually prefers the middle seat. I'm not too sure what I'll do when that happens. I guess I'll offer to buy them a drink, be in a really good mood, and hope that they have a puppy.