An empty middle seat is better than any amenity that an airline can give me

I love flying with a middle seat open next to me (who doesn’t?) and I get to do it quite a bit. I wanted to give you advice on what has worked well for me, so that you too can fly high with an empty middle seat!

This is not one of those “how to” stories that is just clickbait and will tell you “use your miles to upgrade” or “give chocolates to the flight attendants.” Nope… this is all from my own personal experience. You won’t need to do anything unethical, it isn’t that hard, and it often pays off. It will take some time and it will require you to stay engaged from the moment you book your ticket until you board the plane. But I think it is totally worth it… and if you are an AvGeek, I bet you will enjoy the process as well.

Why should you trust me? Well, I would say that 85%+ of the time that I follow the steps below, I end up with a open middle seat next to me… I like those odds. See for yourself and follow these steps to increase the chance of getting an empty middle seat next to you…

Those pairs of seats are sure sweet on the sides, but you do not want to be stuck in the super middle!


Most airlines let you preview available seats before buying a ticket, but don’t feel you need to pick a flight with more open seats to increase your odds. Heck, even if the plane shows totally full, it is very likely seats will open up as you get closer to your flight.

My overall goal in all this is to try and get a window seat that is closest to the front of the plane, with an open middle seat. When I get my first chance to pick seats I often work from the front of the plane to the back. You might be tempted to choose a seat that is in an empty row, but that is a rookie mistake. If you have two empty seats next to you, it is very likely two people traveling together will take them at the same time. What you want to do is to try and find a row where the aisle seat is already booked, and then take the window. That means a single passenger will have to choose the middle and of course they will choose any other open seats before then.

At the time of booking this recent flight from LAX-SEA, I assumed that row 18 &19 would fill, so I went ahead and grabbed 23F.

Now, if you end up in a middle seat in the back of the plane at the time of booking, do not worry my friend. I have been there many times and often end up with an empty seat next to me by the time we take off, so keep following along. 

Also, since I don’t recline my seat during flight (yes, I am using a tone saying that makes me better than you), I will first try to snag a window seat one row in front of the emergency exit row… since those don’t recline and you are less likely to have someone wanting to pick a middle seat the doesn’t recline. We are going for width, not length here folks.

Each airline seems to handle their emergency exit row seats differently — ie some are considered premium economy and some you can book as economy. If there is a seat free, don’t get tempted. Once people get forced into choosing middle seats, the exit rows will be the first to go. Same goes with the seats at the very front.  Once you finally choose your seat at booking, feel happy with your accomplishment. However, this is not the end of your journey, it is only the beginning.

I am sure many of us wouldn’t mind sitting in the middle seat of the first Boeing 727, but wouldn’t you rather have the window with an empty middle seat?


This next part is pretty easy to do, but also requires some dedication. From the time of booking to your flight, you will need to go back and check your seat status a number of times. How many? That depends. How badly do you want that empty middle seat? If you need to set alarms or calendar reminders, go for it, but you do not want to forget, board your plane, and see lots of empty middle seats — and none of them are next to you!

It is likely that every time you look things will be different. Maybe that totally full flight now has lots of open seats. My plan is to hopefully get as close to my goal as possible (window seat with open middle seat). If I had to choose a middle seat at booking and now an aisle seat is open, I am totally taking that… not quite window, but better than middle. Baby step your way to middle seat success! 

You will really need to be engaged after all the aisle and window seats get chosen… that is when people are going to start picking the least crappy middle seat. Like I said earlier, the first to usually go are the emergency exit, then people will start taking the front middle seats and work their way back. I assume that is because they want to get out of their middle seat and off the plane as soon as possible. 

Paying money for an economy+ product is nice. But I like to get free width!


If your seat no longer has the middle seat next to it free, then it is time to start slowly moving back… looking for the next row that has only has one aisle seat chosen. Remember, even if all seats book up the next day, you still have your window or aisle seat, so it can only get better!

Now, there is some gambling from this point and it is up to you how far (back) you want to push it. As I said earlier, the farther back in the plane you go, the more likely you will get that sweet, sweet empty middle seat. But as you start really getting back there, not only will it take you longer to get off the plane, but you are getting close to those lavatories. The smells, the sights, the people lining up, and of course the WOOSHING… personally I’d rather sit in a full row away from all that. 

Fancy lights and in-seat IFE are pretty cool, but so is an empty middle seat next to me!


You aren’t in the free and clear yet. Well, technically you aren’t clear until they close and lock the airplane’s doors and you start to push back. You want to be checking on your seat at the gate for as long as your airline will allow you to view them via their app or website. You want to be doing all the things I have already taught you and keep moving as needed. Then once I no longer have access via an airline’s app, I let fate take over. 

Now, I guess… you could ask a gate agent about moving seats, but I have never done that. It seems a bit silly since they won’t know how all the seats are going to pan out until any last minute passengers board anyhow.

This was the last screenshot I took before my flight and there were only three empty middle seats showing. However, two passengers boarded last minute taking 18F and 19F, leaving me next to the only open middle seat on the plane!


That’s it. I mean, nothing too weird or tricky right? Really, I find it sort of fun. No joke, this has worked for me so many times. And it just worked for me recently on a flight from SEA-LAX (I actually wrote my first draft of this story on the flight, because I had extra arm room to type). It really made me stop and realize that me getting all these empty middle seats isn’t luck, but it is going through this process. 

Now I only hope one day to get the courage to turn to the stranger sitting in the aisle seat and say “You’re welcome.” When they ask why, I tell them “I am the one that made this sweet empty middle seat possible!”

Wider middle seats are awesome… that means more room for me to spread out, when they are empty!

What are your tricks to getting an empty middle seat? Is what I shared sort of obvious already or did I give you some new ideas? And I would really love to hear from you that try this advice on a future flight. Let me know in the comments!

EDITOR-IN-CHIEF & FOUNDER - SEATTLE, WA. David has written, consulted, and presented on multiple topics relating to airlines and travel since 2008. He has been quoted and written for a number of news organizations, including BBC, CNN, NBC News, Bloomberg, and others. He is passionate about sharing the complexities, the benefits, and the fun stuff of the airline business. Email me:
LAX planespotting: A winter classic

You’re the best David. Keep ’em coming.

My best experience with having an empty seat next to me was a British Airways A350 flight from London to Toronto, where the gate agent upgraded me to World Traveller Plus (premium economy) for free at the gate. I was really surprised to see no one sitting next to me, and so I had one of the most comfortable flights as a result. This was in March 2020 just before everything closed down, so a lot of people were returning home and the airline probably needed my original economy seat, that there were a few empty, unbooked premium economy seats and that I was a solo traveler. The food was also really spectacular.

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