Couples Guide to Scoring an Empty Middle Seat When Flying
Airlines for America, the industry trade organization for the leading U.S. airlines, announced that in 2012 the U.S. airlines achieved an 82.8 percent load factor, the highest level for scheduled service since 1945, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) report released on March 26, 2013.
According to the Library of Economics and Liberty, passenger loads in the 1970s were only 50%, and had climbed to 74% as a result of the 1978 Deregulation Act.
John Heimlich, Vice President and Chief Economist for Airlines for America, boasts that today’s high load factors are the result of “efficient utilization of seating capacity”. While this is certainly true, we all know that this recent onslaught of full airliners was born out of the ashes of 9/11, high fuel costs, fewer available flights, and the airline industry frantically struggling over the past decade to return to profitability.
Gone forever are the days of hoping for a row of empty seats beside you.
As we can personally attest, today’s flying experience involves crowds pushing to be first on the plane to get precious overhead bin space, passengers booking last minute upset that their families can’t sit together, and a heightened air of tension placed on the airline stewards until all are finally seated for their flight.
While an 82% load factor is high, that still means that on average 18% of the plane’s seats might remain empty.
So, we’ve developed our own little strategy to up the odds that we might enjoy an empty seat in our row when we fly.
Couples: Tips to Score an Empty Middle Seat When Flying
- Book Early – if you procrastinate, and book your flight in the last few weeks before your scheduled flight, be prepared to be offered the seats that nobody wants.
- Book the Aisle and Window Seat – airliners are filled with single travelers, couples, and families/groups. The least desirable seat on the plane is the single seat in the middle. Think about it, do you want to sit in a middle seat crowded between two strangers?
- Pray – if you happen to be on a plane that isn’t 100% booked, hope and pray that your unattractive middle seat is one that will remain unoccupied.
- Monitor – check your seats fairly frequently to see if someone has taken the middle seat in your row. If they have, simply move to another row with the middle seat open. As you get closer to the date of the flight, this might become more and more difficult.
- Be Flexible – in the event that your middle seat is taken, kindly offer the window seat to your new seat-mate. Chances are very high that they will gladly accept. I know, I know, that puts one of you in the middle seat. But if you had not tried this strategy, one of you would have been in the middle seat anyway. Right?
Now, we know that this strategy only works for couples, but we’ve been able to score an empty middle seat nearly 50% of the time when we’re flying back in coach seating.
In our recent trip to Hawaii, we greatly enjoyed an empty middle seat on a plane that had very few open seats available. We know it was simply the luck of the draw, but it worked.
On our return flight home from Hawaii, we noticed that the plane was absolutely packed, so we paid $99 each to upgrade to the exit row and again enjoyed an empty seat between us. Evidently, folks are not willing to shell out $99 for the exit row. We, however, were happy to pay the price to possibly enjoy the empty middle seat. It worked!
Bottom line? Travelers should expect very full flights as the normal course of business, and book early to hopefully get one of those empty seats located in your row.
By the way, don’t tell anyone our little secret. 🙂