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Marital Bliss: Why My Wife & I Never Sit Together On Flights

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Marital Bliss: Why My Wife & I Never Sit Together On Flights
Source: USA Today

Marital Bliss: Why My Wife & I Never Sit Together On Flights

My wife and I never sit together on flights, and it makes us both a lot happier. OK, maybe not “never”, but we almost never sit next to one another when flying in economy. Does anyone else do this? It keeps us both happy and comfortable for the flight.

No one likes the middle seat, let’s all be clear about that. In a world of constantly-shrinking seat space, it’s the worst. When choosing seats for a flight in economy, what do you pick? If you’re like us, you choose the aisle seat + the window seat. Then, you hope no one will wind up in that middle seat between you, right?

What if someone shows up for the middle seat?

That person sits in the middle, just like the ticket says. We don’t change seats. Why? First of all, we aren’t going to hold a 4-hour conversation for the whole flight. Second, we’ll probably watch movies or listen to headphones for a good portion of the flight. I’ll probably even work on my laptop for a while. One or both of us might take a nap. If we don’t “need” to be right next to each other, then why not opt for comfort? We’ll keep the seats we like.

In order to not be rude to the middle seat person, we avoid interacting with one another across that person. We don’t pass snacks back & forth or talk over the person. If that person gets up to go to the bathroom or falls asleep, we use those opportunities. That way, the person isn’t “stuck” in the middle of our lives. When people ask, “Are you together? Want to switch?” my wife replies with a bit of a joke. “He’ll probably fall asleep, so it’s like I’m traveling alone anyway.” The lighthearted response is a “no” that doesn’t come off as rude but lets that person know “you’re sitting in the middle”. We’ve never had someone get upset or insist on switching after that reply.

No one likes the middle seat. It’s the most uncomfortable seat in the row. Since neither of us wants it, and we don’t “need” to sit there, we don’t.  Obviously, when flying business class (there’s no middle seat) or longer economy flights where we might lean on each other while sleeping, we will switch to give that other person the aisle or window seat. If the flight is a day flight under 5 hours, though, we don’t swap.

We stopped switching seats maybe a year ago. It was my wife’s idea, since she got tired of “your turn, my turn” with the middle seat. Now that we (almost) never sit together on these shorter flights, we both feel a lot more comfortable during the trip. My wife gets the window seat that she likes, and I get the aisle seat that I like. Ideally, no one comes for the middle seat, which is what we know everyone really hopes for.

If that person comes, what do you do? Does anyone else put the stranger in the middle?

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Ryan Smith
Ryan Smith
Travel hacker in 2-player mode, intent on visiting every country in the world, and can say "hello" or "how much does this cost?" in a bunch of different languages.

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  1. We do the same thing! We don’t normally talk much on flights also, usually listen to podcasts, read, sleep or work. So no need to be on top of each other. A lot of times it works great and nobody in the middle seat. Espeically on Southwest.

  2. I have had parents do the same thing w their lap kids, inferring I should leave for another row so I can be more “comfortable” elsewhere while they take the 3 seats

    • I think that’s a different situation, where they are actively pretending they have the right to an open seat, due to a child who doesn’t have a paid ticket. If someone comes for the open seat, it’s theirs. We don’t pile our stuff on it or put our feet on it, etc. It’s not ours.

  3. Thinking about inconsiderate people, I actually had a long time ago an overnight flight on Iberia where 2 people literally one sitting behind me and another sitting in front of me struck up a conversation (they were not flying together) yelled at each other over me for several hours. Flight attendant really did not want to do much about it. Bizarre…

    • That sounds awful. And I hate when flight attendants take the “not getting involved” approach to things that are ruining the flight for everyone nearby.

  4. Aisle seats across from each other for years now. No brainer for us if it’s available. Also married 38 years, so there’s that.

  5. Been doing this for years. I like aisle for access to the bathroom, spouse likes to look out the window. End of story. Sometimes we pay for seat upgrades and have been asked by a passenger to move over, but we decline. But on a Southwest flight a couple of years ago, I’m aisle and spouse window. A passenger at the tail end of boarding comes along and stops at our aisle, so I stand up to let him into the middle seat. This leads him to be frustrated and telling me I should move which I didn’t. He groused about it to me as he thought his C group boarding position was his seat assignment, C 4. I think he was the last person to board so he definitely didn’t get the boarding process whatsoever.

    • And he apparently thought you should bear the responsibility for his actions… I wouldn’t have moved either.

  6. I will mention our “solution” for a datapoint, though it will clearly not work for everyone. My wife is a little thing – 5”2 – and she says that all seats are Cadillac seats to her. So she goes to the middle seat happily, as I fit my 6-feet in the aisle. Benefits of having a short partner 🙂

  7. While I like the window seat, I don’t like it enough to pay extra for it. (like when I fly Basic Economy with United. The one exception was when I flew during the pandemic and paid extra so I could choose a seat and not have to sit in the middle ). I don’t mind sitting in the middle seat but I have had a few times where a couple has had the window and aisle seat and talked over me during the flight.

    I also had one time on Southwest where some lady put her purse on the middle seat (since Southwest doesn’t assign seats, I assume she thought by putting her purse there people would look for a seat elsewhere.) However, one of the flight attendants saw I was looking for a seat and went over to the lady and told her to take the purse off the seat – someone needs to sit there.

      • I’ve found that recently a lot of airlines make you pay for a seat whether you want to or not. The only alternative is to take the luck of the draw and have a seat assigned at check-in. (in which case you can be the lucky man/woman in the middle. My wife likes the window, I like the aisle. If a stranger gets the middle seat, we politely ignore them. My wife can’t sleep sitting up, so sometimes on a long flight she’ll get a seat in business class, while cheap, can sleep anywhere me, gets an isle seat in steerage.

        • I find that to be a small minority where you get a random seat at check in, and even then if you check in online as early as possible, you tend to get the better seats than the people who wait until the latest possible moment or just show up at the airport to check in.

  8. System that works for you guys, while being polite to the middle passenger. I had a indelible five hour southwest flight a few years ago where the husband and wife handled it the polar opposite of you and your wife. Very frustrating, I felt like protesting with all the food passing and talking over me, but decided that with these two, it would just make the situation more uncomfortable. And they were large and each felt entitled to one of my armrests!

  9. It’s weird. I would much rather have someone I know sitting next to me in the middle seat (which being cramped means he/she will probably overflow into my seat) than a – insert big, tall, smelly, snoring, eating, obnoxious – stranger. But I’m thankfully not married so I can’t comment on what makes a marriage work.

    • Chris – we’ve had very few where the person in the middle was bigger than what could fit into the middle seat’s space, overflowing into our space. If that happens, we might elect to trade for the experience you described.

    • I agree with Chris… It’s sooo weird to sit between a married couple – I would ask flight attendant to find me another seat far from those weirdos 🙂

      • And now we get the empty middle seat, so I’m totally OK with this 🙂
        If the couple isn’t interacting across you but just each minding their own business, how is it weird? Or is one of those expectations that you think people should act a certain way but now you feel uncomfortable that they didn’t? Psychologically, this is very interesting!

  10. You should mess the the middle seat passenger’s mind. Pretend you don’t know your wife. Then strike a conversation with the other. If the passenger is a man, your wife talks with him a bit and then you. Later she tells the man she decided to leave the plane with that other man.

  11. My girlfriend and I opt for adjacent aisle seats so that we can 1. still easily communicate with each other and 2. exit our seats without having to bypass other passengers in our row.

    • I’m seeing that from a few people in the comments. My wife always wants to look out the window, so we probably won’t change, but your plan makes sense.

  12. I love the window. So does my wife, unfortunately. She also detests sitting next to strangers so despite my unusually large size and height I always get the middle seat when it’s just the two of us. I’m not complaining, it just how things are.
    On the way you do it, as long as you and your wife ignore each other and don’t talk across the person in the middle, it not like you’re being discourteous. If the person in the middle is unhappy, too bad. It’s effectively like sitting between a couple of random people anyway.

  13. I dunno, that would make me feel kinda ick doing that. It’s kinda like being the first one to take a piece of cake at an office birthday party and slicing the top off because you prefer the icing part.

    • I’m not sure I follow the analogy…
      Like you’re expected to act a certain way, so now you feel you have to and feel bad if you don’t do what others expect?
      Or did I misinterpret?

      • It’s more that it would make me feel like a pushy American, taking the good seats for myself and my wife, and making a rando sit between us in the bad seat, then being scowled at as the reason why only middle seats ever seem to be available.

        • Honest question – you’d choose a seat you don’t like, which is likely to be less comfortable, to avoid perceived negative opinions of others about your seat choice. Is that what you’re saying?
          I guess I don’t see why I should choose a seat I don’t want, since everyone else has the same opportunity to choose a seat (I never pay for seats, don’t have any special status that allows me to choose early, etc. so it’s totally equal playing field).

          • Yeah, cuz I honestly don’t view any coach seat as comfortable and I think most people expect couples to sit together…that’s why you get the question so much from the middle seat people. I think they are having a hard time computing why you would sit apart by 1 seat. Then when they think about it, they are probably thinking, oh, they were taking a chance that maybe they could spread out if it’s not a full flight, but now that they see it’s full, they probably want to sit together.

          • Actually, we get the question…not often. I don’t find that I’m supposed to behave according to other’s expectations, and any of the people who’ve asked if we wanted to switch didn’t have a hard time computing. The situation gets resolved in about 3 seconds or less. 🙂 If that person continues thinking it’s weird during the flight, they’ve never communicated it to us, and I honestly wouldn’t change something based on their psychological analysis of how I’m supposed to behave in choosing seats. I’m comfortable, my wife is comfortable, and that person should’ve chosen the seat they wanted when the opportunity was there.

          • Yeah, that’s why I mentioned it. I got the impression you weren’t aware. But as long as you are both comfortable, I guess that’s all that counts, so carry on.

  14. My wife and I do the exact same thing. The only difference is if it is overnight, we both choose window seats so we have something to sleep against.

  15. Since sitting right next to each other isn’t that big a deal, why do you still prefer to take the window and aisle?
    If you both took aisle, then you’d both have easy access to the restroom & stretch breaks, and be able to talk and share things with each other without having to worry about the politeness of it.

    This is of course, given you prefer this over the gamble you mentioned. Maybe you like having the chance the middle won’t be filled with someone else. Or maybe one of you prefers window.

    • Oliver – As stated in the post, she likes the window & I like the aisle, plus the hope is that the middle seat remains empty in addition to getting the seats we like.

    • Totally agree. This is what we’ve been doing for years for all the reasons you suggest. Additionally, when travelling for leisure I like to read a magazine or newspaper on flights < 3 hrs around Europe where the aisle to either left or right gives a sense of welcome spaciousness. Similarly for your feet underneath the seat in front. Because you are not constrained on both sides with other people's feet somehow it feels less constrained.

  16. My partner loves to chat with people when he flies, but I prefer a quiet flight. We often sit in different rows to accommodate our different styles.

  17. This is exactly what my wife and I do. She is tall and likes aisle seats. I like looking out so I take the window. We don’t talk over the middle person. That’s rude. Although every once in a while we are still talking when they arrive and they kindly offer to switch with one of us! Nope.

    • Right, they show up and “oh, you want to switch, since you know each other?” Nah, you can take the middle 🙂


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