Resolved: Only Some Couples Who Reserve Aisle and Window Seats Are Selfish Sods

Should a couple, flying together, select an aisle and window seat in hopes that no one will select the open middle seat and therefore they will end up with more space?

It’s an age-old question and strategy that has been discussed time and time again in online travel communities.

Leave it to the Brits – or at least the FlyerTalk members posting in the British Airways forum – to add a new twist to this long-running debate.

The thread begins predictably enough, with englisha proposing a seat selection strategy and seeking advice:

We are 2 adults, a child and an infant and although we can reserve the bulkhead seats with a basinette, I actually dont like them. So, the idea was to book, for example, seats A, C and D (in any row), leaving B free (which would be between the child and adult with infant), thinking that its unlikely that anyone would be placed in B unless the flight is full. In which case, the unknown person in B would in most likelihood prefer to switch rather than being stuck between an adult with infant and a child. … do you think this is a good way to increase our chances of getting extra space, which would be used for the lap infant?

In the early stages of the discussion most seem to agree that, though there is certainly no guarantee of success, this is a sound strategy.

Then HIDDY offers an opinion that turns the discussion into an entirely different, but not unexpected, direction:

I detest those people who select A&C hoping that B remains empty then have the audacity to tell Mr or Mrs B which seat they can have when their plan backfires or even worse leave them in the middle making sure they feel unwelcome…..selfish sods.

And so it is that the standard arguments ensue:

  • People shouldn’t try to game the system at the expense of others…
  • People who reserve their seats early get first choice. It’s as simple as that and if it inconveniences others, well so be it…
  • If a couple wants more space/privacy they should just pay for it…
  • It’s irrational and unreasonable to expect humans to do anything other than employ strategies that might result in a favorable outcome for them…
  • How is a couple who reserves and aisle and a window any different than two solo travelers who do the same?

It’s on that last point that the discussion takes an interesting turn.

Everyone pretty much agrees that two passengers who select the aisle and window seats, whether they be a couple or two solo travelers, are acting perfectly within the bounds of acceptable social behavior – so long as those are the seats they actually want to sit in, or will happily accept sitting in. The problem some have is with couples who employ this strategy but aren’t content with the arrangement in cases where it doesn’t work out quite right.

Several posters allude to this type of couple/situation, but I think 1HourPhoto describes it best:

As someone who mostly flys solo, I have no issue if a couple pick A C if that’s genuinely the seats they want and don’t disturb B by having a conversation across them ect.


It’s the ones that pick A C then get arsey when B turns up and B won’t swap with couple A C, which has happened to me on a few occasions when I’ve misconnected onto a domestic.

So there we have it. The strategy is fine. And if you are part of the couple, offering to switch seats if someone is seated in the middle seat so as to be next to one another is fine as well.

What isn’t fine is to demand that the middle seat occupant move because you and your traveling companion must be seated together.

Problem solved. Thank you Britain.

Until it is raised again.

Read the thread in its entirety: Seat reservation tactics – Leaving middle seat empty

Taiwan High Speed Rail 0296” by Jiang – Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons


  1. My mom and I were flying from Philadelphia to the West Coast on Southwest (for a funeral), so, obviously, a different story since there are no seat assignments. We were boarding in group A, so like all people do on Southwest, the early boarders sit in the window and aisle, and pray that no boarders from group C decide to join them in their middle seat. Well, traveling with my 70-something Mom is tough because of her constant talking and comments about nothing. Sure enough, an elderly 70-something man approached our row, and as I was about to move to the middle to allow him to get the aisle, it dawned on me that there was nothing wrong with having him sit in the middle. Turns out my mom and him talked the entire flight. It was the greatest airline related decision I ever made.

  2. People actually prefer to sit in the middle seat? I’m not sure I know anyone who would not trade that for a window or aisle.

  3. In each of the examples above, when the unexpected middle passenger shows up, I’m assuming the issue arises when the couple asks the passenger to switch with their aisle or window seat. Wouldn’t ANY middle passenger jump on that opportunity? Who the heck likes being stuck in the middle, regardless of whether it’s between a couple or not.

  4. @Dave and @Veejay – Some of the posters in the thread claim they wouldn’t switch. Sounds like mostly their reason is spite.

  5. There is the odd chance that the person in B is hoping to be able to look out the window and does not want to move to D but would happily move to A. Problem is that I am guessing that most of the families playing this game only want to give up seat D in the move.

  6. I often book A/C and find that the person in B is thrilled at the chance to switch (their choice of window or aisle). Don’t understand why someone would prefer the middle. And, odds are, I’ve done him/her a big favor because if I hadn’t taken A/C, odds are that he/she would have gotten another middle seat in another row (unless he or she happens to have been the person who just missed out on the last aisle seat) and been stuck there.

  7. When I travel with my 88 year old Mother. We reserve aisles across from the other. If one of us ends up in a row by ourselves…we make the seat mates of the other happy by moving to the aisle and window on the other side.

  8. Sigh, I’ve had several experiences (usually when I fly southwest) and sit in a middle seat near the front of the plane and not realize the window and aisle passengers are a couple.. then in the middle of the flight, the couple talks over my seat, or worse holds hands over my lap or kisses each other while trying to sit in their seats. They should expect that every seat on a US flight will be taken.

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