Airline passengers will pay more to avoid 'middle seat'

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — You may know the feeling: You're traveling alone, squeezed into a row between two strangers.

With record capacity and more full flights, airlines are packing in passengers, and that means that if you're flying by yourself, you might get stuck with the infamous "middle" seat.

"If they go to sleep and put their headphones on, then, you know, that's the awkward thing, and then having to say, 'Excuse me' to go to the bathroom is even worse. But I mean, what can you do?" LaShawn Norfus asked.

Travelers can pay more.

Southwest Airlines doesn't assign seats, but passengers can spend more on an early boarding pass and increase the chance of grabbing a different seat.

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As of last year, if you buy Delta's cheapest ticket, you have to wait until check-in to pick your seat. If you pay more you can lock in the seat you want ahead of time.

National reports claim that American and United might go in the same direction.

"That's where the market's coming to, and expect that to continue," airline expert Michael Lowery said.

He said that if passengers don't want to pay more, they should research the planes for the flight they want and see which one's floor plan has fewer middle seats.


"It's on the website,” Lowery said. “It'll give you what plane it is and you can just look at it. Or you can do their search feature for a date, (and) it will tell you what type of plane it is."

Of course, if that sounds like too much work, there's always begging and bribing the person next to you to switch.

At least one airline hopes the middle seat issue helps its business.

Frontier recently changed its seats. It had room to add a fraction of an inch to each seat, but decided to give all the extra room to the middle ones.

"Instead of giving each seat an extra third of an inch, we can go ahead and give that middle seat a full extra inch and make one of the least popular seats on the plane not as bad," Frontier spokesman Richard Oliver III said.

The seats are now 19 inches wide instead of 18.

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