The Middle Seat

Though I’m not a frequent flier, I’m worldly enough to understand why nobody wants the middle seat on an airplane. You can’t see out the window—if you’re inclined to want to do such a thing, which I’m not—and you can’t stand up to stretch your legs or go to the restroom without disturbing the person in the aisle seat.

That’s why I’ve learned, when checking in for my twice-a-year Southwest flight to visit daughter Meg in Colorado, to be sitting at my computer with my finger on the mouse exactly twenty-four hours before departure. Even at that, I rarely score a boarding number lower than B-30.  But that’s usually good enough to grab an aisle seat not too far from the wing.

On a mid-day flight a couple of weeks ago, I snagged just such a seat. A middle-aged man wearing a Tennessee Titans t-shirt was settled in by the window on row 16 and greeted me pleasantly when I sat down. I took my spiral notebook and ink pen, cell phone and book (“Riders of the Purple Sage”) out of my backpack and then shoved it under the seat in front of me. I popped a piece of chewing gum into my mouth and proceeded to watch the last of the passengers file in.

A flight attendant announced the plane was full. Those still standing should go ahead and nab a middle seat. A frumpy man in a rumpled sports coat pointed to the seat beside me. “That one taken?” he asked. I shook my head. He pointed to the young man standing behind him. “Would you move so that he and I can sit together?”

Wow. The part of me that wants to be helpful and kind almost said yes.  But then I thought about how I’d rearranged yesterday’s schedule so I could check in at exactly 12:10.  How I’d already unpacked and arranged the things I needed for this three-hour flight. How I hated middle seats. I looked at the young man. Had he appeared disabled or even remotely needy, I might have said yes. But he was busy scrolling through his phone and acting as though he couldn’t care less where he sat.

So I said no.

The man in the rumpled sports coat sighed loudly and squeezed past me into the middle seat. He announced to no one in particular that he hated Southwest Airlines because you can’t reserve a specific seat. Then he buckled his seatbelt and took possession of both armrests while unwrapping a gigantic drippy sandwich, which he ate with one hand while playing chess on his phone with the other. He never said another word to me.

Trying to look on the bright side, I decided to be grateful we were flying to Denver and not Denmark. And that I had Zane Grey’s classic western novel to hold my attention. More about that coming soon.

(Jennie Ivey is a Cookeville writer. Visit her website at