Middle seats don’t have to be terrible

But they are. Nobody wants them, as Hugh brought to the blogosphere’s attention.

So why do they exist? Are they a relic of some sort of archaic system when they were necessary? Well, yes. But is that all they could be?

A friend of mine ran an experiment last year, just for fun. He put signs in the elevators at UofT’s biggest library, prompting people to talk. Then he rode the elevator a bunch. And people talked. They seemed to have a good time, too… at least they weren’t standing in uncomfortable silence, right?

Why haven’t airlines with middle seats turned them into something appealing? Windows have a view and an easy-to-nap “corner”; aisles are just plain easier to use and let you feel less guilty if you need to get up.

Middle seats could:

  • come with cards prompting discussion with (willing) neighbours
  • be given free travel-related sample products to share with one of the people sitting beside them
  • be a little bit wider than the other seats next to them, compensating for the squished-ness that might occur
  • have their own little on-board chatroom with other middle seaters on the plane, letting them whine about the arsehole sitting next to them — or brag that they’ve been randomly placed next to their favourite hockey player
  • come decked out with office supplies they might need to get some work done (branding it as “the business seat”, as opposed to the “nappers’ window” or the “escape artist aisle”) — thanks to @thetiniest for inspiring this one

And that’s just 5 or 6 minutes of highly-distracted brainstorming. I’m sure you can think of better. Let’s hear ‘em in the comments!

My point, though, is that if you’re offering up middle seats, either lose them or use them. Doing otherwise is hurting you in the long run.

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7 Responses to Middle seats don’t have to be terrible

  1. briantlinton says:

    I love this! Great thoughts and a very creative approach to the dilemma of the middle seat.

    I think airlines could benefit from “branding” the middle seat – changing our current views on it.

  2. David Barnes says:

    If you’re stuck with a middle seat, you get shown a gallery of all the people you could sit next to. You choose the best looking companion for the journey. This would have the dual effect of making the middle seat more attractive to most of us, but less attractive to the good looking.

  3. David Barnes says:

    Even more obvious, middle seat people get a first class meal.

  4. Aidan says:

    David? Your ideas are awesome. Exactly what I was hoping to see!

    Looking forward to hearing more from you in the future.

    And Briant? My thoughts exactly. What sort of “branding” would you want to see?

  5. briantlinton says:

    Well the middle seats current ‘brand’ is it is negative. The brand can best be summarized as small, uncomfortable and awkward.

    Best case scenario is that it is rebranded to be the complete opposite. It would be interesting to see if an airline made their middle seats 2 inches wider (sortof like United Airlines Economy Plus which gives you 4 more inches of legroom – which makes a huge difference). If they make the seat wider and charge the same price as the other seats it might make people more inclined to choose the middle seat. And just imagine how much publicity an airline would get for doing this too.

  6. Aidan says:

    Totally agreed, Brian. Because of the current negative associations (or brand) people have for the middle seats, airlines should be innovating either a story or some benefits (or, better yet, both!) for the oft-maligned seat.

  7. David Linke says:

    The simplest thinking is the absolute best thing. Middle Seat = Wider Seat = Fewer Upset Customers = More Business! THIS IS SIMPLY GENIUS!

    I wonder how many hours, days, weeks and months airlines and aircraft manufacturers have spent trying to reduce the number of middle seats. When in fact it is a simple branding problem. Simply add a few extra inches of width and moved onto tackling the biggest issue the airline industry faces – Departing On Schedule!

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