How badly to you hate the middle seat? New survey says you’d rather visit the dentist

By | July 1st, 2009

Annoyed Middle Seat Woman

More than half of of Americans would rather go to the dentist than sit in the middle seat, according to a new survey by 3M Privacy Filters. Some 54 percent would prefer a visit to the doctor’s office than getting stuck in one of the uncomfortable seats. An even higher number (56 percent) would rather be stuck in traffic or go on a blind date.

Does anyone like middle seats? Oddly, yes. About one percent of those surveyed said they preferred a middle seat. A vast majority — 80 percent of respondents — said they “go out of their way” to get booked in a window or aisle seat.

Among the other findings:

· One in five Americans (20 percent) say they would actually stay overnight at an airport hotel for an aisle seat on the first flight the next morning.

· Nine percent of Americans report that they would refuse to sit in the middle seat on a full flight if it was more than one to two hours.

So what, exactly, do people find annoying about the middle seat?

· Having a nosy seatmate peering over your shoulder (84 percent).

· Crawling over someone to get to the bathroom (83 percent).

· Not being able to stretch out (83 percent).

· Having an overweight seatmate on either side of you (80 percent).

· Not having a place to rest your head (71 percent).

· Still, nearly nine in 10 Americans are concerned with being a “good” middle seat occupant.

The survey also put the contentious subject of middle seat etiquette in its crosshairs.

Related story:   Your consumer rights are disappearing. Here's how to protect yourself now.

· While 6 percent of people believe both armrests belong to the person sitting in the middle seat, the rest either had no idea of the proper etiquette (51 percent), believe one armrest belongs to the person in the middle (22 percent) or believe half of each armrest belongs to the person in the middle (21 percent).

· With in-flight Wi-Fi available on many flights, 65 percent of people are concerned about nosy neighbors snooping on personal or work emails and with good reason since 49 percent of people admit to glancing at strangers’ computer screens.

Until questions like armrest ownership are settled, and until airlines can figure out a way of making the seats a little wider without charging an arm and a leg for an upgrade, I think it’s safe to say the middle seat will continue to be reviled by the traveling public. It might be interesting to hear the other side of this argument — from the airline revenue managers who can talk about how much money they’d lose if they gave up middle seat configurations.

We want your feedback. Your opinion is important to us. Here's how you can share your thoughts:
  • Send us a letter to the editor. We'll publish your most thoughtful missives in our daily newsletter or in an upcoming post.
  • Leave a message on one of our social networks. We have an active Facebook page, a LinkedIn presence and a Twitter account. Every story on this site is posted on those channels. The conversation ranges from completely unmoderated (Twitter) to moderated (Facebook and LinkedIn).
  • Post a question to our help forums or ask our advocates for a hand through our assistance intake form. Please note that our help forum is not a place for debate. It's there primarily to assist readers with a consumer problem.
  • If you have a news tip or want to report an error or omission, you can email the site publisher directly. You may also contact the post's author directly. Contact information is in the author tagline.