Fear and Loathing in the Sky—and Why You Should Marry the Girl in the Middle Seat

I have a confession to make. I don’t like to fly. I love going places. It’s just the getting there I’m not that fond of.

That might seem like a strange admission for a travel writer—but then again, maybe not. I mean, the more often you’re required to shoehorn yourself into a seat that wouldn’t comfortably accommodate a malnourished hamster, the less likely you are to look forward to it. If I actually enjoyed crumpling my body into a defeated wad of human origami, I’d take yoga, and at least I’d have the skull-cracking thighs and six-pack abs to show for it.

You’re not even awarded the privilege of painful bodily contortion until you’ve already been through the soul-sapping process of submitting to airport security.

Shuffling sock-footed through the metal detector, grasping at your unbelted trousers to keep them from falling down around your ankles, you still have to run the gauntlet of heaven-knows-where-those-hands-have-been rubber-gloved officers who might randomly pull you aside for a pat-down.

Spotted at London’s Luton Airport. If every there was a traveller begging for a strip search…

Every time this happens, I’m tempted to ask them to at least treat me to dinner and a movie first…but somehow, I doubt they would be amused.

I think you can tell a lot about a person by where they like to sit on an airplane. The obvious answer, of course, is “at the front. In First Class.”

But given the intolerable lack of a winning lottery ticket, you’ll usually find me in cattle class, which can be just about bearable when I snag an aisle seat.

Why do I prefer the aisle? Because I have a very optimistic bladder. That is to say, it’s always half-full, and I like to be able to make a quick escape to the (tin can-sized) loo without having to give a lap dance to the other folks in my row. (Although, come to think of it, there might be a few bucks to be made there).

When you go to board a plane…and it’s actually a bus. If you’re traveling from London to Atlanta, you better hope it’s amphibious.

More unfortunately still, I seem to have some perverse Pavlovian response to the “fasten seatbelt” sign. No sooner does that dreaded light go on than my bladder pings my brain, signaling that it would quite like to have a wee. RIGHT. NOW. This makes me very popular with flight attendants, as you can imagine, who seem to regard me jettisoning from my seat as a sign of civil disobedience–or worse, terrorism.

Other people prefer to be ensconced beside the window, of course–presumably so that they’ll be the first to spot an engine fire. Fair enough. But can we all agree that the middle seat is basically Dante’s seventh level of hell?

Keeping an eye out for engine fires: the privilege and the burden of sitting in the window seat.

Keeping an eye out for engine fires: the privilege and the burden of sitting in the window seat.

Personally, I would sell both my ovaries to avoid being stuck in the middle, sandwiched like the creamy, compact filling in an Oreo cookie. You can’t lean against the window, checking the condition of the engines and marveling at clouds that look like Jerry Garcia or Carrot Top or penguins on pogo sticks. (Did I mention I take full advantage of free booze offered on international flights?)

Nor can you stretch your legs out in the aisle, thereby incurring the wrath of whomever is piloting the drinks cart. It’s very likely you will be denied even the small solace of an armrest, as the people who requested the aisle and window seats are almost certainly far more selfish than you and have already claimed them with pointy-elbowed defiance.

perfect plane

The perfect plane; everyone gets an aisle AND window. Except for the part where the pilot sits on a cooler facing the wrong way. That’s a bit disconcerting.

This is based on my observation that only the nicest people end up in the middle—a conclusion supported by a highly scientific survey of one. I mean, I’ve only ever met one girl who actually likes the middle seat, because she says it makes her feel safe and cozy. Miss Middle Seat is also among the sweetest people I know, which makes me wonder if perhaps this should be a standard question in Match.com profiles.

If you happen to spot someone with a preference for the middle, don’t even wait to arrange a first date. Just bang out an e-mail asking them to marry you and order the wedding invitations. They’ll probably be too concerned about hurting your feelings to turn you down.

Only once in my life have I boarded a plane and thought, “You know, 14 hours just isn’t going to be long enough.” This was while flying in business class on Singapore Airlines. The lay-flat “seat” was approximately the size of a football field.

The alcohol flowed like an IV drip, and the food was superb—although I was surprised that they served us chicken satay on wooden skewers. (One unexpected air pocket, and you’ll put your eye out).

The appetizer. Now whose bright idea was it to serve chicken satay, on a LONG POINTY STICK? Forget hijacking concerns. Hit turbulence, and you're missing an eye, buddy.

Singapore Airlines chicken satay on a stick. Dangerous, but delicious.

I have no idea what blessed nirvana must await their first class passengers. Probably a 90-minute hot stone massage, caviar facial, complimentary bag of gold and diamonds, and a flight attendant to read you a bedtime story, stroke your hair and sing you to sleep as you wing your way to the Land of Nod.

Hey, we can all dream. Until then, I’ll see you in the back, in line for the loo.

My specially-labeled meal on BA. We'll assume "Laughingho" was just a typo.

My specially-labeled meal on BA. We’ll assume “Laughingho” was just a typo.


  1. Priscilla says:

    Amy! You have a a gift! Sharon shared this with me, and I loved it, just like she did. Humor writing is particularly difficult, but evidently not for you! Again, you are gifted.
    I still have very happy memories of our single trip together and wish our paths would cross again someday. Meanwhile, I’ll just hear about how wonderful you are from Sharon and Patti.
    Hugs, Priscilla

    • Priscilla, you are so kind. I really appreciate those encouraging words. I would LOVE to travel with you and Sharon and Patti again sometime. Please do let me know when you make it back across the pond. It would be terrific to see you, even if just for a pint–although I can’t promise that I’ll be able to wrangle us a Robin Hood next time around! Big hugs to you, too.

  2. Amy, I don’t know you – but would love to. Sharon shared your story – and I ended up reading it aloud to my husband. We’re both still laughing. You’re a wonderful writer.
    BTW, I’ll be flying Singapore Airlines this week. I’ll fill you in on its coach car…

    • Hi Alison. Thank you so much for your kind words. Sharon is such a sweetheart for sharing my article. I’ve asked her if she’d like to be my agent! I’d love to hear your thoughts on Singapore Airlines. Are you headed to Singapore, or elsewhere in Asia? I’ve only passed through the Singapore Airport, which is almost a destination unto itself. Have a terrific time, wherever your travels might take you!

  3. Paul Beesley says:

    Hi Amy. Great piece which made me laugh out loud. Hope you are well.

  4. JP says:

    Haha this is brilliant. After years of giving up the window seat to my girlfriend I can confirm that the nicest people sit in the middle 😛

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