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Surviving the Middle Seat on an Airplane

Worse than going to the dentist.

If you're travelling solo and your flight is full, sitting in the middle seat of a row on a long flight can mean cramped conditions, armrest awkwardness and hurdling over your neighbour every time you want to get to the restroom. But help is at hand - here are our five top tips for dealing with the middle seat on an airplane if fate (or check-in) has dealt you that hand.

1. Book smart

Booking early for popular flights can mean avoiding the middle seat option altogether - many airlines allow you to choose your own seat with online booking, either free or for a small fee.

Outside seats all gone? Arrive early at check-in to ask if your seat can be reallocated - or failing that, ask nice at the gate (when staff will know how full the flight is) and see if you can move to a better seat. Be friendly and polite and you may find that middle-seat-shaped mountains move for you.

Boarding the airplane.

2. Board quickly

If all the above methods have failed and you're destined to travel in the middle seat, get to your gate on time and board as quickly as possible so you can stake out your space and arrange your belongings in a way that suits you.

Boarding last on a full flight will inevitably mean no room in the overhead lockers - avoid sharing your valuable legroom with your hand luggage by getting on board early and getting it out of the way. Take this opportunity to remove anything you need for the flight before your neighbours board, to avoid having to bother them later.

Middle seat on airplane

3. Pack a pillow

One of the problems with a middle seat can be ill-defined boundaries with the next seat leading to a lack of comfort (especially when it comes to finding somewhere to put your head if you want to sleep). An inflatable or microbead pillow - or even better, the cleverly-designed J Pillow - can help you mark your territory and provide a comfortable place to nap. Airplane toilet

4. Time your toilet trips

It's better to make any trips to the restroom or up and down the aisle for a leg stretch when your neighbour isn't busy doing something else. Aim to skip out before trolley service starts (you can usually either see it or smell it coming), before your fellow passenger starts playing a movie; and on overnight flights before they settle down beneath a blanket. This will save you trying to clamber around tray tables or desperately crossing your legs for an hour.

Stewardess on airplane.

5. Pack an isolation kit

Don't like to be disturbed by chatty neighbours? Pack some or all of the following: an eye-mask; earplugs; headphones and your favourite music; a laptop or iPad loaded with films or TV shows you like; a good book; some light work.

A sleep mask and earplugs are essential on overnight flights in any case, but all of the above can help the flight go faster and help you remain undisturbed. Ask the cabin crew to wake you for meals, however!

Do you have any more tips for dealing with the middle seat? Let us know below!

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Written by Lise Smith, a former contributor to Lonely Planet's India guidebook - she's seen her fair share of hotel rooms (both grotty and glamorous!). She learned to walk in a hotel corridor in Tunisia, and at the age of three had been on more aeroplanes than buses. Lise writes for a number of local news, technology and arts publications.