Since the rise of passenger aviation in the 1950s, travelers have been looking for countless tips and tricks to score a place with an empty seat next to them or even that elusive “empty row.”
The longstanding “middle seat trick” of two people traveling together booking the aisle and window seat has stopped working as frequently as airlines work to squeeze more people into each plane and minimize the number of half-empty flights. A more modern and upgraded version of the booking strategy requires both planning seats in a criss-cross pattern with one’s travel partner and a plane with a specific three-seats-per-row configuration.
The most recent “travel hack’ to go social media viral took advantage of Southwest Airlines (LUV) – Get Free Report “no assigned seat policy” — while passengers of higher flight fares get to board the plane first, travelers do not have booked seats but can choose any of the seats on the plane after boarding.
Something is a little off about one of the ‘passengers’ (but most travelers don’t notice)
As first reported by British news outlet The Sun, TikTok user @muscadinebloodline8 posted a video of himself putting a mannequin with a black hoodie and green baseball cap in the seat next to him to make it look like the seat was “taken.”
The video, which also captures multiple passengers passing the row without realizing that the “person” in the second seat is actually a dummy, was viewed millions of times on the social media platform before the poster eventually removed it amid a barrage of complaints about him taking things too far and resorting to deception.
But as the video had already managed to go viral, it still exists in some of the reposts and shares captured by other users. Many of the commenters recalled some of the sneaky ways passengers have tried to get an empty seat on a flight with no assigned seating (while not common with U.S. airlines, they are often seen on low-cost airlines airlines shuttling passengers between nearby European cities.)
“The heavy panting holding the air sick bag is a favorite of mine,” one passenger wrote before the original video of the mannequin was deleted.
Here’s why you’re much less likely to score an empty seat this year
Jokes aside, there is a reason many may be growing increasingly desperate to score more room in any way possible. Amid an industry-wide lack of airline staff, both major and smaller airlines are flying fewer flights and planning routes in a way that fewer planes are flying with empty seats than ever.
As a result, scoring an empty seat next to you on an airline by luck alone is increasingly less likely. Conspiratorially whispering “maybe an upgrade?” to a flight attendant will also not do what it might have done in the past as most airlines now have an income stream from charging customers who want extra comfort for premium economy.
Attendants are generally not permitted to give upgrades to those who have not paid for one and, with most U.S. airlines changing the seat size from 18.5 to 17 inches in recent years, travelers in the lowest class of travel are feeling more squeezed than ever.
“Flying is a common mode of transport, it is nice to feel like a human being and not a sardine,” Washington resident Meghan Sexton wrote as part of a public input process around .airline seats initiated by the Federal Aviation Administration. “The decency of having a modicum of comfort should not be reserved for the wealthy.”