Southwest Airlines Flight Attendant Calls Out Scheming Passengers Hogging Middle Seats

The number one thing that makes flying better is when you have an empty middle seat next to you. On most airlines it is luck. On Southwest it is strategy.

Southwest doesn’t pre-assign seats, so it’s not just luck whether someone’s been assigned next to you. You pick a seat with an empty middle beside you and then can improve your odds that it stays empty by making it unappealing for someone to choose it.

People place crumpled tissues on the seat and act sick. They act like they’re fighting with the other person in the row. They spread themselves or their stuff into the seat beside them signaling that it’ll be uncomfortable to sit there. Or they place their stuff in the empty seat to make it look like someone is seated there. Sometimes Southwest Airlines passengers look intentionally creepy to scare off potential seatmates.


How to keep seats open next to you on a flight 😂

♬ original sound – mikewdavis

None of this works when a flight is full. All seats will be taken. And it doesn’t work when a flight attendant calls out passengers for trying. One passenger films herself trying to avoid passengers who might sit in her row. And you can hear a flight attendant announcing,

If you’re trying to avoid the eye contact so nobody will sit in the middle, that’s not going to work today.

Since the flight was full, they were going to need every seat. And passengers passing by seats with bags on top of empty seats would just delay departure as they’d eventually need to turn back around and head closer to the front to use those seats.

As the video notes, POV: you’re on a full flight and called out by the flight attendant for avoiding eye contact so no one sits next to you.

@boredsoap as you can see I was trying to do reverse psychology lol #southwest #fullflight #corporategirlie #humortiktok #avoideyecontact #lol ♬ original sound – sophizzles

I like the way Southwest Airlines seats are divvied out first-come, first-served as someone who books last minute (good seats may not be available anymore on other airlines) and as someone who sometimes changes flights on the day of travel. They also offer an inch or two more legroom than other airlines in their standard seats. And I like that you can help control your own destiny over whether someone sits next to you or not – when the flight isn’t full.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

More articles by Gary Leff »


  1. Love WN. Love the review on how to get people to avoid letting people sit next to you. That said, I would encourage everyone to listen for the, “This flight is completely full and we’re going to need every seat,” announcement. Then, my strategy, is to make eye contact with people who I won’t mind in the middle seat and inviting them to sit down.

  2. I have flown SW only twice. Once with family as it was hundreds of dollars cheaper, the other on their shuttle from Houston to Dallas. With the family (circa 2007) we accidentally left behind our DVD case with about 30 movies in it on the plane. We realized it after deboarding walking out of the gate. And POOF! It was gone.

    Not a good day as a dad, lol. I’ve left all kinds of things on other airlines and always get them back. But not on SW.

    The other trip was on their hourly afternoon shuttle from Houston to Dallas. Now that was a FUN flight, especially since in Texas you can open beer carry… something that prior to COVID only happened at a few airports, and now happens at more.

    Personally, I think they are giving up revenue from a business class experience, because the gap from flying private from 1st class is still ~$10k. Eventually, someone is going to figure out how to offer private jets for 3x of 1st class, vs. the 10x now.

  3. Simple hack
    I always share I’m almost over my full blown COVID infection are you ok with that? I stop being contagious fairly soon.

  4. That’s such a shitty way to travel in this day and age. No way would I subject myself to these seat hogs. I’ll pay a little or a lot more to fly one of the legacys and get a seat assignment. SW is the Walmart of the skies when it comes to their seat policy.

  5. I LUV the cat and mouse seat game on SW.
    I’ll ask in an elevated voice “Hey, is that seat taken?” with my finger in their face just like John Candy in Plane , Trains, & Automobiles.
    I’ve gotten moans, groans, and carping; but works like a charm every time!! I’ve steeped on a few toes along the way, but I love a dare.

  6. I have a love/hate with WN. I was flying home Wed night from FLL to PIT. 2 hr delay leaving FLL. WN was paying for lodging in BWI for those who missed connections or had them canceled. They also provided flight vouchers. The gate agent Ryan K was absolutely horrific at BWI. WN did make the situation “right-ish.” Still, it’s not my first choice to fly.

  7. @dwondermeant that’s about like telling a date who doesn’t want to use protection, that you’re HSV+ & HIV+ and asking if they’d rather you use it. Instead you’ll get run away from. — In your case, you could get escorted off of the plane and suspended from flying until you have a positive test with a possible delay afterwards, and then possibly fined for declaring a false energy.

  8. SW seating policy breeds an atmosphere of animosity. That just helps them attract the more problematic people and gives them a place where their behavior is encouraged. I agree with others that I’d rather pay a little more to fly in a better atmosphere where I have less to be concerned about than sitting next to someone who’s unhappy that I ruined their entitlement to an extra seat they didn’t pay for nor deserved.

  9. Please, I hear them them make this same and similarly “fun” announcements all the time, to encourage people to take any seat faster (which probably never works due to inbreed human nature.) “Take a last look at the empty seat next to you, its not going to stay empty.

    Smaller cute chick like that was going to get a seatmate faster than that despite her mask and eye contact, what fun for her to turn it into “content” for an possible “influencer” career.

    A trick is to take a look at the scanning screen, add the “boarding passes issued” and “thru passenger” numbers together and compare to 143 or 175 to see if the flight is truly full. Most FA’s will start the “completely full” spiel around 90% of capacity IME.

  10. Those in the aisle seat moving for a person in the middle seat have to be sure that the person going in doesn’t steal the aisle seat.

  11. It is to your benefit to be a jerk. I dislike rewarding jerks. Though I’m at an airport where they have almost as many flights as the other carriers, I seldom even check Southwest service when booking flights.

  12. Increasing trend of one member of a couple paying Early Bird, then “holding” a seat for the other half who has a C level ticket boarding near last.

  13. Love the hard boiled eggs picture. I used to travel with my boss back in the late 80s & 90s, He’d usually get out the vomit bag and pretend to be sick with fake dry heaving. It worked most of the time, nobody wanted to sit next to him.

  14. I avoid Southwest if at all possible. The open seating idea never worked well and all it does is cause more problems and longer to board and take off. Most people hate it and only fly with them for the free baggage. The amount of people faking the need for a wheelchair is also ridiculous. They have created a situation that most regular travelers will avoid like the plague that it is.

  15. I usually roll my eyes at all the first-world flying complaints (especially from “points sites”), but I loathe Southwest’s open seating. It makes traveling one level more anxiety inducing, and a hassle. Playing “what seat will frontier assign me if I don’t pay” is a better system. Honestly I’m sure it’s because Southwest’s Commodore 64, that all their operations run on, couldn’t do seat reservations, so they just tart it up like it’s an everyman benefit. And middle seat scammers will be sitting in middle seats for eternity in the afterlife.

  16. I only wish that the flight crew would not allow other to save seats because it is not fair to those who did what it took to assure a decent seat. On my fliight a passenger was allowed to save two rows for her people as flight staff stood there and said nothing. Her group was at very end of line and when I sent message to customer service I received a message stating they were sorry but it is not the the job of the crew. So who should be the one to be sure this doesn’t happen. If this is allowed why check-in with the hope of having a preferred seat. This caused me and my husband to be seated one in front of plane and one in the back.

  17. There’s no excuse to be shameful enough to “reserve” the whole exit row. I can understand one seat for a traveling companion,but SW should at least adopt some kind of system to stop these j*#%# from ruining a possible first experience of flying. I stopped SW years ago and pay to upgrade to Coach Select to have a seat I know will be there. Shame on you SW,especially now that their fares are competitive with other full service airlines.

  18. Message for Veronica. Stand your ground and take two seats next to one another. If the seat hogs don’t like it who cares. Their opinion is as worthless as they are as human beings.

  19. Does anyone remember the club seating they once had where one row faced you? The Herb Kelleher days were SW most fun time to fly.

  20. The SWA seating assignment policy is made harsher only because they manage their inventory so well that most flights have *EVERY* seat sold. If they didn’t try to do that, there *WOULD* be middle seats open.

    That having been said, things in life are either a tradeoff –in which case you have a decision to make– or a win/win (no decision needed, just go for it), or a lose/lose, where again no decision is needed, just don’t do it.

    I try not to fly them to the point of driving 5-6 hours to avoid a 65 minute flight. However, the few times I do I make sure to a)not have checked luggage, b)stick to one carryon I can stow in the overhead seats or underseat, and c)Sit in the middle seat until someone sits next to me, then move over to the other adjacent seat. I call it “the Reverse Monty Hall” solution.

    FYI WN is their IATA and SWA is their ICAO designator. As a pilot, traveler, and air traffic afficionady I find the ICAO designators to be more universally used, accepted, and accurate.

  21. Southwest’s boarding process and unreserved seating is the reason I have only flown with Southwest one time in decades of frequent air travel.

  22. When boarding check out the line. If there is a C group don’t even try to save the middle seat. Rather, try to entice someone skinny to sit in it.

  23. Saving seats on SW is NOT ok! Many ( like me);pay extra to get a “ low number” to allow earlier boarding. Families that pay extra for one member then “save seats” for the rest of their party are ”stealing”! If getting a better choice of seats and sitting together is that important, pay up for the privilege like the rest of us.

  24. The reserving of seats is ridiculous and should not be allowed! Then you have the wheelchairs to Florida having gotten completely out of control! 20 wheelchairs get on, (with their companions )taking up a good portion of the front seats, and then the majority all somehow manage to walk off when the plane lands! Miracle!!!
    I pay extra for early boarding and reserve seating and find myself back in row 6!

  25. I travel Southwest all the time and I love their seating rules. However, recently I witnessed a woman sitting in an aisle seat tell everyone that someone was sitting there. After the plane was in the air she proceeded to spear out. Using all3 seats. I’m fairly certain the flight attendant knew what she was doing because she kept looking at her and shaking her head! It’s disappointing to see people being so manipulative. It is unfortunate that people just accepted her answer. You don’t have to listen to her answer you paid for your seat!!!

  26. I would hate to be a flight attendant especially on Southwest. You are a policeman and a psychologist at the same time. Although the police is the TSA and Department of Homeland Security.

  27. I recently booked a flight where the choice was between Spirit and Southwest. I chose Spirit because their “Big Front Seat” actually is bigger than the Southwest “business select” which is just a regular seat. The price difference was minimal and no worries about the dreaded middle seat. Not to mention the pitiful general admission style boarding policy used by Southwest.

  28. I fly Southwest and am disabled and can prove it. It amazed me at all the new wheel chair people that are boarding. I was shocked. Then after they boarded I went on and was trampled by a huge angry man that hit my surgical shoulder as I was putting my bag in the overhead. Went to the Dr and he sprained my shoulder, when he rammed into me. The disregard for others is making flying like the Roman Games, survival of the fittest. The flight attendances are to assist not referees…but the conduct of some individuals is appalling.

  29. I actually prefer the middle seat. There is more leg room than the window, which slants inward the middle, and the aisle which is smaller to accommodate passengers and carts passing by . The only problem is reminding your neighbors that BOTH middle armrests belong to the middle seat !

  30. SW needs to get with the program and start assigning all seats except a few rows in the back. This is what AS does and it works great.

  31. People have st need to be respectful. Bottom line. Treat others how you want to be treated. I don’t mind open seating unless my next flight is to close. Then I would appreciate asking passengers that it is there final destination to stay seated til all connecting passengers deplane. Thanks

  32. Southwest are pathological liars when it comes to “the flight is entirely full with every seat taken” fiction.
    I fly about once a month on Southwest and I’ve been counting how many times I heard that message often at the gate and repeated by flight attendants. I’m up to 19 times I’ve heard the message AND had the middle seat (between me and my husband) open.
    As an incessant fidgeter I’m an awful seatmate and I do employ creative tactics (better than those described in the article) and they’ve paid off. 19 times. Don’t believe
    Southwest. They’ve been training their staff to lie to customers for years.

Comments are closed.