Sitting in the Catbird Seat

Though she’s only four, our granddaughter relishes being the eldest in her family.  She already demonstrates the authority associated with the role, especially in the presence of her siblings.  She seems to understand how her position in the order comes with slightly increased expectations.  Her sisters will challenge her command as they grow older (and won’t that be fun?) but for now, for the most part, they take her lead.  Not that I would understand “first position”, mind you.  I’m neither the oldest nor the youngest in the family I grew up in.  I’m what you might call an “off-center middle”.

If there’s a significant advantage to being a middle child (I’m the fourth of five) I’ve yet to discover it after all these years.  The eldest child experiences the “firsts” (driving, voting, etc.) while the rest of us wonder when it’ll be our turn.  The youngest receives a gentler version of parenting (and who can blame a parent after five kids?)  Meanwhile, the middle(s) are looking in both directions wondering where to take sides. Inevitably, to appease all, the middle child finds a way to agree with everyone.  Our son is also a middle and he’s neutral so often we’ve nicknamed him “Switzerland”.

Maybe we middles have it better after all.  It’s not often I fall into the vast minority on a topic but today I do, because… I prefer the middle seat on airplanes.  A recent survey says only 6 out of every 1,000 frequent flyers feel the same way.  My five outliers and I have our reasons; mine make flying more comfortable for me.  On the aisle I can’t help leaning out a little, to where beverage carts or those passing by brush up against me.  On the window (which I happily bequeath to my wife) I have less elbow room up against the glass.  Even when the passengers on either side of me take the armrests (a subject to toss about another day) I still feel my greatest sense of freedom is in the middle seat.

I can now reap rewards for my middle-mindedness.  In a promotion sounding equal parts creative and desperate, Virgin Australia (VA) is giving away prizes to make the middle seats on its airplanes more appealing. Just by choosing the middle, I enter a lottery for a million VA frequent flyer miles, a helicopter pub crawl (a what?), or a bungee jump (but isn’t Australia flat?).  I can even win tickets to the final of the Australian Football League.  Of course, entering VA’s “Middle Seat Lottery” assumes I want to fly somewhere within Australia.  I also have to join VA’s frequent-flyer program.  And I’ll need to figure out Australian football, which may be the toughest ask of all.  But you get the idea.  “In the middle” is now a little cooler.

Maybe the airlines should revive an old saying.  They could call the middles catbird seats instead.  After all, “sitting in the catbird seat” refers to a position of advantage or superiority.  I can win the helicopter pub crawl and you can’t (advantage) and I’ve deluded myself into thinking I have more elbow room than you do (superiority).  All from the catbird seat.

Try as I might, definitions of “middle” never stray far from “average”, or at best “neither one extreme nor the other”. The dictionary also labels me as “ordinary”, “mediocre”, “commonplace”, and “pedestrian”.  Even if I spice up the word to “middling”, I’m still defined as just “medium” or “moderate”.  I could stretch things a bit and go with “fair to middling” but even then I’m merely slightly above average.  Nope, the only “outstanding” middle I can come up with is our stomachs when we’re, ahem, not in the best of shape. 

“Sitting in the catbird seat” works well for today’s topic, because I moved to the American South just a few months ago.  The phrase originated down here a long time ago.  Literally, it’s a bird’s habit of singing from way up high in a tree, a sort of nyah-nyah-nyah to its predators who can’t climb nearly as high.  And maybe that’s my aim for today: to elevate us “middle-peeps”, even if I haven’t come up with much substance to do so.  But consider this: the more of us there are, the less likely you’ll be sitting in the middle seat.  As a thank-you, the least you can do is meet me in the middle and pick up my beer tab when I win the helicopter pub crawl.

Some content sourced from the CNN Travel article, “Airline launches lottery to entice more passengers to sit in the middle seat”.

Author: Dave

Three hundred posts would suggest I have something to say… This blog was born from a desire to elevate the English language, highlighting eloquent words from days gone by. The stories I share are snippets of life itself, and each comes with a bonus: a dusted-off word I hope you’ll go on to use more often. Read “Deutschland-ish Improvements” to learn about my backyard European wish list. Try “Slush Fun” for the throwback years of the 7-Eleven convenience store. Or drink in "Iced Coffee" to discover the plight of the rural French cafe. On the lighter side, read "Late Night Racquet Sports" for my adventures with our latest moth invasion. As Walt Whitman said, “That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.” Here then, my verse. Welcome to "Life In A Word".

25 thoughts on “Sitting in the Catbird Seat”

    1. If there ever comes the day when I can afford first-class (“Down Under” is a long way from South Carolina!) maybe I’ll consider Virgin Australia once I get there 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I have to say that when flying, I do prefer to sit in a seat. When asked what seat I’d prefer, I generally answer, “Yes, I’d like a seat.” and I only fly like once every three years. I drop off more people at the airport than going to catch a flight myself.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You may be predicting the future of flying, Andrew. You could get more people in an airplane if they’d just stay out of the seats. Don’t think the airlines aren’t considering it 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Bathroom breaks are a nice advantage with the aisle seat, although I like to think that person expects to be disturbed by the middle and/or window, especially on a long flight. Most of my experiences with aisle people have been accommodating, thank goodness.


  2. Interesting about the phrase “in the catbird seat” Dave. I never knew the origin. With yourself in the middle seat, you could potentially have two fellow passengers nodding off and landing into your personal space. 🙂 I’ve had that happen a few times on flights and even when I took the bus for years to my job in downtown Detroit. The bus was the way to go – the stop was a block away from my house, let me off at my building and no hassles with driving, etc., but those passengers who would sit up straight, then ten minutes later, their head is rolling around and down and “the sideway slump” begins. I always had my book to read (how I miss being an avid reader on the bus). It was hysterical sometimes – but often a sticky wicket on a hot Summer’s day (despite being on an air-conditioned bus).

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    1. I probably have school buses to credit for my love of reading, Linda. I had a 45-min ride each way in grade school and spent the entire time reading stories. Made me a bit of an introvert in the eyes of those around me, but I didn’t care because I was buried in some adventure instead. And I’ve certainly experienced the nodding off thing a time or two, even on airplanes. Awkward!

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  3. I think of middle child as being a peacemaker, so, even though I am the baby by 5 minutes I feel I act more like the middle child.
    Definitely the aisle seat, specially on a 10 hour flight to Brazil. I like to get up to go to the bathroom any time I want without having to jump over anyone.

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    1. I agree with you about the Brazil flight, Ana. Anything more than about three hours and I’d want the aisle for easy access to the bathroom. My wife likes the window seat for privacy however, so with due respect I default to the middle.

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  4. I am a middle child, 3 out of 4, but the oldest two were boy and girl, and then there was the baby, so I consider myself right in the middle. It’s funny how birth order can determine your personality, as I could be Switzerland too – we are negotiators and peace makers but tend to stay under the radar and observe when too much drama occurs. As for seats, I can’t remember it’s been so long since I’ve flown anywhere, but I preferred the aisle seat for easy access to the washroom, although now with COVID I don’t know. I would never want to go to Australia as the flight is just way too long. I’ve never heard the catbird expression.

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    1. I have a niece who lives in Australia, Joni, and for the same reason as you I don’t think I’ll ever visit her. I’d need to afford one of those sleep pods before I’d ever travel that far. As for being a middle child, I do think our childhood experiences working “both directions” with our siblings shape the personalities we have as adults. This topic would be a feast for a psychologist, wouldn’t it? 🙂

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    1. It’s funny Ruth, I’ve heard the song several times but had never watched the video until your comment. Makes no sense to me. If Maren was throwing things perhaps, but instead stuff just falling off of surfaces and breaking doesn’t sync with the song. I’d love to know what she was thinking here.

      Liked by 1 person

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