secret armrest button aisle
Photograph ©2018 by Brian Cohen.

The Armrest and Personal Seat Space Debate Continues — February 2020 Edition

“Guy in middle seat has his elbow over the arm rest and into my seat area, right at the seat back. So while I’m typing I really have nowhere to put my elbows without slamming into him. If I need to move my arms and center myself in the seat, for instance to avoid getting rammed by the cart, I get his elbow in my side.”

The Armrest and Personal Seat Space Debate Continues — February 2020 Edition

Nervous Etihad
Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

The paragraph you just read was from this experience during the middle of a transcontinental flight from New York to San Francisco which was related by FlyerTalk member dgilman; and although the “complaint” was really presented in good fun as an interesting topic, dgilman offered four choices as to what you believe should have been done to resolve the issue:

  1. Continue the passive aggressive elbow war and “be okay ramming my elbow into his”
  2. Politely ask him to move his elbow, explaining that “while I appreciate he is in the middle seat, he needs to respect the bounds of my seat.”
  3. Give up by deciding that the effort and aggravation is not worth the trouble, put the laptop computer away, and use the in-flight entertainment system instead
  4. Up the ante from passive aggressive to aggressive aggressive and go on the offensive — including:
    1. Ordering some red wine and then spilling it on his lap
    2. Coughing to get his attention, and then start Googing ‘coronavirus symptoms’
    3. Waiting at the end of the flight for everyone to deplane before exiting and trapping him; and
    4. Releasing a massive amount of flatulence.
Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

FlyerTalk member MSPeconomist offered this simple suggestion that you find the “magazine in your seat pocket, stick it down the side of your seat, just on your side of the armrest, to create a boundary or barrier to further encroachment.”

Many people would agree that the person who is seated in the middle seat in the economy class cabin has the least comfortable experience aboard an airplane and therefore should have top priority in the use of both armrests…

…but once the arms — or any other part of the body, for that matter — start encroaching on the personal space of a fellow passenger, all bets are off.


Delta Air Lines bankruptcy emergence inaugural flight
Photograph ©2007 by Brian Cohen.

I tend to adhere to the opinion that the person seated in the middle seat should have full and complete use of both armrests. That person already has no access to the aisle, where he or she can freely escape the confines of that economy class seat; nor access to the window to partake in the view — or, at least have an extra place to rest his or her head. Besides, the person in the middle seat is sandwiched between two people — unlike passengers seated in an aisle seat or window seat, who only have one passenger with which to contend. Giving the use of both armrests to that poor person stuck in the middle seat can be some sort of consolation — as minimal as it may be.

Fortunately, when I do use the armrest, I usually do not need the entire armrest — I will usually just rest my elbow. When seated next to a passenger with a similar requirement, it is a simple matter of subconsciously jockeying for position until both of us are satisfied with the simultaneous use of the armrest. Either my elbow will be in front of the elbow of my seatmate, or it will be behind it. This usually works out most of the time without a single word being said.

The armrest wars — as with the recent debate pertaining to reclining seats — are yet another factor of many which can potentially inhibit the attempt to enjoy reasonable comfort when you are a passenger in the economy class cabin in an airplane. Similar to the aforementioned seat recline debate, the problem with the armrest and personal seat space wars stems more from selfishness and self-importance — along with a lack of consideration and respect for fellow passengers — rather than from the issue of comfort, in my opinion. As with similar heated debates over children and window shades and swapping seats, passengers should be able to quickly work out a compromise without having to resort to confrontations to resolve what should be a simple minor issue at best. If passengers were more polite, considerate and respectful of each other, this whole debate over the recline of seats on commercial aircraft would be a minor issue at best — if at all.

I have written extensively over the years pertaining to the armrest and personal seat space debate aboard airplanes in the form of articles posted here at The Gate — including but not limited to:

All photographs ©2007, ©2015 and ©2018 by Brian Cohen.

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