Among the thirty flights I took on the All You Can Jet pass in September and October, I had the opportunity to sit in the middle seat a few times. Should I say the unfortunate opportunity? And there was usually a battle over the armrest.
Often times both seatmates will take up the middle armrests, leaving the middle seat with none. Further exacerbating the issue, elbows cross the boundary into the middle seat’s space. This leads to prodding, poking, rubbing, bumping, pushing, or a number of other irritating acts that are usually unintentional and the offender unaware. In response to these actions, the middle seat is left to resort to pushing back or giving up. The ownership of the armrests is shown in the figure below.
First, I won’t be biased against bigger people or anyone being “different”. Each person is equal and the discussion should be focused on etiquette. So what should happen with the armrest dilemma?
The middle or more constricted seat gets the armrest. In a three seat config, there are three seats and four armrests. Window seat (peach colored in the figure below) gets the one closest to the window. Aisle seat (green colored) gets the one closet to the aisle. The middle seat is left with both.
In a two seat config, there are two seats and three armrests. The aisle (green colored) seat still gets the aisle armrest. The window (peach colored) seat gets both.
If you happen to get the armrest in the scenarios mentioned, it is your responsibility to make sure you don’t “spill over” to the other seat. The armrest is the absolute boundary and your elbow should not extend into the other person’s ribs.
One last point I want to acknowledge. In the perfect world, we would share the armrests. We would politely ask and share more with the other person. But the fact is, our world isn’t perfect and everyone is for them self.