Is Armrest Etiquette a Thing?

The humble airplane armrest: who is entitled to them, and is there an etiquette to abide by?

Is everyone on the same page here?

Controversial, I know.

A quick Google search leads me to believe that etiquette exists. Apparently, those lucky enough to sit in the window seat get their own armrest. Although the aisle seats aren’t quite as favoured, they too have an armrest to themselves. Usually, this leaves two armrests for the poor sod/s in the middle.

But how often do people play by these unwritten rules?

How many times have you been landed with the middle seat on an airplane, only to find that the coveted armrests are already taken up by your neighbours?

Is armrest etiquette a thing?

It’s not so bad if you’re travelling with friends or family: it’s easy to tell them to bugger off and keep their arms to themselves. But when you’re sitting next to a stranger it’s a little more complicated.

Is it rude to ask them to let you have the armrest? Is it rude for them to take it in the first place?

That’s right, we deal with the big issues around here.

I guess I’m lucky in the sense that I don’t take up that much room on a plane. Both my arms fit comfortably between the armrests, and I generally don’t mind not having something to lean on.

Most of the time.

I’m not above a bit of passive aggressive shenanigans. Sometimes it’s nice to feel like I have some control over my space, confined as it may be. I generally don’t talk to my neighbours at the best of times, so wouldn’t even dream of verbally claiming the armrest for myself. But if their elbow happens to encroach on my territory, oh, you best believe I will quietly and subtly move in such a way as I “accidentally” bump said elbow in the hopes they’ll remember they’re in a shared space and keep themselves to themselves.

Other people are ballsier than I.

What do you do in this situation — does it even bother you? Or am I just making a mountain out of a molehill?

In recent times I have been given a couple of five-year old triplets, and then a middle-aged woman as my in-flight neighbours. One of the triplets was in the middle seat and she was quite happy to claim both middle armrests — good for her! But during the second flight, I was the one in the middle with nary an armrest to claim. That’s when my ninja ‘accidentally on purpose’ skills came into play:

Don’t mind me, I’m just sitting here quietly reading my book, trying to get comfortable. Oh! Did I bump you? I’m sorry, why don’t you move your elbow back onto your side? That’s better, isn’t it? Mwahahaha.

I’ve been told I have a bit of a dark side…

Given the option, my partner and I always pick seats in a row of two. It saves us sitting next to strangers, and we only have each other to fight with over the armrests. It also makes toilet breaks that much easier. (Don’t you hate having to disturb a sleeping stranger just so you can go pee?)

But more often than not, airplane seats are set in rows of three or four. You’re pretty much guaranteed to sit next to a stranger, and there’s no telling if they’ll know their armrest etiquette.

Then again, some people don’t agree such etiquette exists. First in, best dressed, and all that.

I know some of you will say it’s just #firstworldproblems, but sometimes it is nice to be in control of your own space. Especially in such a confined area for a potentially long amount of time.

Do you have a view on armrest etiquette?

I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Let’s get this conversation started — leave a reply below.


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Author: Michelle

Michelle Harvey is a kiwi traveller, writer, photographer, list-maker, coffee drinker, and wanderer. Winter holidays are her favourite kind.

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