Armrest Etiquette: We End the Battle Once and For All

We try to elbow our way to a solution to the armrest wars. (Will/Flickr)

What makes modern day airplane etiquette breaches so frustrating is that the difference between right and wrong is often so obvious. “Of course it’s not OK to put your feet on the back of someone’s head/clip your toenails in the aisle/change your baby’s poopy diaper on the tray table,” you say to yourself. “So would some moron do that?”

But there are some issues of etiquette for which there are no easy right or wrong answers. Issues where reasonable minds can, and do, differ.

One such etiquette dilemma: Which passenger gets which the armrest? And what are the rules for the middle passenger?

Related: 7 Innovations That Will Transform the Airline Experience

Last week, we told you about the Soarigami, a foldable device that divides up space on an armrest, giving the two neighboring occupants a place to house their elbows.

The Soarigami effectively splits your armrest in two. (Soarigami)

And earlier this spring we saw plans for the Paperclip Armrest, which gives each passenger arm its distinct zone on the armrest: One arm goes high and one goes low. Elbows remain separate and untouched at the same time.

The Paperclip puts your elbows over each other. (Paperclip Design)

But for now, those products exist mostly in news headlines. Fliers still have to negotiate armrest space, in a battle that pits passenger vs. passenger, middle seats vs. aisle/window seats. And, yes, even Yahoo Travel editor vs. Yahoo Travel editor.

Related: The Soarigami and Other Potentially Annoying Airplane Devices

Yahoo Travel Executive Editor Laura Begley Bloom believes in sharing the middle armrest at all times. “I am a very fair person,” she says. She’s so obsessed with everything being 50-50, she once ended a bed turf war with her husband by threatening to sew a ribbon down the middle of the sheet as a sort of bedroom border. She applies that same philosophy to the airplane armrest dilemma. “When it comes to being on a plane, I believe strongly in sharing. Yes, your arm and my arm can coexist happily on the same armrest.”

My problem with my esteemed colleague’s point of view is that her share-all armrest philosophy even extends to occupants of the dreaded middle seat, whom she expects to give up real estate on both of their armrests. I believe she couldn’t be more wrong; because the aisle and window seat dwellers each already have a single armrest they get to themselves, it’s only fair for those in the middle seat to get dominion over both of their armrests.

Don’t expect to find a firm consensus on social media. Some back my middle seat/both armrests position:

And some advocate my colleague’s “Kumbaya”/let’s-share-the-armrest-like-Communists opinion:

Our favorite aviation experts, who literally fly for a living, also disagree with each other. “No question about this. Any poor sap stuck in the middle seat deserves both armrests. It’s Travel Etiquette 101,” says business travel blogger Joe Brancatelli of JoeSentMe.com. AirfareWatchdog.com‘s George Hobica agrees, saying, “Middle seat gets to use the armrests. Period.”

But AirwaysNews.com co-editor Benét Wilson leaves some wiggle room, saying, “Middle seat passengers should get at least one armrest.” Notice, she didn’t say both armrests.

So let’s solve this armrest debate once and for all. Vote in our poll and leave a comment, and let’s decide who gets what armrest. Whichever position wins will give either me or my colleague, Laura, bragging rights. And on my next flight, I will adhere to the winning position.

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