Who Gets the Armrest on Planes?

Dear Agony Uncle,

I travel quite a lot and I’ve been meaning to ask you: what’s the etiquette of who gets the armrest on a plane? Regardless of whether they are wider than my slender self as a result of too little or too much gym attendance, should I always have to cramp my arms to allow the larger passengers to spread their wings?

Skinny Minny

Dear Skinny Minny,

Possession is nine-tenths of the law and when schlepping it up with the heifers in cattle class, every square centimetre of space is prime (beef) real estate. Between the four inches of schlock for the illiterati in the seat pocket in front of you to that weird air conditioning unit beneath the footrest that seems to serve no other purpose than to annoy you, if you’re not a fine example of human origami by the time you fasten your seatbelt, then you better eat something.

Foot room (or the lack thereof) aside, personal space and personal discomfort go hand in hand, or in your case—locked elbow to elbow. Cabin and lounge furniture are entirely different entities and should be treated as such, although many are unable to distinguish between the two. Common sense should prevail as should common decency: the armrests on the outer edges of the row belong to those in the aisle seats and are then allocated inwards respectively. Stake your claim early on in the piece and muscle/flab in on your turf, which can be done subtly and elegantly by placing your elbow on the corner of the armrest closest to the seat. Should either of you need to move, there’s at least another two-thirds of the armrest available to temporarily rest objects or limbs and to pass inflight meals from the aisle.

Alas, if the neighbouring passenger is more corpulent than Kate Moss, their physical presence can engulf yours. If you are uncomfortable, ask politely that they make a little room for you, but complainant beware: you will have to endure the rest of the trip with them if they take umbrage to your request. Long haul flights are intolerable enough without a fatty wheezing down your neck for its duration.

Of course, there’s one simple solution to it all: request an aisle seat or fly First Class. You’ll always be guaranteed an armrest and in the case of the latter, will only  ever have to share it with a flute of Dom Pérignon. Bon voyage!

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About Adrian Fernand

Adrian Fernand is a writer specialising in screen, television and fiction. As the Agony Uncle for etiquette and social protocol site, I Do Believe I Came with a Hat, he responds to the quandaries facing polite society in a modern world. He has in excess of 90 pairs of shoes. Follow Adrian on Twitter @AdrianFernand
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