As long as there have been airplanes, the question of who gets the armrest in the middle seat has baffled passengers, and the cabin crew. However, the debate may be settled for once as flight attendant Boris Millan, author of air travel guide The Common Sense of Flying revealed the answer in a podcast Confessions on the Fly last week. Millan was talking about a chapter in his book that discussed plane etiquette and that is when he told hosts Laura ‘LJ’ Salerno and Flight Attendant Jo that there was a lot of research in the UK on who gets to use the middle seat armrests. Millan mentioned, “when you sit in the middle seat, you get to have…” At this point, LJ cut in to exclaim: “You get both armrests.” Millan said in agreement, “It’s common sense, guys. It’s common sense.”
However, since the pandemic arrived and middle seats were left empty for social distancing for a while, a new sense of understanding on shared spaces also emerged. According to USA Today, claiming armrests just because a person has been assigned the middle seat can be considered rude and lead to unpleasant confrontations among passengers. While many have dubbed it as selfish when a passenger in the middle seat stakes claim over the armrest and invades the space of their fellow passengers just like leaning an airline seat all the way back, mentions USA Today.
Although middle seat armrests may ideally belong to the passenger sitting in the middle seat, Nick Leighton, an etiquette expert who hosts the “Were You Raised By Wolves?" has listed scenarios when they might not. “If there are extenuating etiquette circumstances, like a larger person in an adjacent seat, then the armrests aren’t yours," he says. However, the situation can turn a bit hostile when some passengers feel armrest is a “first-come, first-served" territory. In such cases an argument with fellow passengers is bound to happen.
Hence, the best solution to settle the armrest dispute is to negotiate and discuss with your fellow passengers before expressing your entitlement.