Discussion: The Battle of the Middle Armrest

A few months ago, I was on an Air Berlin (tightest economy seats ever, for the record) flight from JFK to TXL, and I encountered and interesting scenario. The plane had a 2-4-2 seat configuration, and I was seated in 25K by the window.

Screen Shot 2014-01-03 at 4.49.40 PM

The passenger next to me was pretty restless during the entire overnight flight and did not ever go to sleep. I, on the other hand, wanted to try to get as much sleep as possible considering that I had a full day in Oslo the next day.

As I lowered my eye mask to try to catch some ZzZzs, I creeped the tiniest bit of my elbow onto the shared middle arm rest so that I can rest comfortably without spilling over. It was literally the tip of my funny bone. I am small, so my elbow bone really doesn’t take up much surface area to begin with. Anyway…

Moments after I did that, I immediately noticed a nudge to my resting elbow and thought nothing of it. I adjusted myself in my seat and proceeded to try to fall back asleep. It then happened again… and again, becoming a more forceful nudge with each time. It didn’t take long for me to realize that what he was doing was deliberate, so I gave up and kept my hands on my lap until we landed.

It wasn’t much longer until my seat mate decided to turn on his reading lamp while the rest of the cabin was dark, cross one leg over another, and spill his elbow over to completely invade not only the entire arm rest, but my personal space as well. At this point I was too tired to engage in the silly game of “elbow wars” with a grouchy German man, so I let him “win”. Inside my blood was boiling though.

Now the unspoken “etiquette” of the “who gets the middle arm rest” debate in a typical window-middle-aisle scenario is without question, always the passenger seated in the middle, but what about in more “complex cases” such as a 2-2 seating arrangement?

What would you have done? Has a similar “battle of the armrest” situation happened to you before? Would love to hear stories/ sound advice!


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  1. Kate says

    I am sure you did not mean anything by this.. but grouchy certainly relevant….not sure describing him as old is relevant? He certainly sounds very rude and you sound extremely restrained, but rudeness comes at all ages, babies excepted!

  2. says

    @Kate: Certainly did not mean anything personal with the “grouchy old man comment”, I was just trying to be descriptive and playful with my writing. I will remove the word old in case it should offend someone.

  3. Paul says

    Possession is 9-10ths of the law. If someone wants the armrest, they just need to claim it.

    Frankly, I’d be thankful that he’d had a bath recently and count myself very lucky!

  4. Karenc says

    Sounds like our previous conversation re: reclining seats.
    It’s shared space and while it’s hard to share half an armrest! the fact that he had aisle seat and you were the one wedged against
    The window, ..plus you are pregnant,….I eel he should have been kind and allowed you the extra space. I was on a UA flight Sunday with a super rude recliner in my lap.. but the nicest gentleman seated next to me. He allowed me the use of the shared armrest and never moved from his seat.

  5. says

    I sympathize. I am kind of tiny; I am tall, but I’m also thin, so more often than not, I find myself in the middle seat. I find that without insistence on my part (ie being more pushy), I will usually end up having to fold my hands onto my lap the whole flight. That’s okay for short distances, but *so* not okay with me for the long haul. You’re a far nicer person than I am, I would’ve confronted him about it, especially if I was extra tired and grouchy myself.

    • says

      Poor etiquette? I will probably let him get away with it. After all, it’s just etiquette. Pushing? Oh hell no. And being old doesn’t entitle him to respect. That should always be earned.

  6. Marina says

    Please put “old” back in your description. By Kate’s reasoning, you shouldn’t have said old or German or man since anyone except infants can be grouchy. Some people are far too sensitive and take offense at all kinds of ridiculous things.
    The person next to you was a selfish jerk. It’s too bad that these people exist since they make everyone’s life more difficult and tedious.

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