Who Should Really Get First Dibs on the Airplane Armrest?

Mind your manners in the skies.

Airplane etiquette can be a dicey thing in the age of cattle-like close quarters, and flyer behavior that can be shockingly bad. (Who could forget the pantsless passenger, for instance — or the ponytail dangler.)

So let's make it a little better for everyone up there, one common problem at a time: Today, we tackle the matter of armrest sharing — and who should get first dibs.

The short answer? Friendly flyers will prioritize giving the access to both armrests adjacent to the middle-seat passenger to the person in that position. After all, it's kind of all the middle seat has going for it.  

Lizzie Post, the great-great-granddaughter of Emily Post, and co-host of The Awesome Etiquette Podcast, told Travel + Leisure her thoughts on the matter. “I like to have my elbows really far back," she said. "if my elbow is really far back… there’s still a whole lot of armrest for somebody else to use. I’m a big fan of splitting a difference. [But] when it’s three seats or more, allow the people in the middle to have first go at those armrests."

BBC News suggests that passengers at the aisle and window should follow suit after noting what the person in the middle does: If they fall asleep with their hands in their lap, then you can certainly go for — get your armrest on, guilt free!

Traveller.com.au echoes that concept: "If you're sitting in a window or aisle seat, the middle-seat passenger gets to put his arms down first. If there's room left over, great. If not, it belongs to the middle-seat passenger."

So yes, common decency and experts both suggest you should not touch those middle armrests unless you are in the middle seat, or that person has no intention of using them. Mystery solved.

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