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Dear Yanni...Who gets which armrest on an airplane?

By Yanni Poulakos
Dear Yanni...Who gets which armrest on an airplane?

In this week's column, Yanni discusses who has the right to airplane armrests and what to expect as a TSA newbie.

Dear Yanni...

Can we please set this straight once and for all — who has the right to each arm rest on an airplane? 

Sincerely, 

Territorial in Toronto

TL;DR: Give some deference to your neighbor, but also find a way to share. Don’t take a first-come, first-served approach, don’t steal an armrest when someone gets up to go to the bathroom, but do be kind.

It’s funny how particularly territorial we can become as humans when we are in the most confined of spaces, isn’t it?

This is often profoundly the case in air travel. The rush to have a seat at the gate near the boarding area, clamoring to get on the plane first, grab space in the overhead bins... But then of course there’s the armrest, oh the armrest battle.

While there are some fairly understood rules, like your personal item goes under the seat in front of you or that the window shade is the window seat person’s domain, the armrests can leave a bit of gray area. This is most often the case with middle seats. 

So, if we’re talking about armrests, let’s try and settle the score.

A lot of folks feel it’s the right of the middle seat passenger to get both armrests. Some might argue that if you’re there first it’s yours. But really, why are we all so secretly awkward about airplane territorialism and get upset when people don’t know the rules we somehow have in our heads. I’ll be honest, I will strategically avoid the middle seat to a point where I may book another flight if only middle seats remain, so I commiserate with the fact that the person in the middle doesn’t likely wish to be seated there if they are flying solo. That said, why not share? 

The fact of the matter is, plane seating has gotten a heck of a lot tighter than it used to be in economy, even as premium products have grown to sprawling suites.

So, unless we’re living the dream in business or first class, can’t we all just get along?

My approach to the armrest is to give some deference to my neighbor, but also find a way to share. A good way to do that is by perhaps keeping just your elbow at the end of the armrest, giving your seat neighbor fuller reign to lean on the rest of the armrest.

There’s also common courtesy, too. Older passengers, those who may be flying with a physical limitation or injury should always be accommodated, no questions asked.

Where I think there is also less gray area is lifting an armrest up or down. If you are seated next to someone in a tight space, the armrest provides a layer of comfort for the little personal space as a buffer. In this instance, it should be a discussion as to whether it is ok to lift an armrest. One should never assume another person is comfortable basically being snuggled up to them absent of a barrier. 

Part of the reason that we’ve gotten here can be blamed on the tight spaces of air travel, but it can also be blamed on our inability to share and have dialogues with each other. It’s ok to try and share an armrest, to have a conversation about it or to be mindful of your neighbor’s needs ahead of your own, in particular if they are in the middle seat alone. Don’t take a first-come, first-served approach, don’t steal an armrest when someone gets up to go to the bathroom, but do be kind. That’ll get you further than any plane can take you, after all.   

Dear Yanni,

I don't fly very often, but I've got a business trip coming up next month. What should I expect when going through security? 

Sincerely,

Security Shy in San Jose

TL;DR: Only bring the allotted 2 bags, keep food items separate, and try to be kind and patient.  

TSA screening is admittedly not the most fun experience for the average traveler, whether frequent or infrequent. There have been some recent changes in how TSA conducts its screening to be aware of to make your next trip a little less unpleasant. 

First, do not walk up to the TSA line with more than two bags. That’s 1 carry-on and 1 personal item. Even if you have two slim laptop bags and a rollaboard, or two mini purses and a duffel, agents are counting and 1+2 doesn’t equal 2. Jam things together for screening and feel free to sprawl out and reorganize later, but not before going through the security line. You can start undoing things when it’s time to drop stuff into the bins for the scanners.  

Second, keep certain items separated. Food items should be removed from your bag. They may not tell you this as you hear the endless loop of “remove all liquids, laptops, and shoes,” but food will often trigger a need to search a bag. To save time, take a separate bin and load up all those meals or snacks you’ve packed up for the plane ride or the destination. It saves the time from needing to rifle through your other belongings. This also applies to baby food like milk and formula. The same goes for traveling with any medication that requires refrigeration. Pack it in ice packs to assure they all remain frozen. Then, separately place them in a bin. 

Third, smile and nod and keep it moving. The TSA line isn’t the time to have a meltdown about how inefficient the system is, how you hate removing your shoes, and so on. It may be the fervent claim that agents don’t discriminate against passengers, but let’s just say that a bad mood and attitude isn’t exactly a fast track to equal opportunity. It’s annoying, but just be kind and embrace the process we must all endure.

PSA about the TSA, you still have rights, and if there is any sort of situation that you are uncomfortable with, you absolutely should make that known, and you do have the right to complain. 


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Yanni Poulakos

Yanni has had the travel bug from a young age. From traveling to over 50 countries and stints spent living in Asia, South America, Europe and the Caribbean, his insights into hacking personal and business travel are grounded in first-hand experience. As a former road warrior, he once covered every province in Italy in 6 weeks by car, served as a travel manager for dozens of colleagues across the US and Europe while leading a fundraising team, and customized exclusive travel experiences for a smattering of politicians and celebrities. No matter whether at home or on the road, Yanni stringently adheres to his approaches to nutrition and self-care, with a fervent commitment to help others do the same.

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