As airlines continue to shrink seats in order to maximize profit, passengers end up packed side by side, miserable and uncomfortable. Trapped in an airplane flying thousands of feet in the air for several hours can be tough. But combine this with an epic battle for the coveted armrests and you have a nightmare. Read on for some unspoken rules about claiming airplane armrests.

Middle Seat Passengers Get Dibs

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A poll conducted by Gothamist revealed that 74 percent of passengers believe the person in the middle seat is entitled to the two armrests next to them in most situations. The exception to this rule is if one of the passengers has a cast on the arm or there is a child sitting in the row of seats. The rule may also change depending on the size of the person, whether the other passenger is smaller or larger.

Why does the middle seat passenger have the right to possess the middle armrests? The answer is simple. The middle seat doesn’t have a sidewall or an aisle, making it the least comfortable. Courteous travelers relinquish the middle armrests to compensate the middle passenger for the discomfort.

Sometimes seatmates come up with a compromise by sharing the middle armrest. The middle passenger gets the back of the armrest, the most comfortable way to rest the arms. The passengers on the aisle or by the window can rest the hand or wrist at the front of the armrest.

What If Your Seatmate Refuses to Give Up the Armrest

So what happens if your fellow passenger refuses to give up an armrest even though you are in the middle seat? It’s not a good idea to turn it into an epic battle. After all, you’re flying thousands of feet in the air. So if things start to get a bit testy, call on the flight attendant immediately.

What If the Person in the Middle Is Invading Your Space

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It happens. After all, as you’re flying in that minivan in the sky, elbow room is practically non-existent and you’re getting up close and personal with your fellow travelers. Someone’s going to accidentally invade your personal space a time or two. But what if the person in the middle seat has their elbows out like chicken wings even though you aren’t invading their space? Politely mention that you don’t want the middle armrest so they can stake claim to it. If that doesn’t work, politely ask them to be aware of their elbow because it seems to be poking you. At any rate, you don’t want to come to fisticuffs over armrests and personal space. If things start to get out of hand, call the flight attendant to assist in the situation.

Respect Other People’s Personal Space

Respect is a two-way street. If you want your flight to remain peaceful and not escalate into World War III, use common sense when sitting in your seat. Skyscanner.com states that “[w]hen you purchase a seat on a plane, that’s all you’re getting.” In other words, you didn’t purchase the right to all the space around you. So don’t prop your feet on the armrests or do some other obnoxious thing that will anger your seatmates.

Flying the friendly skies isn’t so friendly when passengers don’t follow those unspoken rules of claiming armrests. Most people think that the person in the middle has the right to the armrests since they have less space than the aisle or window-seat passenger. But not everyone follows this unwritten rule, which can lead to tension and arguments. So if you find yourself sitting on the aisle or near the window, show courtesy to the middle passenger by relinquishing those highly prized middle armrests. Then hope someone extends the same courtesy if you ever find yourself in that middle seat on your next flight.