There's a lot of talk about shared armrests, which sounds unhandy, but makes sense if you think about your elbow resting on the rear of the armrest while your fellow passenger’s forearm is at the front.
You booked up a last-minute flight, and the only seat you could score was the middle seat. You have a six-hour flight to go, and you have well-built passengers on both sides. You also have some very narrow padded seats and the armrests are almost non-existent given the no-frill airline’s focus on weight reduction. How do you go about this flight is anyone’s guess?
While there is no published guideline about who gets the armrest, common etiquette says the arm rests on the middle seats go to the passengers in the middle seat. This is purely for the simple reason that while the passenger with the window seat gets the sidewall to rest against and the passenger on the aisle has the freedom to get out whenever he wants to, the passenger in the middle has no other privilege.
However, while most passengers agree that the middle-seat passengers should get the armrests, they don’t give it away so easy. In this case, what usually happens is a fight for the armrest, but what should happen is a small conversation between the passengers, where they agree to share the armrest.
Unfortunately, this is the only way to go about this till the middle-seat design is changed. Various seat manufacturers are working on making the middle-seat better. For instance, a design on the market from Acro Aircraft Seating is trying to give more seat width to the middle-seat passengers. Another seat design is offering, what is called the PaperClip design, where all passengers will get to comfortably rest their arms, with a two-tier armrest. No takers for this patented design, however, so far.
Another popular take, which hopefully will see the light of day someday is staggered seating. A Colorado-based company, Molon Labe Seating, is trying exactly this. Their FAA-approved S1 seat allows for the middle-seat to be offset by a couple of inches from the window and aisle seats, which makes it more comfortable for everyone. Because no-one rubs shoulder blades now, the conflict is lesser and everyone gets some amount of armrest space on this new seat, which is set up in two different height levels for the two different passengers. They claim that an airline in the West has already signed them up for this product and will be fitting it out on 50 of their aircraft.
Of course, there is a lot more happening in the world of passenger experience, but till the time the airlines come around to making the middle seat better, let’s remember the cardinal rule, which is about the middle-seat passenger getting both the armrests.
Ajay Awtaney is a business travel & aviation journalist based in Mumbai, and the founder of the Indian frequent-traveller website Live From A Lounge (www.livefromalounge.com.) Ajay flies over 200,000 miles every year, and tweets about The Business of Travel at @LiveFromALounge.
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