The Battle for Armrests on the Plane

Many parts of flying are predictable for me. The exit row seat. The fight to not check my bag. I was reminded this afternoon on my flight to Beijing of another classic battle: the armrest.

Suppose there are four armrests and three seats.

Three key factors:

1. Are you the first to sit down? If you sit first you will have first mover advantage.

2. Are you in the middle seat? This can either screw you or help you. In a best case scenario you get both arm rests, but this is rare. You will probably end up with one, or if you’re submissive, get none. All in all the middle seat is risky — unlike the window and aisle, you are guaranteed nothing.

3. How physically intimidating are you? Let’s face it: this makes a difference. On my flight to Dalian I had aisle seat and old Chinese woman in the middle. I got the armrest to the aisle plus the one on my other side, that technically she could have fought for. On my flight to Beijing a spry 20-something secured his armrest early and I only mustered about 20% of the armrest when he reached up to turn on his light.

It’s a jungle out there.

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