Galley Gossip: Elbow attacks and armrest wars (the battle continues)

Recently a friend shared a story about a woman who accused him of being an “elbow assaulter” on a flight from San Francisco to Dallas. To make a long story short, my friend is 6′ 2″ and 230 pounds. The woman who sat beside him was, in his words, not petite. During the flight he made various maneuvers in his seat to try and flatten himself against the wall to give her as much room as possible while still being able to type on his computer. Unfortunately his attempt at making himself smaller failed because the woman became upset when his right elbow accidentally made contact with her left shoulder – not once, not twice, but three (possibly four) times! God forbid.

In his blog post detailing the incident, Brian Cuban (AKA the elbow assaulter) wrote, “This was coach. Space is tight. Baby’s are going to cry. There are going to be unwelcome smells. People are going to recline their seat into your groin. Shoulders are going to occasionally touch.”

I have to agree with Brian. An airplane is public transportation. Unfortunately there is very little personal space on board and therefore anything in the armrest area is fare game for accidental contact.

Sixteen years ago when I first started flying, my roommate who was also new got called out to cover a trip as the lead flight attendant on a 767. As she got ready for the trip, we discussed all the things that could possibly go wrong in flight with her in command of the crew; oven fires, faulty hydraulics, decompressions, medical emergencies, and worse. Not once did it occur to us that an armrest could cause two passengers to come to blows! Which is what would have happened if my roommate hadn’t stepped in and assigned the armrest to one passenger for the first three hours of flight and the same armrest to the other passenger for the last half of the flight. Afterwards we laughed at how ridiculous it was that two grown men couldn’t work it out amongst themselves. Little did we know just how often we’d be summoned to settle disputes over reclined seats and claimed armrests.That said it shouldn’t come as a surprise to learn that a flight attendant had to step in and sort things out with Brian and his seatmate. The victim of the “elbow assault” was made aware that it is not a capital offense to accidentally knock into someone, even on an airplane. The FBI and Homeland Security were not called to meet the flight. And Brian was not given a parachute or ejected from the plane. When the victim realized that Brian was not going to move to another seat, a middle seat in coach (because the flight was full), she grudgingly did so herself, but not without first telling Brian off with an evil glare.

Do we all need to go back to Kindergarten and learn how to play nice?

Here’s a tip. Don’t jump to conclusions. Most people aren’t aware of what they’re doing. Take for instance the guy with the enormous backpack who keeps knocking into everyone on his way down the aisle. Let him know what’s going on and I bet he’ll be pretty apologetic – and embarrassed. It also helps to get to know the person a little better before tweeting or facebooking to the world that they’re an idiot. When asked politely, you might be surprised to find they have no problem scooting over, putting their seat back up, or stopping their kid from kicking the back of your seat. Keep in mind it’s always easier to make a request when you’ve had a friendly conversation first. This is why I try to make small talk with passengers during boarding. For the record, an evil glare is not the best form of communication. Nor is kicking back or telling someone you’re going to punch their lights out if they do it one more time. It might help to imagine you’re speaking to a long lost relative on your mother’s side of the family, not an A-hole you’ll never see again, when you find yourself in an uncomfortable situation. Most importantly, give each other the benefit of the doubt. It makes life a whole lot less stressful.

Photo courtesy of DavityDave