Galley Gossip: Middle Seat Etiquette

Flying back from Honolulu, I found myself crammed in a middle seat. Now I’m not a big person, just a normal sized person, and yet there I sat with my elbows held tight against my side, my hands resting in my lap, as the broken seat in front of me reclined much farther back than it should have. Oh yeah, I had a woman’s head an inch from my chest. Good thing I didn’t need anything out of my tote-bag, the one located under the seat in front of me, the one I could not reach if I so inclined. And then, if that wasn’t bad enough, things got worse, much worse.

The man sitting beside me, the one wearing the trendy dark blue designer jeans traveling with the family sitting across the aisle from him, claimed the armrest between us.

So what, you say? Wait…there’s more.

The elbow, the one attached to a very tan and muscular arm, crept over the armrest and kept on going until it found itself in my space – MY SPACE! Thank god my son, and not another adult, sat on the other side of me, so I could lean way over into the space my son did not yet prize. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and tried not to scream as I felt the faint tickle of manly arm hairs against my skin.

Middle seat etiquette, am I the only one who cares?

I’ll never forget when Cady, my best friend and old roommate, got called out to work a flight from New York to Los Angeles. This was thirteen years ago and we were on reserve and the thought of working a 767 transcon scared the heck out of us. We were new, brand spankin new, and that airplane was big, 160 passengers big! Keep in mind there were also nine flight attendants who knew exactly what they were doing, unlike the two of us, working on that gigantic bird! What made the trip even worse was that Cady had been called out to work the lead position on the 767. Cady, fresh from the charm farm, would be in charge for the next two days.

“How did it go?” I asked, practically leaping off the couch when she walked through the door after her trip the following evening.

Parking her black bag against the wall, she flopped down in front of the television on the lumpy sofa beside me. “I actually had to settle an argument between two grown men.”

I laughed. “Over what?”

“An armrest. And they actually asked to speak to the one in charge. Me!”

“What did you say?” I asked, and it was at this point I wondered if I should fetch a pen and paper to write down what she had said, just in case I found myself in the same predicament on a future flight. Hey, a flight attendant does not want to experience any unplanned emergencies.

“I just told them they had to share. One guy could use the armrest for the first half of flight and the other guy could use it the last half of the flight. What else could I say?”

Cady had a point. There was not much else to say. Share the armrest, I made a mental note.

While I have witnessed many ridiculous things aboard the airplane, I have not had the pleasure of seeing two grown men duke it out over an armrest. Fighting over a seat being reclined, yes. An overhead bin, every single flight. A first class seat upgrade, oh yeah. But an armrest, never. I’m so grateful for that.

Flash forward thirteen years and I would have loved for someone like Cady to have stomped down the aisle in a pair of black scuffed up Dansko clogs and ordered that beefy guy sitting beside me to share. Not that I would have even used the armrest if Fancy Pants had actually moved his elbow a good five inches to the left, but it would have been nice to have had at least a few arm hair free minutes flying from Honolulu to Los Angeles.

Middle seat etiquette, that’s what I spent the entire flight thinking about…

  • Leave the armrest for the middle seat passenger. The window seat passenger has the window, while the aisle seat passenger has the aisle, but the middle seat passenger has nothing, nada, zilch, so please, for the love of god, give the person in the middle seat something, anything, an armrest, please!
  • Do not hit the middle seat passenger in the head with your newspaper, even when the middle seat passenger is asleep and you are fairly sure they will not feel it.
  • Do not use the middle seat passenger’s tray table. Even if the middle seat passenger is not using it.
  • Do not put your feet under the seat in front of the middle seat passenger, no matter how long your legs are, even if the middle seat passenger is short.
  • Do not place your luggage underneath the seat in front of the middle seat passenger. The middle seat passenger has luggage, too.
  • Do not bring aboard a pet, choose an aisle or window seat, and then expect to put the pet under the middle seat because it does not fit under your seat.
  • Do not raise the armrest between you and the middle seat passenger, no matter how well you are getting along.
  • Keep your hair away from the middle seat passenger, no matter how pretty or how manly it may be.
  • Remember, middle seat passengers are people too!

As I sat there, going over the middle seat rules, that hairy arm resting a little too comfortably against mine, I flashed back to another middle seat situation I’ve experienced often – the open middle seat.

WOOHOO! I always think, whenever I see that open middle seat. I can not believe my luck. Nor can the passenger sitting on the other side of that same middle seat. I try not to get too excited, because one of two things are about to happen, and it most likely won’t be the good thing.

THE GOOD THING: The seat remains open and I enjoy a relaxing flight home.

THE BAD THING: The passenger flings their jacket or purse or stack of magazines into the empty seat, claiming the space as their own.

If the good thing happens to you, and the seat actually remains open, fantastic. You’re on a roll. Now may be the time to fly to Vegas and continue this amazing streak of luck at a table of cards. And don’t forget to take me with you.

If the bad thing happens, now is the time to act, and fast! Hurry, throw something of your own into the seat. By doing this you are letting the passenger on the other side know that this is shared space. Not their space. Shared space. Trust me, this reminder is necessary if you want the flight to continue without further incident. When the passenger pulls down the tray table and places a drink or a book on top, immediately place something of your own next to it.
What are you waiting for? DO IT!

Juvenile, you say? Whatever. Do what you want. But you may soon find a pair of bare feet rubbing against your leg. Oh it happens. It’s happened to me. Don’t let it happen you.

Do you have a horrible middle seat story to share? I’d love to hear all about it.