The Ethics of Flying Coach: Who Gets The Armrests?

Illustration: Jonathan Carlson

Ah, flying. It's certainly not as glamorous as it used to be. Indeed, as @xenijardin tweeted out, Southwest is just like the chicken bus of the sky.

But enough grousing: if we gotta fly, then we gotta fly. Endure the indignity of TSA searches (or at least have a creative fun of it), then get crammed in with hundreds of fellow sufferers flyers and, of course, sit on the tarmac for hours (or worse, toilet). But this all doesn't mean that we get to be rude (sorry, Steven Slater, the passenger didna mean it!)

No sir, civility has to be maintained. That's why we're alerting you to this article on the ethic of flying by The Wall Street Journal travel writer Scott McCartney of The Middle Seat. Starting with the ever important question of who gets the armrest:

1. You're in the middle seat, between two strangers. Who gets the armrests?

Anne Loew, veteran flight attendant: The folks in the aisle seat can lean toward the aisle, and the window-seat passenger has the window to lean on. The poor middle-seat passengers are suffering enough--they get both armrests.

Gordon Bethune, former Continental Airlines chief executive: They do.

James Vesper, frequent traveler: The middle seat gets both arm rests.

Richard Wishner, frequent traveler: You share. The bigger guy gets the forward part of the armrest.

Anna Post, etiquette expert: There is no innate winner of the arm-rest battle. If I'm in the middle seat, I try to claim one. They are not both yours for the duration.

Kirk Hanson, Santa Clara University ethics professor: Fairness requires the allocation of at least one arm rest to each traveler. Therefore, the side seats get the "outbound" armrests away from the middle seat. The middle passenger gets both armrests, in part as compensation for the dreaded middle seat.


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I like the window seat but when I have to go to the bathroom, even if I woke them up it's damn near impossible to squeeze past when the seets in front are reclined. So I just climb over them, walking across the arm rests.
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