These Are The Definitive Rules For Airplane Armrest Allocation

These Are The Definitive Rules For Airplane Armrest Allocation

You may have been hearing that as people are coming out of their COVID-induced confinement and taking once again to the skies, in-flight incidents of fights, arguments, crazy scenes and general unruly behaviour are at surprisingly high levels. While some of these are mask- and booze-related, there’s still classic in-flight conflict subjects like armrest allocation. The thing about armrest territorial disputes is that this should be a very solved problem. In case you somehow aren’t aware, I’m going to remind of of the Armrest Rules right now.

The need for this was made clear to me by a recent incident where an actual physical fight broke out because of an armrest/elbow control conflict:

Of all the things to get into a fight on a plane about, this may be the stupidest, because the rules for armrest-to-seat allocation have been long established, and every traveller should be aware of the Grand Elbow Compromise that our predecessors in the skies struggled so hard and so long to establish.

But it is established. We know what seat gets what armrests, and we know why. The reasons are not arbitrary, but rather based on sound, unyielding logic and every human’s own innate sense of basic decency.

These are the rules:

These Are The Definitive Rules For Airplane Armrest Allocation
Graphic: Jason Torchinsky

In case you can’t see the chart or are having this read to you by your valet, I’ll explain, seat by seat:


This seat gets the outside armrest only. The aisle seat enjoys free access to leave the row to use the bathroom, considerable stretching room on the aisle side, and the most open feel of the row.

The responsibilities of the aisle seat are to get up to allow your row-mates access to bathrooms or the rest of the aircraft.


This seat gets the both armrests. The centre seat has none of the benefits of the aisle or window, and as such is compensated with the use of both the armrests that border the seat.

It is generally agreed to be the worst seat in the row, and as such deserves the compensatory extra armrest.


This seat gets the wall-side armrest. The window seat has, of course, the window, which reveals the miracle of heavier-than-air flight to those who are still capable of feeling such joys, hence why it’s the most popular seat choice for children. The wall also offers valuable lean-against-to-sleep options, and a modicum of privacy, if you push your face into the wall as you have a phone call or whatever.

The downsides are you’re just as trapped as the middle seat, and you may be asked to adjust the window shade, which you really should comply with if requested reasonably.

That’s it. Those are the rules, and they are unflinching. You and your row-mates may negotiate other arrangements if so desired, including moving the inner armrests out of the way, but the Grand Armrest Compromise is the default agreement, and must always be heeded unless full consent of all three members of the row is reached.

This is the way.

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