After 32 years of flying I had my first verbal confrontation with a fellow airplane passenger sitting next to me. She accused me of being an “elbow assaulter” for invading her seat space. More specifically, my right elbow repeatedly made contact with her left shoulder
I was on my way back to DFW from San Francisco after a terrible day in which I totally bombed a speaking engagement. It was the last flight out. I admittedly was a little cranky. The aircraft was a Boeing 737. I was in window Seat 13A. It’s a three seat row. All three were occupied. If you have flown a 737 coach you know that it’s basically a flying bus with little leg or elbow room. Add to the mix that I am 6’2 23o lbs and she was not a petite individual. That left about 1 inch max of shoulder room to maneuver around. In that situation, it is extremely difficult to occasionally not make some type of body contact with the person sitting next to you unless you become a statute for the entire flight. I was also attempting to use my laptop which was almost impossible because the guy in front of me reclined his seat into my groin. To be clear, this was not a case of my body spilling over into her seat. She had simply taken control of the armrest to my right as she is entitled to do and had adjusted herself in a “sleeping position”. She was not sitting upright in her seat. It was physically impossible for me to sit in a normal position and type or even adjust myself occasionally without my elbow occasionally touching the part of her shoulder that was on the armrest. Sensing her annoyance, I made various maneuvers in my seat and tried to flatten myself against the bulkhead as much as humanly possible to give her as much room as possible while still being able to type.
After about the 3rd or 4th time I brushed up against her shoulder, she looked at me and firmly asked me to stay out of her seat. I calmly explained to her that I was as far up against the bulkhead as I could be. In lieu of sitting perfectly still the entire flight or in an awkward position there was nothing I could do. Our bodies were inevitably going to make contact . That was not good enough for her. She made it clear it was her seat, she had paid for it and I should cease my “elbow assault”.
The back and forth escalated to the point where I calmly but firmly told her that there was nothing I could do and she could either deal with it or call the flight attendant to be moved. I would have gladly moved but it was a full flight and there were only middle seats available. I was not going to give up my window seat to only find myself in a worse situation. 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. As I expected, the flight attendants told her there was nothing they could do but move her to another available middle seat. She was having none of that. She had paid for her seat. I was an unwelcome trespasser to be evicted by any legal or non-legal means. It was that point the attendant began to feel my pain. I saw the slight eye roll. A firmer tone took hold as she repeated told the passenger that while I may be an “elbow assaulter” it was not a capital offense. The FBI and Homeland Security would not be called to the gate and I would not be given a parachute and ejected from the plane. The passenger finally grudgingly got up, gave me a “f*ck you” glare and moved to another seat.
What is the proper etiquette here? I am a big guy but not outside the norm of people who fly. I was not spilling into her physical seat space. Ironically, two seats up from me were two guys who REALLY had space issues. They seemed to be getting along just fine. (see photo). I frankly do not see anything I could do to appease her other than moving to a middle seat which I was not going to do or flatten myself against the bulkhead and sit perfectly still the entire flight. To get some insight, I went to someone I know. Flight attendant veteran Heather Poole, who blogs about her flight experiences and allegedly has a book on the subject coming out. In her blog “Middle Seat Etiquette” she says:
- 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!
What about being tagged as a window seat “elbow assaulter” when there is no place to put the elbow but at your side? Heather? Help!
Stay tuned for episode two of “Airplane Armrest Wars”