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We need to talk about the airplane version of manspreading

We need to talk about the airplane version of manspreading
[Photo: Andrew Scofield/Unsplash]

At long last, the airline industry is rethinking the middle seat. As Fast Company reported this week, the S1 seat configuration, which staggers the middle seat so passengers stuck in that version of airline purgatory have a little space to call their own, is coming to airplanes. After finally receiving FAA approval, the S1 layout will be installed on 50 planes of an undisclosed U.S. airline by the end of 2020.

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Until that clever redesign is rolled out, though, there are still some basic middle-seat rules that everyone needs to follow. Or rather one rule: The middle armrests are for the person in the middle seat. This is not up for debate.

If you’re flying in coach, there’s a one-in-three chance you’ll end up crammed into a middle seat, at which point you’ll have no choice but to slide into it and start fighting for your right to just exist. Most of that battle will take place on the armrests with your elbows as your only weapon.

For some reason, a lot of people sitting in the window and aisle seats—people who already have their own armrests—feel like they are also entitled to a second armrest: the ones surrounding the middle seat. This is like eating a piece of peanut-butter pie and then taking the piece of pie that the stranger next to you is eating, but worse. The person in the middle seat has nothing going for them. They can’t lean on the side of the plane. They can’t stare out the window. They can’t get up whenever they want and lurk in the aisles, especially when the person in front of them fully reclines and the poor middle-seated person ends up with a stranger’s head in their lap.

Whoever is sitting in the middle seat basically has to keep their entire body within the 17.2 inches or so allotted to them by the airline—and 17.2 inches isn’t a lot of space to exist in on your 4.5-hour flight to Dallas. The only amenities that middle-seat denizen has are armrests on either side of their seat, where they can rest their weary arms and breathe a little. Those armrests belong to them. While not specifically given to them by the airline, they are theirs by right of human decency.

Unfortunately, though, more often than not, people in the window and aisle seats don’t seem to recognize this inalienable right. Frequently, they end up sticking their bony elbows on the middle armrests and creeping into the already limited space allotted the middle seat. This is most common among men who seem to think they are automatically entitled to the extra space, or that they need the extra space lest their pecs fall off mid-flight.

These elbow spreaders have no qualms laying claim to something that is not theirs, leading to elbow wars with the advantage given to anyone who honed their skills waging battles with siblings in the backseats of station wagons. This is not right. The middle armrests are for the person in the middle seat. Please respect this rule until innovative design steps in to save us all.

The TL;DR of all this is what I shared on Twitter after a grueling elbow-led battle for the armrests on a middle-seat flight to Texas:

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