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How to travel, part 3

Filed in: travel, Thu, May 12 2005 20:43 PT

Etiquette inside the confines of an airplane is a lost art. A time existed when the plane was a cylindrical gentlemen’s club, where rich bastards smoked stogies and pinched asses with impunity, but these days, they let just about anybody on, and you’ll need to deal with many of them in one way or another.

This is something that everyone who travels has to deal with at one point or another, something that causes an unbelievable amount of confusion and frustration. I’m talking about control of the armrests.

Nobody wants to have to fight over the armrest, and yet everyone wants a way to stake their claim, without ever actually verbally negotiating with your neighbor. I think that I’ve worked out the better part of that. Here, I present my Armrest Protocol:

  • People in the window seat must at least share their common armrest. They can lean fully against their side. The window’s outside armrest is the best candidate for concession.
  • People in the middle seat do not automatically inherit both armrests. Sorry, it doesn’t work that way. There’s a reason they don’t ask “window, middle, or aisle?” If you’re in the middle, it means that either you are traveling with someone else whose armrest you can share, you showed up later than the other two people, or you were on standby. None of these things rates you Dual Armrest Status.
  • The aisle seat has its own armrest, that’s true, but they also have to dodge the beverage cart for most of the flight. For this reason, they have a claim to at least a share of the other armrest.

From these rules, we can state that in the typical airplane setup, armrest control works, from the aisle out: aisle, aisle/middle, middle, window. However, there are some modifiers, for the sake of completion:

  • Passengers over 6’3″, or with legs long enough to touch the seat in front of them, are exempt. They’ll have to contort themselves all trip long anyway. Consider this punishment for thinking it’s a good idea to ask tall people if they play basketball.
  • Consider an optional armrest detente: the area known as the funny bone on your elbow is a very convenient armrest holder. If you can handle that, both of you will be able to rest your arms. If not, one person’s arm in front and the other toward the back is possible.
  • Laptop users don’t need armrests. They can either sit the thing in their lap, or on the tray table.
  • Touching arms is acceptable, if both of you are comfortable in each other’s hygiene and your own sexuality. Jabbing is not.
  • The only case where actual discussion is necessary is when someone’s arm has crossed the armrest to take up some of the space within your seat. At this point, it is appropriate to ask them to pay for a portion of your ticket, since they’re occupying your space.

Now, with all this in mind, you’ll have to think about whether you prefer to be in a window or an aisle. Once the thrill of looking out the window is a distant memory, this becomes a tactical decision. There are a handful of variables, such as your physical condition, bladder control, and any tendencies to having a claustrophobic frequency. For me, I take a window for anything under, say, four hours, and an aisle for anything longer. I would rather be disturbed than disturb. Especially since I rarely sleep on planes. As someone who is sensitive to the social aspects of flying, I just don’t want to wake someone up if I don’t have to. So while on the window, I can usually stay still for those four hours, provided I’m not chugging ginger ales all flight long.

Which reminds me. There are issues with drinking and distance that require consideration. Some people will advise that you drink only water during the flight. Boring. Now, I tend to avoid anything that messes with my system before or during the flight. That includes alcohol and caffeine. But this is all the free soda I can drink, dude. I’m not going to waste that. Ginger ale and Sprite are always safe. Tomato juice and V8 are substantial, and make me feel good if I have been feeling particularly unhealthy on a given trip. I avoid beer and wine on domestic trips because, aside from being alcohol, they’re also generally piss, and drinking booze from a small cup has some residual association with the keggers I went to when I was 17. It’s just not what we civilized people do.

When I’m in first, on the other hand, all bets are off. There’s something about drinking wine from a glass on an airplane that makes the eighth serving better than the first. (Don’t drink and drive, kids.)

Next time, we explore the problems you’ll deal with at your destination, starting with language barriers.

2 responses to “How to travel, part 3”

  1. very entertaining and enlightening. interestingly, when reading “touching arms is acceptable”, i couldn’t help but think back at a recent flight from paris to manchester i took back in january. my girlfriend and i didn’t get seats next to each other (due to air france badly overselling their planes, resulting in a 2 hour wait at CDG), so i ended up next to some complete stranger. thing was, though, i was absolutely knackered after extensive new year’s celebrations, and proceeded to fall asleep on this guy’s shoulder. apparently, apart from looking a tad uncomfortable, he didn’t seem to mind (my girlfriend, a few rows further up, did give him some comforting “i’m so sorry” type looks though, from what she tells me).

    maybe i should have asked him for his phone number at baggage claim? 😉

  2. Eric Meyer says:

    Now, with all this in mind, you’ll have to think about whether you prefer to be in a window or an aisle. Once the thrill of looking out the window is a distant memory, this becomes a tactical decision.

    Dude, that thrill never goes away.

    Well, not for me, anyway. I’ve been doing this for most of a decade, and I could stare out the window all the way across the United States. Now, I’ll admit that when crossing an ocean, the thrill lasts about an hour, and that only if there are interesting cloud formations or a nearby thunderstorm. There I’m totally tactical: if there’s a seat with more legroom, I’m taking it, even if there’s no window.

    Otherwise, I’m taking the window seat, and no, I’m damned well not putting my shade down so you can watch a sanitized version of “Jingle All The Way” on a screen the size of a seatback tray hanging from the ceiling four rows away. Deal.

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