Armrest Wars

Anyone who has ever been to a movie theater or on an airplane has done it at least once.  You know you have, you just won't willingly admit it in public, right?  What's that, you ask?  

... No no no, not that!  Come on, keep it clean!  This is a PG-rated blog, after all.  I'm talking about how we have all fought over control of the armrest at one time or another.

As personal space in public places--particularly on airplanes--continues to decrease, it's obvious that the traveling public has gotten progressively more serious about elusive control of the all-important armrest.  Afterall, he who controls the armrest controls the comfort.

I'm guessing that if we took a straw poll, most everyone would say that when they purchase a ticket somewhere, they expect that they are puchasing usage of a seat and a couple armrests, not half an armrest.  Yet there just ain't enough armrests to go around.  

I used to feel kind of sorry for the guy in the middle seat when I was lucky enough to be on either side.  Afterall, he can't really lean away at all (thus the reason I prefer window seats).  But as airlines have squeezed more of the unwashed, overweight public into ever smaller stalls on planes, I find now that feeling is now often fleeting.  Just like you, I'm fighting for every inch I can get, and I'm not ashamed to admit it.  The key is in how suave you can be about it.  And so, as we're quietly pretending to read our books and papers, the real-world chess match is always underway, from the second we size one another up at boarding time.  

First, reconnaissance.  We observe the boarding area for any types that we need to start willing to sit as far away from us as possible.  Usually this involves yelling, crying kids whose parents say things like "it's just a phase" or some guy whose hygenic aroma can be shared from 5-10 feet away.  Or there's the guy who's talking SOOOO loudly on his cell phone about how awesome he is, usually with a number of choice expletives.  Or there's my personal favorite, Mr I'm-sick-and-shooting-snotballs-but-still-gotta-fly.  Oh yeah, we ALL want to sit next to you!  

And so we all start silently hoping we'll be lucky enough to sit somewhere in between these folks. 

Then the charade continues with the NASCAR-derived boarding process (and no, Southwest airlines isn't the worst.  In fact, I think their boarding process is actually better than the other guys now).  Most of us are just waiting to lunge at the gate agent the second our number is called to board.  After all, if we don't get on first, there won't be any room in the overheads, thanks to the brilliant pay-for-all-checked-baggage plan we all now enjoy.  If you're not first, you're potentially really up a creek trying to find a place to put your carryons.  I can't stand it when I have to put my bag 5 rows behind where I sit, because it's easier for a salmon swimming up stream to spawn than it is for me to retrieve my bag after landing.  

Often, people will make up a reason to board first.  I used to chuckle when I'd see a guy traveling with his 10 year-old daughter, who thought he needed extra time down the jetway and thus needed to board first.  Right, dude.  My favorite is the "oh, I wasn't paying attention" guise where some last-row-to-board guy gets in with the first group, acting like he doesn't know what he's doing until he's in front of the agent.  Sure, we all believe you, buddy. 

A friend told me recently that he prefers to NOT board in the first group on Southwest, since it's open seating.  He'd much rather board in the second group, so that he can size up where all the nut jobs have elected to sit and then choose his location more strategically.  It's really funny how we all strain to control what little parts we can, in a place where we are most certainly not in control.

Then, once we're finally settled into our seats, the game begins in earnest.  He shifts ever so slightly while feigning to read a magazine, and his arm moves over just a fraction.  I then adjust my recline and press my elbow back on the armrest casually, indicating that I'm not yet ready to cede the victory.  Turning pages on a newspaper is often an exercise in seeing just how far the other guy is willing to go...

Back and forth we go, sometimes for the duration of the flight.  But occasionally there is a great equalizer: bathroom breaks.  Everyone gets up and does their business.  Then we come back and reset for the next round, having leveled the odds.  I've even observed on some flights where this game includes the dimension of floorspace.  People will sometimes declare the space under their seats to be in their possession as well.  Yup.  Or, even worse is the guy who thinks he can sit with knees spread, awkwardly touching his legs to mine.  Oooohhhhh, the mere thought sends shivers.  Yuck.  Those guys are certainly the pros.  They know just how to maximize their space.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not a sadist by any means.  We all need our comfort.  And we all come in different sizes.  But I'm certainly glad that armrest is there.  It's a sort of clear property line that normally keeps most parts of the guy next to me in their rightful spots.  I can't remember the last time I traveled with someone I didn't know and permitted the armrest to remain up.  Gross!  Not happening.  Anyone who's traveled lots has at one time or another had a miserable flight experience of being next to a guy who doesn't really fit in his seat, and thus declares that 20% of your seat will serve as his overflow.  Not fair.  I could barely walk after 3 1/2 hours when that happened to me.  I was so glad when the airlines decided he needed to pay for two seats if he occupied them.  Yay for the little guy!  Boo for seatbelt extensions.

So all of you up there in your elitist first class, I hope you're enjoying your legroom. But more importantly, I hope you also enjoy that your armrest is more than 1.5 inches wide!


Jolayne said…
I suppose it is akin to fighting over who gets to use MY computer at home.
Ryan said…
You mean not everyone boards first with their platinum status, sits down in World Business Class as the stewardess brings drinks and takes your coat?

(Of course, then you have the 17 hours in the air to deal with...)
Lori said…
Chris, I like how you write too. It's a good written voice. It sounds like you when you speak- but more literary; just the right changes are made to take your thoughts and turn them into a piece of writing. I'm just glad you blog in general.

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