Dear Crabby, I fly our friendly skies a lot. I mean a lot. And sometimes it’s not so friendly. My last trip I spent most of it trying to get the use of both armrests. The people on either side of me did not understand that I pretty much have earned the use of BOTH armrests since I am a frequent flyer. I almost had to contact the pilot and have one of them removed from the plane immediately. I voiced this to her and she gave in. The other one, no way was he budging. Crabby, why do parents allow their children to fly alone?
Dear Frequent, That is an outrage. We humans are a civilized species, not a bunch of damn baboons or alligators or whatever. We long ago developed standard armrest etiquette. (Wait. Alligators are a bad example; their arms are short enough that armrests are not an issue. Forget it. We’re moving on.) The rules are as follows: Window person gets window-side armrest, aisle person gets aisle-side armrest, and person in the middle gets both interior armrests. We all know being stuck in the middle is the absolute worst, and we’ve agreed as a society to mitigate that by ceding the interior armrests.
When people don’t know that rule or refuse to respect it, you have to stand up for yourself. So how do you make your case? First of all, being a frequent flyer has nothing to do with it. I’m not sure whether you’re joking about using that as an argument. I think you are, but just in case: Don’t. That will only make you sound like an entitled whiner who thinks she’s better than the other passengers.
Also, perhaps this is a good time to break for a minute and address something else about your email: You describe this whole scenario about armrests and then ask a total non sequitur of a question: “Why do parents allow their children to fly alone?” You never said either of them was a child, and nothing you said prior to that indicated age had anything to do with it. It just seemed kind of out-of-the-blue, like, “There’s my story about armrests, Crabby. So my question is, why is the pineapple juice on airplanes always so tart?”
Leaving that aside, because the armrest rule is the same whether they’re kids or adults, I think the best course of action is simply to say, “Would you mind if I used this armrest? There’s very little available space in these middle seats.” If the guy puts up a fight, which, I don’t imagine he will — what ground does he have to stand on? — then explain to him that we’re human beings living in a damn society. Impress upon him that there is a set of self-imposed rules we all tacitly agree to when we interact with strangers. Tell him it’s important that these rules are followed, because the alternative is a spiral of survival-of-the-fittest anarchy that leaves the earth scorched and makes monsters of us all.
And if that still doesn’t work, wait for the guy to get up and use the bathroom. Then steal the armrest and pour your drink in his seat.
Hope that helps.