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Who gets the armrest on a plane? Travelers seem divided on the issue

If you are unfortunate enough to get saddled with that middle seat, do you at least get the armrests?

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A United Airlines plane sits at a gate at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Arlington, Va., Nov. 23, 2022. United Airlines says that it will start boarding passengers in economy class with window seats first starting next week, a move that will speed up boarding times for flights.

Patrick Semansky, File, Associated Press

Flying can be great. It can also be stressful and uncomfortable, especially if you are sentenced to sit in the dreaded middle seat on your flight. If you are unfortunate enough to get saddled with that middle seat, do you at least get the armrests?

There are differing opinions, but some travel etiquette experts believe that the middle seat passenger deserves both armrests because of their woes.

“Since the middle is already a tough enough seat to be plopped into, if you’re being generous as a window- or aisle- seat person, you’ll give them both of the armrests.” Jess Bohorquez, founder and CEO of Points by J, a travel tips website, told CBS News.

Other travel etiquette experts such as airline analyst Timothy O’Neil-Dunne say the armrests are up for negotiation.

“The middle seat armrests belong to no one,” O’Neil-Dunne told USA Today. “It’s common space and you better treat it that way.”

A survey from travel planning site Kayak found that 57% of respondents believe “the middle seat passenger is not entitled to both armrests,” CBS News reported.

What to do if you’re in the middle seat with no armrests

If you find yourself in that cramped middle seat, and the window seat or aisle passengers at taking the armrests, one communication expert advises to “kill them with kindness,” according to The Washington Post.

“Establishing some sort of relationship is key,” Samantha Karlin, founder and CEO of leadership training organization Empower Global told the Post. “You’re trying to garner empathy from them.”

After making initial conversations, she says you could say something like “Gosh, the middle seat is awful. I’m exhausted. Do you mind if I take this armrest?”