A Brief Guide to Winning the War (for the Armrest)

Every ounce on an airplane is accounted for. Every ounce is expensive. Knowing this does not offer any sort of comfort when you realize there are three armrests for two people in some rows, four for three in others. Quick math and the assumption that your partners aren’t amputees yields the conclusion that at least one arm will not rest. Rather than give up and hug your corner near the window or risk being clipped by the drink cart in the aisle (worst case scenario: middle seat with two experienced, aggressive, or oversized armrest hogs), you have the option of applying one or more strategies in order to emerge victorious(ly comfortable).


Strategy One: Use the buddy system.

Ensure that you are traveling in a group of at least two and that your seats are together (bonus: choose a buddy who is timid or at least susceptible to manipulation). Then overpower your buddy for the armrest. This can be subtle. No need to go all Arnold in Commando on your buddy.

If you are very fortunate, your buddy will also be your romantic interest, and therefore sharing (or using his/her arm as an armrest) becomes a pleasant alternative (albeit constituting a “tie” in the War).

Me: Hey, aren’t I dating you?

Amy: Yup.

Me: Armrest Truce?

Amy: That’s something you made up, isn’t it?

Result: Tie.


Strategy Two: Be early.

If you get there first, you have the right to it.

Result: Win.


Strategy Three: The White Knuckler

Fear of flying may be illogical, but it is far from unbelievable. You’re in a chair in the sky, as comedian Louis C.K. likes to say. Developing a fear of air travel may be your best friend; if the battle isn’t going in your favor, i.e., you are both alone and late. The only thing that can make you feel better, yes, the only thing, is if you attach yourself to something.

Me: Hi, nice to meet you.

(Plane starts moving. Grab armrests like Bruce Lee and press head into the seat cushion. Begin to hyperventilate.)

Stranger: You okay?

Me: Yeah, yeah, yeah, I just have this…(deep breath)...flying thing.

Amy: You do?

Result: Win.


Strategy Four: Chicken

In order for this to work, you have to have the resolve to see it through no matter how long it takes or what your partner’s reaction is. It helps to have a high pain tolerance and an affinity for thriving in awkward situations. Stay the course.

Me: (Slowly make arm touch seat partner’s arm, which is currently occupying armrest)

Stranger: Umm….

Me: (Rocking out to Hadouken!)

Stranger: (Coughs)

Me: (Start moving arm against stranger’s arm, slowly and with purpose)

Stranger: (Raises eyebrows at me)

Amy: (Raises eyebrows at me)

Result: Loss (I’m bad at this one).


Strategy Five: The (Polite) Introduction

Don’t think you can pretend to be terrified of speed, heights, and recycled air for the duration of your trip? Resilience to awkwardness not your game? Why not make a friend while you’re up there? Just keep in mind that this person is not your friend: you are just trying, as the saying goes, to keep your enemy closer. And take the armrest.

Me: Hey, my name is Mitch, and this is my girlfriend, Amy.

Stranger: Hi.

Amy: Hi.

Me: (Shake his hand and then immediately take the armrest while he is shaking Amy’s arm)

Be sure to offer your hand first, and that your hand is the same one he’s got on the armrest. This way, he’ll have to move his hand to shake yours, and you’ll have an open arm to snag the platform.

Result: Overwhelming win.


Strategy Six: The (Rude) Introduction

If you absolutely do not care what your seat partner (or anyone else on the plane, for that matter) thinks about you, try this strategy. They will either ask for a new seat, cower from the armrest for the rest of the flight, or….

Me: Wanna join the mile-high club?

Result: Yes or no, it's a win.


Category: Airplanes

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