Brace yourself for a hot topic.

Airplane Flight
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Regardless of your airline, travel route, or your boarding group, every single flight has something in common: Any seats in the middle of a row are the worst ones in the house. Aisle-seat passengers have the option to stretch their legs—and those cozying up by the window get an epic view—but what about those who are squashed in the middle? Do they at least get access to both armrests? We asked a few flight attendants, and the answer is up for some big-time debate.

Flight Attendant on Plane

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For some travel pros, the answer is a no-brainer. “Let’s be real: They are getting the worst end of the stick here,” explains flight attendant Rachel L.* “The least we can do is let them use whichever or both armrests to try and have a more enjoyable flight.” In some ways, it makes a lot of sense: If aisle and window passengers gave a little something extra, giving middle seats both armrests creates an environment where everyone wins, right?

According to Ayten Nadeau, flight attendant and interior designer, it’s not that cut and dry. “Armrests are like the overhead bins,” she says. “Shared spaces that everyone wants a piece of.”

Clearly, everyone has different opinions on this hot-button issue; however, Nadeau says a little bit of jetiquette can go a long way. “Assuming the armrest is all yours can turn your friendly skies into turbulent ones,” she says. “Your seatmate might remind you they paid for their seat, as well.”

Airplane Cabin

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Both flight attendants agree that if you’re feeling a little claustrophobic in the middle seat, it’s a good idea to ask your fellow passengers to share the armrest. “Best case scenario they will let you use the whole armrest to yourself,” Rachel adds. “Worst case you have to share it, but at least you still get to enjoy a little extra elbow room!”

Even if you do get access to one or both armrests, sitting in the middle seat can still feel a little crammed. So what can be done? Rachel says it’s important to pack accordingly. “If you plan on sleeping, bringing something with you like a pillow to put on top of the tray table to help elevate your head and neck makes a huge difference,” she says. (Psst…need some recommendations? Here are some travel must-haves flight attendants swear by.)

Avocado Travel Pillow

Courtesy of Avocado

Avocado Organic Mini Pillow, $64

While you’re at it, you’ll want to think beyond your arms and be protective of your entire space. “Being assertive with your leg space is important,” Rachel notes. “We’ve all been in those situations when your fellow passenger is spreading out a little too much into your already crowded space.”

And, if the flight isn’t completely full, you can always ask an attendant if there are any available window or aisle seats. (Hey, it’s worth a shot!) However, regardless of how you make your in-flight experience a little more enjoyable, it’s important to keep it respectful.

“My biggest advice when being forced into a middle seat—or any time on an airplane honestly—is being kind, courteous, and respectful when asking your fellow passengers and crew members for anything,” Rachel says. We couldn’t have said it better ourselves!

*A pseudonym has been used.

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