Thanks To This Study, We Finally Know Who Should Get The Middle Arm Rest On A Flight

Air flight, if you think about it, is nothing short of magic. That someone figured out how to travel thousands of miles in only hours, instead of days or even weeks, has allowed normal people to see places they never would have before. It is, quite simply, a testament to human will. Except that, in reality, flying can also be an absolute nightmare, sitting on a cramped flight next to strangers who don’t understand proper flight etiquette. The screaming children, the seat backs, the freakin’ arm rests. God, the arm rests.

Ooh, I’m getting heated even thinking about the kind of monster who tries to take an armrest from a middle seat.

Turns out that I’m not just a hothead. Airplane etiquette is such a contested issue — does the middle seat get both armrests? what do you do if you have to go to the bathroom, and your seatmate is sleeping? — that British Airways surveyed travelers from the U.S., U.K., Germany, France, and Italy and took to the New York and London streets to find out what people really think about flying etiquette.

And the results are in: at least half of people are wrong.

Just kidding.

But the results are interesting.

When it comes to the all-important armrest, 2 out of 3 said that it’s polite to take one armrest and leave the other for your neighbor, and I totally agree — when talking about the aisle or the window, that is. Interestingly enough, there is not a consensus about middle seat etiquette: 47 percent of British travelers and 42 percent of American travelers believe both armrests belong to the middle seat, where “close to half of all the respondents from Italy, France and Germany politely said the middle armrests should go to whomever asks for them.”

Okay, first of all, half of survey respondents, everyone knows that the only good thing about the middle seat is that you get both armrests. Second of all, if someone asks me if they can have one of my armrests, I will…begrudgingly say yes and fume for the rest of the flight, because I am a baby who is afraid to tell people, “no.” And, to be fair, I would prefer being asked than being elbowed out of my own space, which is a crime up there with removing your socks on a flight.

Which brings us to the next hotly contested airplane behavior: 59 percent of survey respondents agree that you can remove your shoes, but 87 percent say your socks have to stay on. The other 13 percent are either rocking sandals or very, very rude.

Americans are “less likely to think removing your shoes is okay” than British respondents: only 6 in 10 Americans are cool with your kicks coming off, compared to almost 8 in 10 Brits. And if you’re seated next to an Italian traveler, make sure you keep your shoes on: 75 percent told British Airways it’s “unacceptable” to remove your shoes.

Perhaps most interesting was how respondents view chatting with seatmates. Fully 83 percent of travelers think that conversation should not go beyond greetings: a hello, a smile, and that’s it. So, what, my dad jokes are just going to die in silence? Fine, that’s fine, I guess.

What’s more interesting is the breakdown of which nations are comfortable with chatting. The survey found that “Americans have the lowest tolerance for talkative seat mates, but half of French travelers view air travel as a way to meet a new friend.” Given that Americans have a, uh, reputation for being chatty Cathys, this is surprising. I would have thought that Americans would be more willing than, say, their nervous British cousins, to talk to strangers.

But this world is full of wonders, and, as an American who spends a fair amount of time on airplanes, I can tell you that my headphones are my most essential carry-on for every flight.

The full results of the survey are illuminating and can possibly help us start building bridges between the quiet traveler in the window seat who has been fighting the urge to go to the bathroom for fear of disturbing their seatmates and the 80 percent of travelers who think it’s acceptable to wake someone in order to use the lavatory. We can make air travel a better place. Together. Through being considerate. One silly survey about armrest etiquette at a time.