Space in­vaders do bat­tle in the air

The Dallas Morning News - - Arts & Life - TRAVEL TROUBLESHO­OTER CHRISTOPHE­R EL­LIOTT chris@el­liott.org Christophe­r El­liott is a con­sumer ad­vo­cate, jour­nal­ist and co-founder of the ad­vo­cacy group Trav­el­ers United.

Asur­vey by the mar­ket re­search firm CivicS­cience finds that pas­sen­gers are deeply di­vided about per­sonal space on planes. For ex­am­ple, it re­ported that 78 per­cent of U.S. adults agree that the win­dow seat has con­trol of the win­dow shade. Only 21 per­cent of adults sur­veyed said the mid­dle seat has the right to both arm­rests; 53 per­cent said it does not. In­ter­est­ingly, of the 21 per­cent who think the mid­dle seat has the right to both, the ma­jor­ity are men. (The cor­rect an­swer in just a mo­ment.)

So how do you win the space war on a plane? The short an­swer is: You don’t. Go for a cease-fire in­stead. Many air­lines have qui­etly stripped away al­most ev­ery­thing that once came with econ­o­my­class tick­ets, in­clud­ing a gen­er­ous amount of per­sonal space, a meal, a seat reser­va­tion, a checked bag,

even a carry-on bag. That has left pas­sen­gers fight­ing for what’s left. Here’s where things stand now:

Arm­rests: They only be­long to you if you’re sit­ting in the mid­dle seat. And who wants to sit in a mid­dle seat? “The rule is, if you share an arm­rest, the per­son in the mid­dle gen­er­ally gets to use both,” says San Fran­cisco-based eti­quette con­sul­tant Lisa Grotts. “If you’re in an aisle or win­dow seat, yield to the pas­sen­ger in be­tween and be care­ful when you move your el­bows,” she adds.

Over­head lug­gage bin: That’s com­mu­nity prop­erty, but you can’t store what­ever you want in one of them. “Jack­ets and over­sized gar­ments be­long on the floor in front of the pas­sen­ger on packed flights,” says fre­quent flier Jawn Mur­ray, a tele­vi­sion host from Wash­ing­ton, D.C. “It is to­tally in­con­sid­er­ate to fill up lim­ited over­head space with bulky coats when peo­ple are try­ing to keep from check­ing their carry-on bags and need the over­head space.” Space in front of your seat: It’s yours, mostly. Air­line in­sid­ers I’ve talked to de­scribe it as a “shared” space that be­longs to you by de­fault un­til some­one leans into it. “Lean­ing your seat back should in­clude a quick ask of the per­son di­rectly be­hind you,” says fre­quent air trav­eler Michael Alexis, who reg­u­larly com­mutes

be­tween his home in New York and Bei­jing. But what comes next is a ne­go­ti­a­tion. How far back can you lean be­fore the pas­sen­ger be­hind you is wedged in? Space un­der the seat in front

of you: That’s yours, within lim­its. If your carry-on bag is so large that it pushes into the per­sonal space of the per­son in front of you, then you’ll need to ne­go­ti­ate with the pas­sen­ger in that seat.

Win­dow shade: If you’re sit­ting in the win­dow seat, you con­trol it — mostly. “For the win­dow shade, you don’t own it as much as you are re­spon­si­ble for it,” says veteran busi­ness trav­eler Jef­frey Walsh of Del­ran, N.J., who founded a so­cial net­work for trav­el­ers called Nomo FOMO. “If you are look­ing out of the win­dow and try­ing to en­joy the sun­set, then you can keep it up to en­joy. How­ever, you should take into con­sid­er­a­tion oth­ers around you.” For ex­am­ple, if you’re not look­ing out the win­dow on a long flight and the sun is low on the hori­zon, caus­ing a glare, con­sider clos­ing the shade. Also, fol­low flight at­ten­dants’ in­struc­tions. When they ask you to close the shade, do so.

These rules may seem picayune, but fre­quent fliers take them se­ri­ously. Al­though they’re of­ten un­stated, they are none­the­less en­forced by pas­sen­gers or crew mem­bers.

Tres Roeder, who runs a con­sult­ing com­pany in Cleve­land and flies of­ten, has adopted this ex­act def­i­ni­tion of per­sonal space: “It’s the space in front of you and next to you, the floor space be­neath the seat in front of you and the head space above you.” When some­one in­vades it, he doesn’t im­me­di­ately fight back but tries to ne­go­ti­ate a truce. “We’re all smashed in econ­omy class like sar­dines so we should work to­gether.”

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