Flying around South Africa? Be prepared to share your armrests, says Kulula survey

Business Insider SA
(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)
  • South African passengers are "diplomatic" when it comes to the use of armrests aboard flights, says an etiquette survey by's holiday-booking platform.
  • That's probably not what already-cramped middle-seat passengers want to hear.
  • And while South African travellers believe everyone has a right to an armrest, the same isn't true for hotel coat hangers, plug adapters, bathrobes, and towels.
  • Soaps, toiletry kits, stationery, and slippers are all fair game, though.
  • For more stories go to

Most South African passengers say that seat armrests should be shared, according to a recent survey conducted by's holiday-booking platform.

It's an age-old debate among passengers and airline etiquette experts: who gets to use the armrests separating seats?

Some believe that because aisle passengers have the benefit of being able to move freely and those seated by the window have a view and space to lean, cramped middle flyers in a three-seat setup get to use the armrests. Others believe use of the armrests is on a first-seated, first-served basis.

There's no official rule, and sharing of the armrests isn't enforced or discouraged by the airline's contract of carriage.

Differing opinions can lead to awkward in-flight interactions and passive-aggressive nudges. Passengers aboard a United Airlines flight got into a physical altercation over "elbow placement" on armrests in 2021, according to SFGate. Passengers have become ruder and more unruly since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

South African flyers are more diplomatic, according to Kulula Holidays. Or put differently, most South Africans – 73% of passengers recently surveyed by Kulula on their holiday habits – "believe armrests should be shared equally among seatmates" and not be for the exclusive use of middle-seat flyers.

Others surveyed say that those armrests belong to "whoever gets there first."

"We're diplomatic in the air, too, with over 70% agreeing seat armrests should be shared equally," notes the results of Kulula Holiday's etiquette survey, which quizzed 1,200 travellers in March and February.

And while South Africans believe sharing armrests is the right thing to do, taking coat hangers, plug adapters, bathrobes, or towels from hotels is a step too far.

"Most South African travellers readily admit to slipping items into their bag before checking out of a hotel," said Kulula Holidays.

"But, in most cases, these items are harmless bathroom conveniences like soaps and toiletry kits (70%), stationery like pens and notepads (43%), and slippers (14%)."

Only two respondents admitted to taking coat hangers from their hotels, while five said they had snagged bathrobes. Almost 200 respondents – 16% of the travellers surveyed – said they didn't take any items when checking out of hotels.

Adding to South African passengers' in-flight diplomacy, Kulula Holidays found that local travellers were equally courteous. Almost 80% of respondents said that if they had broken something in their hotel room, they would "inform staff and offer to pay for it."

Get the best of our site emailed to you every weekday.

Go to the Business Insider front page for more stories.

Rand - Dollar
Rand - Pound
Rand - Euro
Rand - Aus dollar
Rand - Yen
Brent Crude
Top 40
All Share
Resource 10
Industrial 25
Financial 15
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes Iress logo