Who is Entitled to Use the Space Under the Seat In Front of You?

W henever I travel, I usually have one bag which I carry aboard the aircraft. I usually place it in the overhead storage bin above my seat so that I may relax in my seat and stretch my legs.

Yes — I can even usually do this in a seat in the economy class cabin; although it seems to be increasingly difficult lately…

…but there are times where the person seated in front of me will store his or her belongings under his or her seat, inhibiting what I interpret as leg room for me.

Apparently, I am not the only one to which this has happened — which leads to the question: who is entitled to use the space under the seat in front of you?

Who is Entitled to Use the Space Under the Seat in Front of You?

For example, finding a laptop computer already in the space under the seat in front of FlyerTalk member lemfc, a complaint led to the flight attendant taking the bag belonging to lemfc and storing it in the overhead storage bin while leaving alone the laptop, which belonged to a passenger seated across the aisle.

“People put big stuff like bags down in the seat in front of them…and in front of you”, explained FlyerTalk member richard. “It crowds you. I have long legs and I don’t like this. It is always awkward because I don’t want to have an argument or a bad word with someone who I will be sitting next to for hours. But I don’t think this is very considerate, either. I do say something and will insist that they move the object if necessary, but I don’t like to have to bring this up.”

What if a passenger stores an item in the seat in front of you — but that passenger is assigned to a seat in a different cabin?

How about if your seat mate takes pity on a passenger who has no place to store his or her bag, so she takes her duffel bag out of the overhead storage bin to give that passenger room — and then stores that duffel bag under the seat in front of you without asking? Would your opinion change if that seat mate was an executive for the airline and “scoring points” for the airline?

The debate about who is entitled to use the space under the seat in front of you has been around longer than the existence of FlyerTalk. “What if you were seated behind the bulkhead row and a passenger seated in the bulkhead decided to put their personal items under his/her seat, let’s say, the space under the seat in front of you”, asked FlyerTalk member AusTXHiker back on December 11, 1998. “Although it irritates me when bulkhead passengers do this (only if there is no space in the overhead bins), I just keep quiet because there is really no set rule on whose items should go in that space.”

Should you keep quiet if this happens to you?

Here is an interesting question: let us say that you are one of two people seated in a row of three seats. The middle seat is empty. Who should be able to use the seat in front of the middle seat for storage of a briefcase or a piece of luggage?

Apparently nobody, according to an experience imparted by FlyerTalk member Cyba: “Place your carry-on under the seat in front of you…but not under the seat in front of the seat next to you. Apparently that’s the rule. My row was empty so I tried to stow my computer bag under the middle seat but was told I wasn’t allowed to: the bag had to be under the seat in front.”

I personally never heard of that one; nor do I recall knowing of the requirement of some airlines that you cannot place your bag under the seat in front of you if you are seated in a row with access to an emergency exit — but as I wrote earlier: I almost always place my bag in the overhead storage bin anyway, so that rule would not affect me.

If there is no space available for your bag aboard the aircraft, you apparently are not allowed to store it under one of the seats in the very last row of the aircraft.

Unfortunately, space aboard an airplane has become a sort of commodity ever since airlines started charging a plethora of fees for checking your bags — something I eschewed doing even when there was no ancillary fee for that “benefit.”

Of course, you can always “wear” your baggage aboard the aircraft — but even then, you still need a place to store it once you arrive at your assigned seat.

Summary

Here is the way I see it — and I am not saying that I am correct — but the space under the seat in front of me belongs to me for as long as I am assigned that seat. The reason is that that space is designed for leg room — after all, I cannot store my legs in the overhead storage bin; I cannot put them in the space under my own seat; and I certainly cannot place them out the window or in the aisle where flight attendants and fellow passengers can constantly trip over them.

If there is a space under the middle seat in front of an unoccupied seat, the first person who claims it keeps it — although negotiations are always possible if a conflict arises where both passengers need to have a place to store belongings…

…but my experience suggests that unless that unoccupied middle seat is the only one — or one of the only few — within the airplane, there usually should be space available in an overhead storage bin, as the unoccupied seats might be an indication that the flight is not full of passengers and therefore there should be space available for belongings.

One of the main reasons I avoid a seat located in a bulkhead row is that there is no storage space in front because there is usually no seat in front of that seat; and the overhead storage bin is often occupied with belongings of the flight crew or with items stored in the unlikely event of an emergency — not to mention that leg room is usually limited for me in a bulkhead seat.

Am I incorrect? What are your thoughts about who is entitled to use the space under the seat in front of the seat to which you are assigned?

Who is entitled to use the space underneath the seat to which you have been assigned? Photograph ©2013 by Brian Cohen.

17 thoughts on “Who is Entitled to Use the Space Under the Seat In Front of You?”

  1. Darlene says:

    So my 2 cents – and pet peeves – Being on the flight early, a plenty of overhead room and a passenger sitting in the boons puts their item in the front bins…no bueno.
    A passenger sitting in front of you placing items under their seat – no bueno – that is not their space, their space is in front of them.
    The middle empty space – depends, some of these newer planes have really taken away leg space in some of the aisle or window seats…..use it if needed, but not just because….keep the peace!

  2. Gizmosdad says:

    1. This is why I think bulkhead passengers should be given high priority in the boarding process — so that they can claim the overhead room for their items.
    2. I agree with the logic that where my feet go is space that I’ve paid for, and I can choose to either put my feet there or my carry-on there.
    3. If I find myself where there is an empty seat next to me, I will encroach my bag into that area — but if there’s someone that could also claim that area (e.g. I’m window, he’s aisle, and there’s an empty middle), I will strike up a conversation with Mr. Aisle asking if it’s ok that my bag is there. I would say 99% of the time it’s ok, and they appreciate me offering to move my bag if they want me to.

  3. Ryan says:

    I’m not sure why this is a debate. When they announce over the intercom regarding storing your luggage, they clearly stay “in the overhead bins or under the seat in front of you”. They don’t say the seat next to you, or two rows up, or the seat that you are sitting on. It is the seat in front of you (where your feet go). That is my space, for my feet or bag, not yours. If middle seat is open between two people, make nice and work it out.

  4. Jim says:

    What also ticks me off is when I only travel with my laptop backpack (which is rather big) and someone asks me if I could put it under the seat in front of me or they decide to voluntarily move my bag for their carry-on suitcase. I value my legroom, so they can go gate check their bag. If they decide to move my bag, I will move theirs to the last row.

  5. TM says:

    My husband is 6’3′ so I can sympathize. When I only travel with my 6 and/or 8 year old, I offer my kids’ leg room to tall men since my kid is usually in the middle and won’t need the legroom. I’m 5’3 and have plenty of legroom even if I put something in front of me.

  6. Feet says:

    If they want to store their items in my feet rest area (ie under my seat), i will not bother if my feet or shoes step on their items.

    They wanted to act stupid, they can deal with my feet. If they wish to complain.. they will come out looking more idiotic. I have seen idiots putting things under their seat (ie my feet area), so that they can stretch their feet in front (under the front passenger’s seat). So i shld stretch my feet too, as they do not care about their items.

    If people can put others items under ur front rest, they can also put anything on your seat (and belt up).

  7. Gene says:

    There is nothing to discuss here. NO ONE PUTS THEIR CRAP UNDER MY SEAT.

  8. Gene says:

    Oops…under the seat in front of me… 🙂

  9. MG says:

    MG calls flight attendant: “Excuse me, I think someone from the last flight left something under the seat here (pointing at bag under seat in front of me).”

  10. Jannis says:

    I’ve never encountered a situation in which I’d find someone else’s bag under the seat in front of me, but if I did I would definitely have whoever it would belong to remove it. As you say, that space belongs to me and nobody else.

    Regarding the middle seat, I usually only have my laptop bag under the seat. Sometimes I don’t bother or I put it upright under the middle-seat, leaning against the seat in front of me. That way, It’s not in my way while still allowing the other person in my row to use the space as well.

  11. Captain Kirk says:

    You are. You are entitled to that space, it’s where your feet go. If you bring on a bag and decide not to put it in a bin then it goes under the seat in front of you where your feet go. You either store more of your crap or you have space for your feet. It certainly doesn’t go under your own seat so you can keep your leg room and steal the foot space from the person behind you.

  12. Blind Squirrel says:

    Brian,
    I guess most of the posters on here are more civil than I am…I guess. At least from their words though perhaps their civility is only exceeded by their humility. Knowing me as you do, I wouldn’t hesitate to raise the WTF flag. Maybe even take a Socratic approach along the lines of “you’re kidding me right?” There is no dispute. No argument. No question. The space for my feet is my space. If it’s occupied by an inconsiderate fellow flyer, I wouldn’t hesitate to make sure the whole plane was aware of his/her breech of etiquette. If it got physical from there, well, like I said, you know me. I wouldn’t hesitate to go from Teddy to Grizzly to keep my space my space.

    Blind Squirrel

  13. Craig says:

    I had this happen to me, on my honeymoon no less. I had my feet in front of me and my bag up top. The guy in front of me, traveling with his wife and kids, finished his beer, crushed the can and threw it under his seat onto my shoes and my book. I kicked the can under the front bar out by his feet. Passive aggressive I know but I wasn’t sure that it wasn’t an accident in some way. When he stepped on it a few minutes later and threw it back under his seat I leaned forward and pointed out that it was my space not his and his trash didn’t belong there. He turned to look at me for a second then threw it under the seat in front of him to slosh Miller Lite backwash on his own shoes. We were on the same connecting flight too and I sat in front of him. I didn’t retaliate in any way. The book still bears the evidence.

  14. Sussn says:

    You can bet that if someone places an item under their seat (“my” space), it will moved around by my feet, and may not be so easily retrievable at the end of the flight. I may use it as a foot, or a a place to wipe my feet, for example. Don’t be invading my personal space.

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      There are people who erroneously believe that that space is for their use, Sussn — and they are typically not knowledgeable about the protocols and etiquette of travel in general.

      I would first ask the passenger if he or she could move his or her belongings, giving him or her the benefit of the doubt. If that does not work, perhaps alerting a member of the flight crew of the situation would be the appropriate next step…

      …but if all else fails, then all bets are off…

  15. Keith says:

    Just got off the plane today, after a 7-hour flight, and this is the first time I’ve had a bad word with a fellow passenger. I hate awkward confrontations, and I’ve flown more times than I remember. If I do remember correctly, some airlines I’ve flown on gave the instruction that “all hand-carry baggage has to be stored in the overhead compartment or UNDER YOUR SEAT.” Now I could be mistaken about this – though I don’t think I am due to the number of plane rides I’ve been on – and I certainly personally do not like to store anything under any seats, so all my carry-ons go into the overhead. No one bothers me and I don’t bother anyone. I must admit though, since we’re on this issue, it makes more sense even to me to stick the baggage under the seat IN FRONT OF US if we really have to, even though as mentioned I always store them overhead. But my wife, being a woman, carries her hand bag around. A week ago, we were in bulkhead seats and she threw her hand bag on the floor in front of her. The flight attendant told her to put that handbag UNDER HER SEAT, and she complied. So therefore I was always of the opinion that carry-ons are always to be stuck under YOUR OWN SEAT instead of under the seat of the guy in front. Today it became an issue for me because we were in bulkheads again and I stuck my soft walking shoes under my own seat, only to be told off by the passenger behind. To clarify the matter, I called the stewardess, who then told me I could put my shoes anywhere in front of me, and my wife can do the same with her handbag, even during take off and landing! Have they changed the rules recently? Needless to say, I was left embarrassed, flabbergasted, schooled. To add salt to the wound, that fellow passenger had to repeat it aloud that carry ons are to be chucked under the seat IN FRONT.

    Lesson learned. All carry ons into the overheads as before.

  16. Ron S says:

    I have a related issue. I like to stretch out my legs because of some orthopedic discomfort. Sore knee and back. Not serious, but uncomfortable on a long flight if I can’t. On several flights, the person in front of me has moved their feet into what I believe to be my space, hitting my feet. It becomes the equivalent of the battle over the arm rest.
    I know my feet aren’t protruding all the way to the front of the seat in front, and I never go past any bar or other obstruction under the forward seat.
    I believe that the space under the seat in front of me is for my use, not anyone else’s.
    Which brings an interesting question. What is the contract with the airline when we purchase a ticket? Is it for space or only for a guarantee of being delivered to a destination?

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