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

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

Whenever 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…
…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 has right to 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.
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?

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

  1. garydpdx says:

    Most announcements that I hear will mention to put your carry-on bags either in the overhead bin or underneath IN FRONT OF YOU. And I agree on the empty middle seat rule, although the lucky window and aisle seaters should try and share it (as long as there is a wide enough gap to extend my legs, I’m happy!).

  2. gfowler-ord-1k says:

    I once found a bag under the seat in front of me and I removed it and asked around whose it was. No one claimed it so I notified a flight attendant who promptly removed it from the plane and notified airport security. That bad did not fly on that plane.

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