Am I Wrong About Under Seat Storage In Domestic First Class?

Given, this is not really a “problem” so to speak, in that many folks never get to sit up front when they fly. I get that chance quite frequently and it makes the drain of frequent travel a bit less draining.

For those that aren’t familiar, in a standard domestic first class configuration on a narrow- body jet, there are generally 3 storage areas under the seat in front of you. There’s a “full-size” storage are in front of the window seat and another “full-size” storage area directly next to that one. Closest to the aisle is another under seat storage area, but it’s generally only 2/3 as wide as the other two areas. As an exception, in some planes, like the MD-80s in the American Airlines fleet, instead of two equally sized storage areas there’s one large area for the two passengers to split, then that smaller area. All of these areas are usually separated by the legs of the seat in front of you.

After literally hundreds of flights, I’ve always operated under the impression that when there are two sections under the seat in front of equal size, one is for the window seat passenger, the other for the aisle. The “bonus” of that aisle seat is that extra space, though it’s generally not big enough to fit any bag I travel with (a standard backpack usually won’t fit).

On a recent flight I boarded the window passenger had already boarded and put his bag in the middle section, the full-size section closest to me. I politely noted to him that the under seat section his bag occupied was generally for the passenger sitting in the aisle seat and that the one directly in front of his seat was his.

He wasn’t in a very polite mood and told me his bag wouldn’t fit there. I mentioned that the spaces were essentially the same size and I pointed to the smaller section in front of my seat and noted my bag didn’t fit there even though my bag was smaller than his. I also noted that it had long been my understanding that his bag belonged in the space in front of his seat.

He said he’d never heard of that and suggested in a not so polite manner that my bag would fit in the overhead bin.

There’s no question there was a time I would have either stood on principle or picked a fight here, but hundreds of thousands of miles in metal tubes have numbed me a bit. Not to mention, folks are a bit more testy when they fly nowadays.

I’m curious to hear your opinion. Am I wrong in my understanding of who claims what under the seat in front of you?

About the Author

My goal in life is to fill my family’s passports with stamps, creating buckets of memories along the way. You’ll find me writing about realistic ways for normal people to travel the world, whether you’re on a budget or enjoy luxury. I also enjoy taking us on the occasional detour to explore the inner workings of the travel industry.

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16 Comments

  1. Not knowing that the spaces were different sizes I would think you put your bag in front of you. If it doesn’t fit that’s your problem. Put it overhead.

  2. First come first serve but in reality I put most everything I can in the overhead so don’t lose legroom.

  3. Hi Ed,

    No, you aren’t wrong about the under seat space in front of your seat. Each person should use the under seat space directly in front of them. However, for the under seat space in the middle, I’d say it’s first come, first served.

  4. Never heard of that “understanding” – and I’ve been regularly flying in first for 15 years. I’ve used it in both seats but I’ve always asked, since I’ve assumed it’s shared space (and it just seems polite).

  5. I have always assumed that the middle space was shared and “first come first served”. Even though every first class flight I’ve been on has the tiniest space for the aisle passenger.

  6. I’m not part of the billion miler club by any means, and I’ve done very little narrowbody premium class travel, but my experiences are always FCFS for “shared” space like that. I’m not sure how “not so polite” he was being, but it sounds like he felt like he was just as entitled to use the space for the same reasons you wanted it. My personal opinion is that he was right to feel as such, based on the fact he beat you down the jetway. I don’t think you were wrong to ask, but becoming insistent on the point was a bit much.

    1. Andy, I was definitely far from insistent. I might have been more so but I had other things on my mind. It just struck me interesting that he was as insistent as he was and I was curious what others thought. Not the sort of question that normally comes up in the lunch room, you know. 🙂

  7. The middle section is shared space, since sharing is caring. Granted, it depends how comfortable you feel about your bag touching the other person’s bag.

    1. Ptahcha, when there’s 3 sections, I’ve always felt like the two sections of equal size are to be equally divided, one for each. It’s just that one is not wholly in front of the aisle seat. 🙂

  8. To me.., we buy a ticket to fly from point A to B. All those spaces belong to the airline, Not us. We do NOT own them. They’re there for us to share and use. so first come first serve is the key. Fighting over little things like that is NOT worth. worst case you may even get kicked off of the plane. So board early, or put your stuff where space is available. Smile and go with that…
    Sorry, it’s just my 2 cents. I always try my best NOT to step on anybody’s toes and enjoy my flight, my vacation… and hope no one steps over me too.

    1. Fred, I try not to step on toes, either. Hence the reason I didn’t want to make a big deal of it.

  9. Interesting. I, too, have always thought that space was shared space, however, it makes sense that if you are unable to fit your bag in the smaller space in front of you…and he had nothing in the space where his feet are supposed to go, then he should have given up the space out of common courtesy. It only takes a moment to assess another’s situation. I know you and know that you wouldn’t have been carrying an oversized roller board….so, I think he was a little discourteous. I may have dropped my bag on him while attempting to fit it in the overhead bin [not really 😉 .

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