Whose Armrest Is It, Anyway??

Rohit Kumar
3 min readJul 9, 2022


There is now an adult version of the game “Thumb War” that many of us played as kids.

In case you missed out on this profoundly stupid and orthopedically risky activity, here’s how you played it — you clasped your opponent’s hand but you both left your thumbs free. You then said, “One-two-three-four! I declare thumb war!” and then did everything to push down your opponent’s thumb with your thumb while he tried to do the same to yours with his. The one who managed to subjugate the other’s thumb won, of course. (Although historians’ opinion is divided on who first came up with this game, there is general consensus that it was most likely Atilla the Hun.)

I personally don’t have pleasant memories of Thumb War, possibly because the other kids I went to war with, very nearly dislocated my thumb on more than one occasion, especially Raman Gulati (not his real name). What he lacked in sensibility, he made up in size. He is a Modi bhakt today. Raman never lost a thumb war. His thumb was twice the size of everyone else’s and only a fool ever took him on. As I did. But only once.

So anyway, the adult version of this game is called “Elbow War” which you play on every … single … flight … you … ever … take.

The objective of this game, as you know, is to knock your neighbour’s elbow off the armrest and park yours there instead. As those of us who have ever flown know, this is the one space on a plane about which there is no territorial clarity.

Of course, the folk in First Class don’t care. They can put not only their elbows on their armrest, they can even dangle their legs over it if they wish. Pete’s sake, they have so much space they can do a full-on suryanamaskar in front of their seats if they want to. And no one will tell them not to. The stewardesses will simply smile at them sweetly and coo, “Great form, sir/ma’am. Thank you for flying Vistara”

Meanwhile the rest of us in Economy continue to jostle our neighbours’ elbows for armrest space. In fact, the word ‘elbow’, I am told, originally comes from ‘Hell’s Bow’ which is an apt and fitting description for the lout in the middle seat who hogs both armrests and falls soundly asleep. Incidentally, this is why you should also always wear full sleeves on a flight because God help you if are not, and the guy next to you has hairy arms!

This is also why, when I am told by passing stewardesses pushing trolleys, “Mind your elbows please,” I am tempted to say, “WHAT ELSE DO YOU THINK I’VE BEEN DOING ALL THIS TIME??”