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Saying No on a Plane

14 May

I travel a bit for work, maybe 4-8 flights a month, depending if I have non-stop flights or have to make a connection. That means that I have had dozens of seat neighbors of all shapes, sizes, colors, odors and states of sanity.

I recently took an early morning cross-country flight from Boston to LAX and maneuvered my seat assignment in coach to an aisle seat on the right side of the plane, half way back. In January, I had ACL surgery on my left knee and feel comforted when I can stretch my sometimes achy or stiff knee out into the aisle. I put my bag in the overhead compartment and pulled into my row, standing, waiting for my seat neighbors to arrive. Soon enough a middle-aged woman appeared and asked not so politely, if I would move to her assigned aisle seat on the left side of the plane, six rows back.

Here is where it gets tricky. Most people I have observed on a plane, who are asked to move a seat, half-heartedly agree and shuffle out-of-the-way to their new seat without complaint. Are we expected to say yes regardless?  Most people agree because they don’t want to raise a stink with a stranger. Afterall, we Americans fear confrontation on a personal level, generally speaking. If a new mom with an infant needs some extra room or a pregnant woman asks, my answer is “No problem. Can I help you with your bags?”

The issue I had was that the lady who requested that I relinquish my seat was neither pregnant, nor did she have toddler in tow. She did not have any discernible ailment that would prohibit her from sitting in her original seat. In fact, she told me that “THEY” (the airline) split up she and her partner and they wanted to sit together. I thought to myself that this was her problem and she should have booked the two tickets together on the same reservation almost assuring they would be able to sit next to each other.

I looked back to where the lady’s seat was and saw a cluster of 52 15 year olds who, I found out later, were traveling to LA for a conference. Their two chaperones were sitting just a couple of rows ahead of me. After having woken in the four o’clock hour to get to the airport in time, I was not in the mood to get little sleep on the nearly six-hour flight listening to the constant gab of teenagers, not that I have a problem with teenagers, just 52 of them in a cramped airplane cabin for six hours on little sleep, isn’t ideal.

I told the lady “No, I would not move at this time to her seat” and only felt a pang of guilt for two milliseconds. She returned a big harumph. Luckily for her, one of the teenagers, who was assigned the window seat, arrived. The lady asked her to switch to the aisle. Shockingly, the blond teenager flatly said no also stating she was comfortable in the window seat. It wasn’t until one of the chaperone’s encouraged the youth to move did she shuffle down the aisle to her new seat, leaving me with two middle-aged women as seat neighbors who were now upset at me, not that I cared much.

Some questions to think about: Do we have to move seats when asked assuming there is no physical ailment or mitigating circumstances? Should we feel uncomfortable saying no to a stranger? Should we feel guilty when we DO say no? Do I have to tell this stranger why I said no and provide a reason why I don’t want to spend six hours in her original seat?

Say NO and put on your noise-cancelling headphones and don’t think twice about refusing to move seats, unless you’re a cold-hearted bastard who won’t move for a pregnant woman or family with toddlers.

I know the day will come when I ask someone to move for some inane reason and they will have the personal strength to say no to me. Until then, just say no, unless they offer something better, or cash!

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