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Thursday, September 4, 2014

The NOT so friendly skies: Flying to Puerto Rico with Mr. Fidget

It’s the topic everyone is talking about and has been in the news multiple times recently, so it’s as good a time as any to share my own crazy airline seat story. I’ve been meaning to write about this for a long time, but now seems to be the perfect opportunity in light of recent events.

My crazy airline seat story happened on an early morning flight from Dulles to San Juan, Puerto Rico. Weeks before, my sister, Lisa, and I decided to take a short trip on President’s Day weekend, and were looking forward to a few days in the sun to break up the winter weather in DC. Little did I know what was in store for me on that flight.

We arrive early that morning for our 7:55 a.m. take off, and we were very happy and excited to be on our way to sunny Puerto Rico! We’d been anticipating this trip for weeks. When they announced they were boarding the plane, Lisa told me she wanted to go to the bathroom before we boarded. I told her to go on ahead and I would see her in our seats.

We had specifically requested the window seat for her, and I would be in the middle seat. No biggie. I am a very low maintenance flyer, with lots of experience traveling by air. I was surprised by how full the plane was for that time of day, but nothing was going to ruin my excitement. So I thought. 

I was sitting in the middle seat, waiting for Lisa to arrive, when a very tall man sat down in the aisle seat next to me. He was with his wife and two children. The wife and kids were seated in the row directly across from him. I will note that he was quite tall, but having traveled many, many times in the past, I’ve been seated next to people of all sizes and dimensions. 

Whenever I fly, I always put my seat arm down when seated next to people I don’t know. That’s my own way of having a little boundary between the other person and me. I don’t think it is rude or unfriendly to want to have some personal space, which by the way I paid for. So when this man sat down and started getting himself situated, I realized for the first time in my flying experience, we were going to have some issues. 

You can tell when a person has no regard for others by their body language and demeanor. This man, I will call him Mr. Fidget, sat in the seat and immediately started re-arranging himself and thrashing about in the seat. He seemed surprised by how little room he had. I don’t know if he was an inexperienced traveler, or if he was used to sitting in first class, but he was elbowing me and shifting around with no regard to my personal space. I was patient, and was only focused on the great trip ahead of me. Mr. Fidget finally got comfortable when he spread his legs out in a splayed fashion, literally pushing my legs over to the side. 

Airline seats are aligned in a very obvious way. If you look straight ahead in the seat in front of you, there is a tray that is about the width of the seat. When the person in front of you reclines, it can be problematic and seriously impact your space allocation. BUT, there is no rule against it, OR the seat recline would be disabled. As with the cases that have surfaced in the news recently, the person who has the issue with the reclined seat needs to accept their fate and suffer in dignified silence. Every ticket-holder on an airplane has a FINITE amount of space for which they are entitled during the flight. 

If they are unable, or unwilling to accept that, they should find another mode of transportation. If you are excessively wide or tall, you WILL have problems. You should make arrangements beforehand if this is going to be a big issue, but DO NOT assume the people who paid for their seats are going to accommodate your dreams and desires.  That isn’t their job. EVERYONE aboard the aircraft needs to understand this sacred pact before they board. The person sitting in front of you, or next to you, is not your mommy and they don’t owe you a single thing. But I digress. Back to the story…

I gave Mr. Fidget about two minutes to correct himself before I spoke. I chose my words very carefully, and spoke softly, but deliberately- “Excuse me, but can you move your leg back over to your side? You are in my space.”   

What happened next is the stuff of which legends are made.

“No, my legs are too long.” He stated. 


“Excuse me? Did you say, No? You need to move your leg back over to your side of the seat. You are clearly in my space. I paid for this seat, and you are not entitled to have your legs on mine.”
He said, “Oh, this is going to be a great flight! You’re in a great mood. Why are you being a bitch this early in the morning?”

STOP THE PRESSES.  This really happened. This man called me a bitch, in front of his wife and children, because I wasn’t willing to give up my space for his long legs.  So I replied, “I happen to be in a GREAT mood this morning, or I was until you decided to throw a hissy fit because you can’t fit in the seat to your satisfaction. I have a good idea, why don’t you trade places with your wife. She can sit next to me and you can sit with your kids.”  
SILENCE. Not a word from Mrs. Fidget or the kids. Guess what? THEY don’t want to sit next to him for the next four hours EITHER!

At this point in the conversation, my sister comes up to the seat. She sees my face, and knows something is NOT right. Mr. Fidget has to get up to let her through. She whispers to me, “What’s going on?”  To which I reply, “I’ll tell you in a minute.” 

 At that point, he has to go through the entire process of situating himself AGAIN. Have I mentioned it is about 7:45 in the morning? BUT, this time I am NOT moving my leg out of the way, and I am SOLIDLY situated in my seat with the arm rest down. He is huffing, puffing, fidgeting and cursing under his breath. That’s fine, Mr. Fidget- I think to myself. FIDGET AWAY. Fidget yourself through the entire flight. Lisa and I are NOT going to let you ruin our trip!

Now Mr. Fidget turns to me and says, “I’m going to call the flight attendant.”  Go ahead, Mr. Fidget, I think to myself. Go for it. 

So the indignant, cramped Mr. Fidget motions to the attendant, and I lean over to fill Lisa in on what has happened, including being called a bitch before we even left Virginia. She is as shocked and disgusted as I am. 

The flight attendant comes over and Mr. Fidget whines about his dilemma, and what a terrible person I am for not letting him take over all my leg room because he is so tall. She has a very unpleasant look on her face and she leans towards him and says, “Sir, What do you want me to do?”  
Mr. Fidget says he wants another seat on the already PACKED airplane. At this point, I am still wondering why he doesn’t switch seats with his wife. She is regular size and would have no trouble sitting next to me. This is a mystery that I will never understand to this day. 

The flight attendant tells Mr. Fidget that the ONLY empty seat on the aircraft is a MIDDLE seat a few rows ahead of us.  So sad, too bad, Mr. Fidget. You’re stuck sitting next to this bitch for the next four hours of your life. Huff and puff away, long-legged cry baby. After the attendant gave him the smack down, Mr. Fidget took out his iPad and pouted. I turned my back away from him and took a very nice nap. 

The rest of the flight was completely uneventful, aside from the stirring and fidgeting of Mr. Fidget. Alas, I am sure he has a completely different spin on this story. The bottom line, just because you are bigger or taller or needier or WHATEVER, don’t ever assume you can take something from another person just because you want it. Being an adult means asking politely and negotiating with another adult. 

The best ending to this story is on our return flight. On that flight, I was seated next to an equally tall man. He never made a sound, was completely still and was a rational, thoughtful gentleman during the entire flight.

Toward the end of the flight, I asked him if he was uncomfortable because he was so tall. He explained to me that by the end of any flight, his legs would usually feel numb, but THAT was just the way it was and he had come to accept that flying is not the most comfortable activity for a person with long legs. I then told him the story of Mr. Fidget. He expressed distress for what had happened and gave a negative opinion of Mr. Fidget’s actions. He said tall people should not expect other people to accommodate their needs. 

And he is right. EVERYONE is a paying customer on an airplane. No one has the right to demand space that is not theirs. 

So there it is. My crazy airline seat story. I’m glad I finally got to tell it.

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