Monday, April 19, 2004

What is acceptable plane seat etiquette? I got to wondering about this today, for reasons that will become clear in half a paragraph or so. I am a large human being--always have been (at least relative to age and whatnot). It used to be that I had serious issues when I flew due to width. That's not true so much anymore--not only have I not needed a seat belt extender for a couple of years, I can usually even pull the strap on the buckle a little bit nowadays. (You have no idea how excited this made me the first time it happened, but I digress.)

Regardless of the resolution of the width issue, however, I'm still 6-foot-3. On a big 7(x)7 type aircraft that's usually not a problem, especially with a few larger airlines having increased legroom a bit in recent years. But this time I flew on America West (motto: We'll get you anywhere, if you're willing to stop in Phoenix.) which has smaller planes and has not made any effort to create more room. Or, god help tall people who flew them several years ago if in fact they have.

So I'm sitting on my flight back from Atlanta--the long leg to Vegas (I actually avoided Phoenix somehow on the way home)--and my knees are right up against the seat in front of me. Not pushing it, mind you, but certainly brushing it. Of course, the person in that seat decided they needed to have the seat reclined for the whole flight, so my knees were pressed into the seat for most of the trip.

Now, I don't know how much I was pushing on that seat, admittedly, between my knees and the fact that I had to pretty much hold the top end of my book against the seatback to read at all. But anyway, about halfway through the flight the person in front of my starts periodically pushing back against me. By this point my knee is already sore, and I'm getting cranky. Then, every couple of minutes she starts actually moving forward a little bit and throwing her body weight against the seat, slamming it into my knees in an effort to get a couple more inches of room, I guess. The third time this happens I respond by throwing a hard right-hand palm strike to her seatback--trying to send the not-so subtle message that this shit needs to cease. It does for a few minutes, and then she does the slam one more time.

Understand that there are probably people who have known me for years and never seen me lose my temper, but at this point I actually half stood up, leaned over and in a tone I can only describe as "loud, sarcastic, angry, and hopefully menacing," I say to this person, "Are you trying to destroy my knees?" She looked up at me and feebly but unapologetically said, "You were hitting my back." I started sitting back down and grumbled, "Maybe I wouldn't be if you weren't leaning back so far the whole time." I sat back down and didn't hear another peep from her or the man (husband, presumably) sitting next to her, and I also didn't get slammed into again. My knee stayed sore for the remainder of the flight, but I walked it off pretty quickly during my brief layover.

It does bug me, though, whenever I lose my temper since I pride myself on not doing so, and I took no pride in intimidating a small, meek middle-aged woman. But mostly I just wonder--was there a better way to handle things? who was really at fault: me? her? America West? if something like that happens again, should I involve the flight attendants somehow, or did I go about things the right way this time? I hate situations like this, both because they suck intrinsically and because I always second guess myself to death later on.

I'd write about my excellent trip to Atlanta and Chattanooga for the sake of balance, but I've got that thing where you switch time zones a bunch and sleep in strange places and fly a lot over the course of several days, and you end up getting so tired and physically irritated that your eyeballs actually hurt. So I'm going to go now, and sleep a lot very soon. More about the trip later, I hope.

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