When you’re flying standby on a full flight, you’re happy to be assigned any seat, middle seat included. But if you’re in a middle seat, an exit row isn’t a bad way to go.
I arrived at the Philadelphia airport at 5:45 am for a 7:10 am flight. Because I’d been up late partying at #TypeAPhilly, I didn’t get to my hotel room until midnight-ish, and then I had to pack for an early flight. Winding down from the closing party wasn’t easy, and I didn’t fall asleep until after 1 am. This made my 4:40 am wake-up call brutal. What got me out of bed was knowing that I’d have a four-hour flight ahead of me, and I’d probably be able to sleep through a good portion of it.
As I boarded the plane, I scanned the aisles beyond first class to find my row. As I found it, I made eye contact with my aisle seatmate. He immediately gave me a look of horror. I gave him a smile and he grimaced. I glanced over to the man in the window seat, and he gave me a genuine smile.
I settled into my bulkhead seat, stuffed a book and bottled drink in the seat ahead of me, and pulled out my phone to pass time until the plane door closed. Mr. Window seat was asleep within 5 minutes of me sitting down, and he had overtaken the armrest to my left. My grouchy seatmate picked up his buzzing iPhone, tapped a button, and barked “This is Harry.” But it wasn’t just “Harry.” It was Harrrrrry, with a throaty growl to it. Like a parched dinosaur.
I sat back in my seat, put my elbow on the armrest, and he did this strange body wobble thing against my arm. I didn’t really understand the movement, but I tried to tuck in my arm as much as possible and ignore him.
I stretched out forward and crossed my legs, grateful for the extra legspace. The next thing I know, Harry barks at me “Mind my personal space!” Apparently, when I crossed my legs to get comfortable and avoid touching his arm, my foot had crossed some (invisible?) line in his mind. I had the toe of my sandal propped against the metal seat frame in front of me (separating the middle and aisle seat), but it definitely wasn’t in his “personal space.”
I was tired, so I decided to try to nap. I had a hoodie on, and brought a jacket with a hood. I put the hoodie hood over my head, then laid the jacket over me, with the hood covering my face. About 5 minutes later, I felt this awkward jab at my right thigh. Harry must not have liked my jacket touching the armrest, so he took the liberty of forcefully tucking my jacket next to my thigh. (Side note: I have a bit of a bruise today). I was a startled by his actions, but was tired and dozed off again.
Right as I was on the edge of dozing and sleep, there’s the big body wobble against my arm again. I know that bodies naturally relax as they sleep, but Harry wasn’t going to have it. He woke me up a few times like this, fully knowing I was TRYING to sleep, and after about a half hour I gave up, put my jacket under the seat, and pulled out my book onto the tray table. I was reading Stranger Here a book about weight loss surgery. A few seconds later, I heard Harry grunt “surgery” under his breath.
I glanced over a Harry, who had his giant Beats by Dre headphones and watching “Django Unchained” on his iPad. His eyeglass frames were modern, and slightly more ornate than I’d expect on a middle-aged man. He looked unhappy, with deep frown lines and a clenched jaw. I could tell that he’d shaved, but not very well. His coarse salt and pepper hair bursted out underneath his dingy white Nike running hat. His Ed Hardy shirt was rumpled, and his jeans looked expensive, but dirty.
Harry looked very inconvenienced to be on the plane, and complained to a flight attendant about how he was unfairly denied a first class upgrade when she took our first drink order of the flight. I ordered a can of Coke Zero, he ordered Bloody Mary mix and extra peanuts. I reached down to my purse for some jerky, and he made a rude groaning noise as I was leaning down. I sat up and gave him a questioning look, and he snorted awkwardly and pulled out a hardcopy copy of Dante’s “Inferno.”
I attempted sleeping again, this time with my jacked tightly tucked around my legs. But I never really slept, because Harry kept doing this strange body wobble thing over and over. And over. And over. I counted EIGHTEEN times that he woke me up on this flight. WTF?
The second time the flight attendants took drink orders, I asked for water with ice and declined peanuts, pretzels, or Biscoff cookies. He curtly demanded “water with NO ice!” The flight attendant looked at me sympathetically. If there had been more open seats on the flight, I would have asked to be moved from my seat.
As soon as the flight touched down, he grabbed his iPhone and began madly punching out an email. I glanced at the screen, and the subject line was full of expletives. When the plane stopped at the gate, he unbuckled his seatbelt, sprung out of his seat, grabbed his carry-on bag, and went as far up the plane aisle as he could before other passengers boxed him in.
Nobody likes to be the middle seat passenger on a flight, but that doesn’t mean that anyone sitting in the aisle or window seat should treat them like a second class citizen. Or wake them up from a nap 18 times. Or forcefully tuck a jacket by their thigh. Or grunt about the things they are reading. If you want a seat in first class, pay for it – don’t punish your seatmate with your frustration.
Sure, it’s awkward to sit by a stranger on a plane. But don’t ruin the travel experience of the person next to you because you’re grumpy.