April 12, 2009

What's the proper etiquette for putting one's seat back on a plane? I know people say 'do unto others as you would have them do unto you' but if the person in front of you puts their seat back, then what?

I was on a long haul eight hour evening flight last week and got into a fight with the man seated behind me. I waited until after the meal service had ended and then slowly, I began to recline. Normally I try to go back a small amount at a time but on this particular occasion I was exhausted; and went all the way.

Suddenly I felt a vigorous tap on my shoulder. He was in the seat diagonally behind me and he looked outraged.

"That's not right," he snapped. His tone suggested I had done something immoral. "My wife has no room for her legs."

I know some people at this point would have immediately raised their seat forward. But I didn't like his attitude. He was blaming me for his wife's discomfort when it's the fault of whoever designed the plane.

Also, he wasn't asking me nicely, he was demanding. And acting like I was Saddam Hussain. What about my right to choose to rest? I looked right at him and said, defiantly, "I'll move my seat up but just so you know, I don't like being ordered to do it."

It made matters worse. Loud enough for other passengers to hear, he announced: "You're not a very nice person".

Then he added: "My wife is pregnant."

This I had to see. I twisted my torso around and IF his wife was pregnant, she must have conceived in the departure lounge. I looked more pregnant than she did. And if she was so upset why wasn't she speaking out? She was the one suffering the consequences. Maybe she didn't care.

And another thing, if he was so concerned about his wife's discomfort, why not offer to switch seats with her?

I hated him as much as he hated me. But I moved the seat forward in a conciliatory gesture. "There" I said, "I've moved it."

For the rest of the trip, every time he got up he intentionally jolted my seat. To the point where if I was drinking coffee from one of the tiny cups it would spill. Those cups only hold three sips - and I need every one of them.

It's not that I don't understand. There's nothing worse than someone reclining their seat back in your face. You want to complain or pound them - but you don't.

Just like you want to shove people who bump you with their giant backpacks on the underground or throw your drink over people who talk during the movie. If everyone did that it would be anarchy. Or life in New York.

Instead, the polite thing to do is either ask them nicely to adjust the seat or sit silently, simmering with rage, vowing to make more money so that you can fly business class in the future.

I asked my friend who works at the airlines what the policy is on this.

She laughed. "What policy? We expect people to use common sense. If someone is over six feet, don't put your seat back."

So. Anyone under six feet is on their own?

I've been stuck with my nose an inch from an airline seat countless times and never say anything. I'll think to myself 'are you serious?' but I don't accost them with it - it's just something in life you have to endure.

Like taxes, Uggs, and people who say, 'At the end of the day'.