By Terry Howard
Okay, I’m convinced that the aviation industry has put my name on a “no-fly” list. I mean, how else can I rationalize my always ending up flying in a dreaded middle seat? Read on.
Recently I flew roundtrip to Las Vegas and Los Angeles. Clearly, human interactions have changed and COVID has had an impact. Where flying was once an enjoyable experience, that’s not always the case these days. First, the trip to Las Vegas.
Having barely made the flight, I eased my way down the aisle and — as is the practice with Southwest Airlines — tried to find the first available seat. Not surprising, the only remaining ones were those in the middle.
Seated in the first available row with a vacant middle seat were two very large people. Now I didn’t exactly relish the thought of being, “sandwiched” between these two so I kept going.
Further down I spotted another opportunity. The closer I got however, the two occupants shot an icy glance at me, then quickly hunched over the vacant middle seat and into an intimate conversation. OK, I got the message, so I kept going.
Short on options, I came across my last opportunity before takeoff. The problem, however, was that there was somebody’s stuff on the middle seat. Feeling the heat from the flight attendant, I pointed to the middle seat with a polite, “excuse me, I need to sit there.” With that, the nonverbal unhinging began.
The gentleman in the aisle seat, let’s call him “Mr. Warm and Friendly,” ripped his seat belt loose, bolted into the aisle and muttered something under his breath as I squeezed by. The lady in the window seat, let’s call her “Sister Congeniality,” swept up her stuff from the middle seat, jammed it into her briefcase and, like “Mr. Warm and Friendly,” muttered something under her breath. Now this is going to be really interesting, I thought.
Once seated, my next task was to figure out what to do with my suddenly very useless elbows. But while I waffled, Mr. Warm and Friendly slammed his elbow onto one armrest. Goodbye option one.
Although the other armrest was vacant, I hesitated before laying claim to it. Since I was last seated, I wondered about armrest protocol. Did the occupants on my left and right hold exclusive rights to the two armrests since they were there first? If so, should I ask permission before venturing onto their armrest turf?
But before I could figure out answers to these vexing questions, Sister Congeniality quickly staked claim to the entire armrest. Well, that ended that. Dangling elbows and all, I tried to fold myself up in my doggone middle seat, anxiously looking forward to getting to Vegas.
Now with the trip to Las Vegas trip in mind, let’s fast forward two months later to my flight from Los Angeles to Atlanta on Delta Airlines.
First, and much to my chagrin, my boarding pass indicated that once again I’d been assigned to a middle seat. But when I arrived at the gate and asked for a switch to an aisle seat, I was told by, let’s call her “Miss Nice and Cordial,” that none were available because the flight was full.
Accepting my predicament, I stepped cautiously onto the plane and sized up the passengers beginning with those in First Class; occupants likely the targets of envious stares, or anyone who may freak out when told to put on a mask.
Soon I arrived at my seat on row twenty-eight. As I enounced myself in the middle seat, it dawned on me again the number of thoughts that race through the mind and decisions one must make in a space of six feet and in a short amount of time.
Did I forget to put on enough deodorant this morning?
Am I surrounded by friendly neighbors?
Can I stomach those pretzels and tiny cookies they serve these days?
How far can I push my seat back before it slams into the knees of the passenger behind me?
The voice from the PA system reminded us to keep wearing masks except when eating or drinking with a warning that those who fail to do so risk being fined and banned from future fights.
Next, one is faced with “bathroom dilemmas.” If you’re seated across from one, you’ll hear a “whoosh” at each flushing. Those seated next to the window must get past two, sometimes napping, passengers to get to restrooms not designed for obese travelers.
When our plane touched down, I thought about how much flying has changed since the 9/11 terrorist attacks on our nation; days gone by of few security checks, of full meals, of a time when mask wearing (and anti-mask freak outs) were unthinkable, when niceness and flight civility were the norms…… and when I was not imprisoned by a reprehensible middle seat.