I have written a book on travel etiquette, but unfortunately, many people have not read it, and many more people are not aware of the ABC's of travel.
Enroute to Arizona last month, I boarded a Southwest flight and was seated in section A. Travel warriors know the Southwest drill. It's A, B, or C, baby! Passengers must line up for boarding according to the letter on their boarding passes, and are seated in those sections on the plane. There are no reserved seats on Southwest, though I had paid an extra $10 each way to reserve a spot in a boarding line for early boarding, so I could have my choice of available seats.
Lifting my carryon luggage into a bin, I saw a row with two empty seats me: middle and aisle. When I asked the gentleman seated in that row's window seat if I could have the aisle seat, he told me that both seats were reserved for his sons.
Although I normally would never engage another passenger for fear I would enrage them, I didn't hide the fact that I was annoyed by this man's statement, as this particular flight had been delayed by almost three hours. I had arrived at the airport two hours ahead of time, so the five-hour wait was getting on my nerves. The Giants were in the playoffs and had just lost to St. Louis 8 to 3. I was not happy. To add insult to injury, the passenger had placed a pair of tennis shoes on the middle seats to save it. I moved on and took a seat in the row directly behind him. But Mr. Seat-Saver didn't let the matter drop. "Is it really so bad to sit one row back?" he asked. I told him that if he wanted to reserve seats for his two boys, he should sit in the last row on the plane, where no one wants to be, and not take a seat that someone else had paid extra to be able to choose.
But it turned out that on this two-hour flight there were not two boys sitting next to Mr. Seat Saver, but one, although Mr. Seat Saver tried to save both seats for over eight minutes. Yes, I timed how long he kept telling other people that the two seats were taken. But when only one son appeared, it became obvious to me that Mr. Seat Saver simply didn't want either his son or himself to have to sit in the middle seat! Right before we landed, I handed this man my business card and told him about my book on travel etiquette, which I encouraged him to purchase.
When we returned home after the weekend, I spotted Mr. Seat Saver and his only son in the lounge and again on board. I even asked how his weekend was. The only difference: On the return leg, there was no saving a seat for his invisible son, as it was taken by an airline employee.
The moral of this story: Remember the ABC's we all learned before age five. Always Be Courteous. And don't save seats on airlines for imaginary people, just to have an empty seat next to you.
Lisa Mirza Grotts is a recognized etiquette expert, an on-air contributor, and the author of A Traveler's Passport to Etiquette. She is a former director of protocol for the city and county of San Francisco and the founder and CEO of The AML Group (www.AMLGroup.com), certified etiquette and protocol consultants. Her clients range from Stanford Hospital to Cornell University and Levi Strauss. She has been quoted by Condé Nast Traveler, InStyle magazine, and the Los Angeles Times. To learn more about Lisa, follow her on www.Twitter.com/LisaGrotts and www.Facebook.com/LisaGrotts.