I have just returned from a quick business trip to Washington, D.C. I do not fly that frequently for work these days so when I do, I treasure the uninterrupted hours I get to spend solo emerged in a sea of people. It is such a perfect environment for observing human behavior and I am obviously not alone in thinking so, given the countless articles written about air travel. Take armrest etiquette, for example. I just Googled it and got about 47,000 matches. 47,000! We travelers surely feel strongly about our personal space and what we believe to be our personal rights. The general consensus on this particular topic appears to be that middle seats suck so much that the middleseaters should have priority pick of the armrests on both sides. I am not entirely sold.
On this particular trip I had an aisle seat -- bonus! -- and a slender woman next to me -- double bonus! -- except she very quickly started to cough up her lungs. I am a germaphobe, which is amplified when confined in small spaces. On a positive note there was no question about who got the armrest, as I was not going anywhere near it. Sick people on planes are a pet peeve of mine and I am sure that I am personally funding college for the kids of the hand sanitizer executives. Now that I have gotten that off my chest, on to a far more interesting episode!
On the other side of the aisle was a mother with two young girls. At the very tail end of boarding a woman shows up with her son, who looked to be around 12, and his assigned seat was occupied by one of the young girls who was strapped into a car seat. The boy's mother immediately puffs herself up for confrontation. The young girls' mother proceed to explain how there are spare seats on the plane and she was informed at check-in that she should bring the car seat and her family could sit together. The boy's mother makes it very clear with large arm gestures that she is not flexible. That seat is theirs! The girls' mother is not budging to the demands though.
First one, then two, flight attendants arrive and the situation just escalates. The small girls are now crying and we right at departure time. A gate attendant shows up, declaring that the plane is going to be delayed as they now have to get the car seat off and checked in. Rules are rules. What! Up to this point I have just watched this standoff unfold baffled by the rigid position of all the involved parties, but at the word "delay" I literally spring into action. As much as I love solo time, six hours is more than plenty!
I stand up and get eye contact with the boy. I ask him if a big dude like him really needs to sit right by his mother -- a very leading question -- and he confirms he does not. I ask him to go and sit in the free middle seat across from his mother's seat to see how it feels. He complies. I ask his mother to sit in her assigned seat to see if she is okay with her son's placement from her seated position. Turns out she is. Case closed. We depart. I feel heroic for all of one second, then sad, because this is exactly why there are so many unresolved conflicts in the world -- an inflexibility rooted in our own sense of righteousness. So on my future travels I for one need to start accepting a little less elbowroom!
"Conflict cannot survive without your participation"
- Wayne Dyer