Friday, July 25, 2014

Plane Etiquette 101

Mm hmm. Oh yeah. I'm going there. You can't say you're surprised, are you? After all, I fly internationally at least three to four times per year. You knew this was coming.

On Sunday, I found myself in an empty row of an Air Canada plane, ready for takeoff. This had never happened to me before. At least, not on an international flight. I anxiously craned my neck into the aisle, hoping against hope that someone wouldn't come bumbling on at the very last minute and say those tragic words, "Um, I'm in there" while jabbing his/her finger towards the window (or middle) seat. In these situations, I usually stare straight ahead at the seat in front of me, silently willing the person approaching my row to not stop at my seat, until the inevitable occurs and I have no choice but to unbuckle my seatbelt and let them in with a tight smile but passive-aggressive sigh.

On this occasion however, the captain announced, "Flight attendants prepare for takeoff" and I was safely ensconced in my own little row. Score. I looked around guiltily at the other full rows (though mine was not the only semi-empty one) but simply thought it was karma to make up for the sadness I had experienced earlier in the morning after bidding my family farewell and the fact that I'd have to endure a whole week of living in an empty flat while John was away for business.

I started gleefully plotting my sleeping style in my head. Yes, since it was an overnight flight, I had hit the total jackpot: sleeping while lying down (obviously this is only an issue that people who travel in economy grapple with). Should I raise the armrests once the seatbelt sign had been turned off and immediately go for the fetal position? Or should I prop myself up at the window seat and stretch my legs out on the empty seats while enjoying a film with my meal? The options were truly endless.

20 minutes into the flight, I was happily reading my Kindle when a blond head of curls poked around from the seat in front of me. "Excuse me," she started, and a kind of dread rose in my chest. 'Don't do it,' a voice warned in my head. 'Whatever she asks, don't do it. It is bound to backfire on you just like it's backfired every single time you've done something nice for someone on a flight. Remember the time you offered to switch seats with someone so he could flirt with a girl because you observed a budding romance occuring? And you were left with a man who snored so loudly, that the people five rows in front of you turned around to stare as you helplessly shrugged your shoulders and mouthed apologetically but insistently, 'It's not me'? Or the time you switched seats with someone and ended up sitting across the aisle from a man who basically turned to cough directly in your face every few seconds and you ended up contracting tonsilitis two days later and had to pay $140 for a doctor's visit because you no longer had health insurance coverage in the US but your throat was so swollen you could barely swallow? REMEMBER THOSE TIMES?'

"Yes?" I replied brightly.

"Um, my TV screen isn't working so I was wondering if we could all trade seats? Like, all three of us [at this point, she pointed to her two girlfriends on either side of her who all looked like they were going on a gap year abroad to Thailand in their harem pants and barefoot Birkenstocks look] would move back and you'd just move forward to this row?"

I pondered this for a second. I would still have an entire row to myself. That was all that mattered. What harm could it do?

"Sure," I replied after a few seconds, as I stood up to let them through.

"Thank you so much!" she chirped gratefully, as she and her friends slid into the row.

I settled into my new place and opened my Kindle again when I saw a flash of bare flesh appear at my left elbow. Seconds later, two other pairs of wiggling toes appeared in between the middle and window seats to my left.

You have got. TO. BE. KIDDING. ME. Was this really happening? Did I just ... am I being punished for my good deed? Oh yes, yes I was.

"This is great!" I heard a girl squeal behind me. Yes, it's so much fun when you can stick your grimy (yes, there was visible grime) feet into the seats in front of you for the girl who just did you a favor to enjoy.

So, any sane person would have just turned around and said politely, "Um, excuse me, would you mind removing your feet from the armrests? Thanks." But I thought this might be a little bitchy, especially since (and I left this out the first time around) I had previously denied her request to move because I thought she had meant I was simply trading a single seat in front of me before I realized what she had actually meant and tapped her on the shoulder again to agree (but this had seemed too long to explain above, so I'm SORRY IF THIS IS CONFUSING).

Instead, I sat and stewed angrily for the next hour or so until ... the food cart came along. Ah yes, the food cart: here to save the day. There was no way they could physically eat AND keep their feet up, could they? I tested this for myself by putting down a tray and attempting to yoga-extend my left leg over the tray and mimic eating (no I didn't really, but for the purposes of this post, it's much more entertaining to imagine me doing so - I actually just envisioned the whole thing in my head). No, while physically possible, it certainly wasn't comfortable.

So as soon as the food was served, BAM! Those armrests went up, baby. But you know, I felt BAD for putting them up. WHY DID I FEEL BAD? WHY DID I FEEL BAD FOR NOT LETTING THEM PUT THEIR BARE FEET NEXT TO MY ARMS AND POSSIBLY MY FACE?

After the meal service, the lights dimmed and I got to work arranging myself across the three seats for a long nap. It was worth it in the end because I was able to sleep for four hours during the 8.5 hour flight, but I still felt guilty and annoyance for feeling guilty.

Planes, eh? Always a struggle. Seriously, though. Never do anything nice for anyone on the plane becuase it'll backfire in your face. Sometimes, literally.

p.s. having said that, I once traded seats with a woman's husband on a flight from Madrid so that they could sit next to each other and ended up being upgraded from business to first. That was a real win. But 1 out of 10 is still a risky business, IMO.


  1. At least this story ended pretty well. But that other one that ended with tonsillitis?! Yeesh. This post is both funny and nightmarish, hahaha.

    1. Lesson learned: never do anything nice for anyone on a plane. Ever.


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