HAMBURG — A few weeks ago, while traveling by plane, I discovered a little-known but very real phenomenon: People who travel alone do not have the same rights as people who travel together.
I was flying home from a month-long trip in another country. I had splurged on business class, because I am so afraid to fly, the only way I will get on the plane is if they give me cocktails and fluffy blankets. I pay more than I can really afford for this, but I don’t travel that often.
I picked an aisle seat for two reasons. Looking out the window makes me afraid, and I like an uninterrupted trajectory to the lavatory.
There I was, with my carry-on luggage stowed properly, minding my own business in the seat that I would be paying off for the next six months, when a young man asked me if I would move, so that he could sit with his friend.
Since I usually travel alone, I have been asked this many times before, and I will usually accommodate the person, pick up my stuff and move. But on this day, I didn’t do that.
Maybe because I paid so much for my seat, or maybe because the seat he wanted me to take was several rows back, by the window, or maybe because it was early and I was tired, and I just didn’t want to get up this time, I did the unthinkable. I said, “I’d really rather stay in my own seat, if you don’t mind.”
Well. You would think that I had opened the gates of hell and let loose the furies of righteousness and entitlement. He immediately yelled, “She said no!” to the cabin in general, and stomped around, saying things like, “I can’t believe she won’t move!” and other sentences that told the world that I was inconceivably selfish. Or so it seemed to me, when everyone was looking at me accusingly.
All of a sudden, he pushed across my lap to the window seat next to me, and muttered, “Guess what? You have to deal with me!” He sat down so hard that the little bag on his fluffy blanket popped. It would have been funny if I wasn’t feeling the brunt of a fair amount of bullying, in his actions.
He was throwing his stuff around, having a good, old-fashioned tantrum, when the stewardess rushed up. Instead of helping me with what was fast approaching an abusive seatmate, she said, “I’m sorry, they don’t let us ask passengers to move.” Meaning what? That it was OK for him to be intimidating me with his anger?
I could see the writing on the wall. It was going to be a long, 4-hour flight next to a very vocal bully, so I got up and moved. I sat in a seat that I didn’t purchase, next to the window, which I hadn’t wanted, beside a very nice woman who didn’t scream at me or throw things.
In Atlanta, I had a very short layover and made my connecting flight to Buffalo, just before the attendants closed the doors for takeoff. I ran the whole length of the airport. I was tired and out of breath, and could not wait to flop down in my seat. Just then, a man popped up out of nowhere and said, “Do you mind if I sit with my wife?”
“Why, not at all, sir. Why would I mind?” At that point, I didn’t mind, really. I just wanted to sit down. Anywhere.
I’m not complaining. I am just saying that if you travel alone, you should be prepared to be passed around the plane like a plate of hors d’oeuvres, or risk incurring a lot of drama.