Bullies come in all shapes and sizes. Big ones are the worst. Then comes the fella who is both big and a bully. The one who nestles down into his roomy aisle seat and claims both arm rests. Meaning his and yours.
Such was my dilemma on a recent plane journey from Boston to Bermuda when a New Zealander, big as a rugby player, assumed more than his fair share of air space.
I was seated between my husband on one side and Ross Rugby on the other. My husband’s arms had already claimed both his arm rest and mine which is fine because I know him. He did also pay for the flights which I guess entitles him to first dibs on shared space.
But I have no such affection or gratitude toward Rugby Boy. So when he casually commandeered both arm rests I’ll admit I got a little peeved. Really, did he not notice my little limbs squished against my rib cage while his covered not only my arm rest but ventured dangerously close to an arm itself.
Tight spaces are rarely happy ones and now the arm rest jockeying had begun. At first I just squirmed in my seat a bit adjusting this way and that hoping to attract a little attention which would communicate loud and clear to my neighbor, “Hey, move over.” Nothing. So I got invasively physical. I bump his beefy arm. Which did not budge.”He is simply not getting it,” I thought to myself.
Realizing I needed to be more aggressive, I violently shoved my elbow against his. And then like Sherman taking Richmond I gained ground. But not much. My elbow is now uncomfortably wedged between the back of the seat and his arm. I smile and say, “um perhaps we can share this.” He says, “I’m good with that.” Of course you are. You’ve got one and half the times the limb lounging area that I do.
What is the etiquette for such things?
The The Wall Street Journal has a suggestion. Santa Clara University ethics professor Kirk Hanson says “Fairness requires the allocation of at least one arm rest to each traveler. Therefore, the side seats get the “outbound” armrests away from the middle seat. The middle passenger gets both armrests, in part as compensation for the dreaded middle seat. “
Woo-Hoo !!! That settles that! But my rugby boy clearly does not read the Journal.
So I steam and I wait. I know the moment will eventually come when he gas to go to the loo, and then I’ll make my move. I notice his friend is across the aisle. My interloper does too and suddenly leans toward him to speak, ever so slightly shifting his arm in an easterly direction in order to better hear his mate. I take my chance and I’m in. I’ve got an arm rest! I’ve got an arm rest !
Soon he ventures back into our disputed territory seemingly unaware that he has lost ground. He knocks my arm. I steel myself against an expected battle of elbows. But there is no reaction. Other than one of quiet acquiescence.
Strangely my just won victory starts to feel hollow. Unaware of the tug of war I have just waged both mentally and physically, rugby boy places his arms across his chest and nods right off to sleep. I felt like such a dope. Kind of small. I don’t even want the stupid arm rest now. And with him fast asleep it lies there unoccupied for the rest of the journey.
Funny how sometimes when you get exactly what you want it never feels as satisfying as you would have expected it would.
To make matters worse, while struggling with my seat belt I bumped into his leg by mistake and woke him up. “I’m so sorry,” I said. “Oh , no problem,” he replied.
He was such a nice guy and here I was ready to read him the riot act over a perceived slight.
It is wise to catch yourself before you get too self consumed. I can see how road rage happens. While traveling in a dodgy part of town one night, our taxi driver became a little distracted and perhaps swerved a little. The motorist behind him pulled up beside us and berated his driving skills. He was not nice, but instead of recognizing a potentially explosive situation and just apologizing our driver says, “I don’t know what your problem is.” To which the angry motorist says, “You know, I could shoot you.”
Really? We’ve gotta pick our battles. We’ve gotta be a lot nicer. Unless we plan on living alone on some distant star we’ve got to put up with one another. I sometimes take my own advice. The last time I was on a plane, I was extra polite. I wanted to recline my seat but first turned around and announced my attention to the woman behind me. She asked her husband, “what did she say?” To which he replied, “She’s going to put her seat back.” I don’t know if they minded, but I figured it was the right thing to at least inform them. Aviation expert John Nance writes for A.B.C. TV about on board courtesy reminding us that “it’s a shared challenge, this business of air travel. The more we can smile and be nice about it, the easier it will get. Bottom line: courtesy diffuses stress, even at 35,000 feet.” Actually courtesy helps us all live a calmer life both on the ground as well as in the air.