Don’t judge me. Just hear me out. Okay? Is it right to go into a store and buy one sweater but leave with two? Is it decent to pay for a meal and grab someone else’s dessert as you leave the restaurant? Do you object to “saving” a seat in a movie theatre and not moving your purse, jacket and Target bags even though the film’s sold out and someone bought the ticket next to you?
I cannot imagine that most people find these missteps of justice to be fair, reasonable or even acceptable in civil society. But the minute I tell you my story. You are going to get angry, accuse me of being a bigot, and insist that I lack compassion for humanity. None of those things are true. But I will lay out the facts and allow you to form your own decision.
My husband is currently working in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Our home life is bizarre at best. I’m here with two high schoolers, two dogs and a lot of personal and professional angst. I visited my husband last weekend in OKC and upon my return, I was feeling a bit stressed. Full disclosure, I was weeping in the airport terminal awaiting my flight back to Seattle. All the other travelers were kind. They pretended not to notice. But I knew my mascara stained cheeks, flowing nasal mucous, and heaving shoulders were not easily ignored.
I am excited for this flight home. it offers me a period of relaxation and peace. I have carefully crafted this opportunity for self pampering. I booked early, paid extra and arrived several hours ahead of time (just so I could sit calmly crying in front of 200 strangers.)
I board the plane, deeply looking forward to my 4 and a half hour flight home where I will stretch out, have a cocktail and watch a mindless movie that I wont be able to hear very well because my hearing isn’t great and the plane motor drowns out the voices of the actors.
I have secured my favorite seat: 6B. Row six is the first row behind first class. 6B is the only seat on the plane that doesn’t have a seat in front of it. Since I am unusually tall, acquiring this seat is a priority and I do pay extra for the privilege of extending my legs and feeling less claustrophobic than I would in some middle seat in the rear of the aircraft.
When I get to my seat, my seat mate (in 6A) has already settled into her window seat. I am stunned to see her there. She has lifted the arm rest between the seats and has spread her 400 pound frame across both seats. There is barely 6 inches left for me to squeeze my entire person into the premium seat that I purchased very purposely and for which I did in fact pay more.
I set down my purse and briefcase, smile, and casually walk back to the flight attendant at the plane entry door. “Excuse me,” I say, feeling terribly awkward and self conscious. “I have seat 6B. And…um…I can’t fit into it.” She looks at me with utter annoyance and says, “What are you talking about?” I ask her to calmly gaze over my shoulder to take in the situation at hand. She literally does a cartoon character neck stretch that draws everyone’s attention and she gasps upon comprehending my plight.
“There’s nothing I can do.” She says. I inquire about an upgrade. But first class is full. “But, um…isn’t there a weight limit on this airline? Isn’t there a point where someone has to purchase a second seat?” I ask in hushed decibels. “Yes, of course,” she reasons, “But it’s hard to enforce. It’s up to the individual to self assess.” I walk back to my seat. Tactless flight
attendant nipping at my heels. “There is a middle seat in the back row of the plane,” she bellows directly in front of my seat mate. “If you want to move, you can go there.”
Not only has this situation gone from uncomfortable to awkward, it has now traversed the path towards complete mortification. My seat mate is disgusted by me. She is obviously hurt. I’m guessing this is a rather frequent happening in her world. I am deeply sorry for causing her pain.
But I am also really upset. I would never shame another person for their race, religion, body size, gender, sexual identity, or anything else for that matter. I tried hard to keep this issue confidential. I know that people struggle with physical and mental challenges that are not always visible on the surface. I respect all people and whatever lifestyle they embrace.
But don’t I deserve the same level of deference? Just because you can’t see all of my issues and challenges, does not mean that I don’t deserve to take up my fair share of space in the world. Do you disagree?
I cannot stop contemplating this experience. I feel like a bad person for even raising the question. But I believe my seat mate is the person at fault in this equation. I paid for a full seat and got only a quarter of it. She paid for a single seat and took more than her share.
At some point, there is a matter of principle involved. If you can’t hold your baby on your lap, you have to pay for a seat. If you need to fly with your support bunny, you may struggle to find an amenable airline. If you weigh a certain amount and you cannot physically fit within the allotted seat capacity, you need to purchase more space.
OK, that’s it. I just needed to share. Feel free to tar, feather, stone, draw, quarter as you see fit. All I ask is that you look at this objectively and tell me what I’m missing.