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As a female who frequently travels solo, I’ve encountered my fair share of challenging seat mates. As I prefer the window seat I’m often boxed in between the fuselage and a random business traveler (almost exclusively male).
Most of the time everyone is delightful, but at least a third of my seat mates leave me shaking my head, with things like:
- Asking why I’m traveling solo
- Ordering drinks for me (unprompted)
- Finding excuses to touch my arm or leg
- Physically removing my headphones so they can continue talking to me
- Following me through the airport on arrival, and being hostile when I don’t guest them into a lounge
- Putting their belongings under the seat in front of me, because he “needed to work during the flight”
My favorite, however, is a toss-up between the gentleman who noted that I was “a decent traveler, for a woman” as he left his iPad in the seat-back pocket, and the man well into his 80’s diligently studying a copy of She Comes First and wanting my thoughts. Just no.
But I’ve never had to deal with anyone really aggressive, fortunately, though I like to think I’d be able to handle (or escalate) things appropriately.
I came across the story yesterday of a woman who was downright harassed by the man in the seat behind her on a British Airways flight on Sunday that has me questioning that confidence. The problems started when she tried to recline her Premium Economy seat, which the man was not going to tolerate:
“I’m sorry, but I need to sleep, and I’m going to recline my chair.”
“Then I’m going to do this,” he said, grabbing the back of the seat and shaking it (and me with it) violently up and down…He grinned, he looked at me, and he said the following:
“I can go all night.”
Now, we are on record here at OMAAT in believing that when you purchase an airline seat, you purchase the use of all the corresponding functionality. The “Knee Defender” is unnecessary, and reclining your seat is a reasonable thing to be able to do.
But for some reason being in airplanes encourages horrible behavior from some people — last year a man even tried to choke a woman when she tried to recline her seat.
British Airways has 38″ of pitch in World Traveler Plus, which while hardly spacious is 8″ more than they offer in their premium Club Europe cabin. Given the limited recline, having someone recline the seat in front of you isn’t going to ruin your life.
British Airways Club Europe
This man didn’t agree though:
He physically invaded my space. He shook me, literally and figuratively.
“You don’t get to talk to me that way,” I said. And again, “I have a right to recline my chair.”
“No, you don’t,” he said. “That’s not going to work for me, and you need to find a compromise I can live with.”
Regardless of where your position in the right-to-recline debate, I think we can agree that this is just a ludicrous way to behave towards someone, particularly if they’re becoming visibly upset.
The woman handled it appropriately — extricating herself from the situation and informing the crew in the galley:
I immediately walked to the back of the plane, shaking. I told the flight crew what was happening. They crowded around me, concerned. They brought me water. They told me I was right to tell them. They held my hand.
Condolences and a cup of tea are a quintessentially British response, and I love that they were sympathetic. The crew also tried to deescalate and reason with with man, but he was hostile to them as well. They eventually moved the woman and her travel companion to Club World to get away from him.
That seems like the right thing to do, but I’m shocked that they didn’t request for police to meet the flight. Being a dick to a passenger is one (unacceptable) thing, but (for better or worse), disobeying crew member instructions is illegal.
I checked with two airline-employee friends, who had similar thoughts:
I agree with the upgrade. I think they should have had police meet the flight.
The police would have been involved for sure. Probably no charge but still. This probably happens once every two months on my flights.
It sounds like this woman has had prior experiences that might make her more sensitive to hostility and aggression, but I still think this is ridiculous.
There’s just no excuse for this type of behavior, particularly not in a metal tube that everyone is trapped in for 12 hours. If you want more space, choose a bulkhead seat, or strategize having an empty seat next to you. Don’t be a jackwagon.
Have you experienced something similar? What would you have done if you’d been in (or observed) this situation?