Air Travel, Vol. 11, Issue 3

Dear Etiquetteer: I happen to be an "above average" sized individual who was fortunate enough to get to spend a month overseas.  The flight over was wonderful as I had first/business class accommodations and the design of that particular aircraft was such that there were only single seats at the sides (bulkhead) and double seats in the middle.  I had a window seat so my size was not really an issue except for my own comfort.  Coming back, however, I still had first/business class accommodations, but the design of this aircraft didn't include single seats anywhere.  I ended up with a seat next to a gentleman who was obviously used to flying "solo" and enjoyed his creature comforts.  As I was one of the last to board I ended up having to get settled into place after he was already seated and settled.  I managed to get my bag stored overhead and crammed myself into the window seat and buckled in.  A short time later the flight attendant came back and apologized to my seat partner, of which neither of us had spoken to the other, stating that there were no other seats available in first class for him to move to.

This leads me to my dilemma.  It was quite obvious to me that my seatmate was in all likelihood not pleased at the fact that this "above average" sized person was seated beside him.  Being self conscious about such a thing, I tended to keep myself pressed as tightly to the bulkhead as possible, which made for a very cramped and uncomfortable 8-1/2 hour flight home.  In a situation such as this should I offer up an apology to the seat partner, try to be a congenial seat partner and engage in some form of polite conversation even if only briefly or do as I did and try to make my "above average size" as minute as possible and miserable?

Dear Seated:

First of all, Etiquetteer isn't entirely sure your size is the issue. Everything you've indicated about this man's demeanor indicates that he'd rather have no passenger at all in the next seat, of whatever size. Indeed, he sounds like a First Class Pain in the Neck! He only paid for one seat, after all. But Etiquetteer cannot fault him for appealing privately to the attendant for a change of seat; such requests are often made in Coach, too, and for a variety of reasons. He may even have felt that you would be more comfortable with an empty seat next to you, too.

Etiquetteer recognizes your awareness of your size, and sympathizes. But Etiquetteer can see no reason for you to apologize. You were occupying a seat for which you had a ticket, just like every other passenger on board. As for conversation, Etiquetteer is one of those air travelers who prefers to be Left Alone. The only thing worse than agonizing over what to say is being forced to listen to a total stranger you cannot avoid. Aside from the Unavoidables -- such as "Would you excuse me please?" or "Here, let me get out of your way" or "May I reach down your suitcase?" or "Quick, the barf bag, I'm gonna be sick!" -- Etiquetteer wishes everyone would let Silence Be Golden during the flight.

Etiquetteer received the following response to last week's column about Tim Thomas Declining an Invitation to the White House:

"This was an interesting comment, but I'm afraid I disagree with you.  We have been taught  --  in life, in politics, and especially in sports  --  always to respect your opponent.  Mr. Thomas's act seems to me to show a lack of respect, and I find that unacceptable.  In addition, athletes, whether they like it or not, are role models to kids, and I think this action shows the young sports fans that that is an acceptable way to act.  I also think it's especially unfortunate at a time in our country's history when our elected members of Congress are unable to cooperate in any way and one of our greatest institutions has become dysfunctional.

"You say that this is a democracy and that everyone is free, but freedom also has responsibilities, and I believe one of those responsibilities is respecting the opinions of others.  We have always touted as a basis of our form of government the comment that "I might disapprove of what you say, but I defend to the death your right to say it."  Mr. Thomas has taken it upon himself to turn that on its head.  (By the way, someone pointed out on the radio today that Mr. Thomas attended a state college on a scholarship and didn't, at that time, object to excessive government spending.)

"I'm sure Mr. Thomas was in the right, but he was still wrong.  (Although I would defend to the death both his and your right to hold your respective opinions.)"