Dream Attack

by Matthew Stollak on Thursday, July 1, 2010

One of my favorite television shows over the last few years has been "Curb Your Enthusiasm." The "protagonist," Larry David, always finds himself in socially awkward positions, where he usually exacerbates the situation to comic effect. There is even a Facebook page titled "What Would Larry David Do?"

I found myself in a Larry David-esque situation my self traveling back from the SHRM Annual Conference (shameless self promotion - read the blog here) in San Diego. Like many of the travelers returning home, I was flying solo. As a bit of background, I tend to have mild claustrophobia when I fly. Window seats make me feel trapped, and middle seats are the worst. Similarly, I prefer to sit closer to the front, so I can exit off the plane as quickly as possible. I tend to buy my airline tickets early to ensure that I will have an aisle seat close to the front. In this instance, I purchased my tickets for the June trip in February.

So, I boarded my short, 45 minute flight from Minneapolis to Green Bay and sat in my reserved seat, 7C. Five minutes later, the person, a fifty-ish year old woman, occupying the seat next me in the window seat asked if I would switch seats with her husband. I replied by asking if he had an aisle seat, and learned, unfortunately, it was several rows back, and a window seat. I declined, explained that window seats made me claustrophobic and they split apart. Five minutes later, the woman started weeping, and proceeded to do so for the next 20 minutes. Awkward.

In the midst of the flight, after the drinks and snacks had been passed out, she turned to me, as if I were Satan incarnate, and shrieked "Don't you have a wife or mother? Where's your compassion!?!?!? How dare you not let my husband and I sit together??!?!? I hope the next time you travel with your wife, a person doesn't show you the lack of compassion you showed us!" Good times.

So, experienced travelers, here is my question: When should a person traveling solo on a seat he or she reserved give it up for a couple traveling together?

  • Does the extent of the couple's relationship make a difference? If it was a parent traveling with a young child, I would say I would give it up 100% of the time. But, what if it is co-workers? Friends? A couple that is dating? A married couple? Where's the dividing line?
  • Does the length of the flight matter? On a short flight such as this one, should I have simply sucked it up and suffered so that the husband and wife could sit together? What if the flight is 2 hours? 3? 8? What's the cutoff?
  • Does the seat location matter? If it is a trade for a similar seat (an aisle for an aisle), I would have made the trade, even though it was further back. However, a window for an aisle, further back?
What are your thoughts?


I got two aphorisms: a) money talks and bullspit walks; and b) you collect more flies with honey than vinegar.

If it was really important to this couple, then she should have turned on the charm and offered to buy you a couple of rounds.

That has worked for me in the past, both as a requestor and a requestee.

by David on July 1, 2010 at 9:59 AM. #

Matt, sorry you had such an experience after the great SHRM session. I would say that she is being extremely selfish and you did the right thing. SHE, not you, is the Larry David character here. Claustrophobia is downright scary; it has happened to me (rarely but that's all I want, trust me) in a long road tunnel in Austria with 7 miles to go and no way to turn back, in a tight, endless and crowded European church stairwell packed with people and in an MRI machine. It can bring on real panic attacks if you dont know how to handle it, or even if you do. Compared to the need to sit together on a short flight...thats pitiful, to be honest! You did the right thing.

best to you "BS" member!


by David Bowles on July 1, 2010 at 1:52 PM. #

Good lord. Like you were the only person on the plane who could have given up his seat??

She's nuts + you're in HR and you give off a vibe where people express their craziness to you.

You should have offered her some Klonopin.

by Unknown on July 1, 2010 at 7:18 PM. #

Tragedy is easy, comedy is hard!

by Anonymous on July 2, 2010 at 5:45 AM. #

@David - yep, no offer made...and an expectation that their rights as a married couple trumped mine.

@David B - Thanks for the support

@Laurie - Yep....I was the only bastard on the plane

@anonymous - Comedy is tragedy plus time....if it bends its funny, if it breaks, it is not funny.

by Matthew Stollak on July 2, 2010 at 11:53 AM. #

I'm with you on this one Matt. Crazy does not = compelling reason to switch. I too would switch for a parent/ child but the way you describe this one, no way. Depending on my mood, I may have even told the flight attendant that this woman was harassing me. UGH, as if flying isn't bad enough already, you have to deal with that.

by Trish McFarlane on July 21, 2010 at 6:38 AM. #

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