I always request a seat assignment when I make a plane reservation. If you wait till you get to the airport, you’re liable to wind up squeezed into a middle seat between a morbidly obese guy who’ll spend the entire flight shoveling snacks into his piehole and a blabbermouth who can’t wait to regale you with every detail she’s discovered about her family on geneaology.com. 

So, I request a seat ahead of time. I try to get a window seat in a two-seat row. Near the front of the plane.   
Of course, things don’t always go according to plan. I’ve arrived at the terminal to find I’ve been switched to a different seat. Or that the airline computer has double booked my seat. Recently I got just the seat I wanted, only to find that the plane wouldn’t take off for two hours because, according to the flight attendant, we were waiting for a kidney in a cooler to arrive on a connecting flight from Cincinnati. This took so long I missed my own connecting flight and had to wait half a day in Atlanta for another one. But compared with the person waiting on an operating table that same day for their new kidney—what did I have to complain about?      
Today I’m one of the first to board. I’m pleased to see that I have just what I want—a  window seat with just one seat beside it. I put my purse on the seat and go to the bathroom. When I return, there’s a little boy sitting in my seat. A thirty-something woman with short brown hair sits next to him. My heart sinks. Everyone knows mothers and their children shouldn’t be separated while traveling—except the airlines, which do it all the time. I’m guessing this woman has been assigned the seat next to mine, while her child has been seated elsewhere.   
Sure enough, when she spots me, she thrusts two boarding passes at me, for seats 23B and 26E. “Bobby and I aren’t together,” she says. “Can we switch seats?” 
I’m about to hand over my precious boarding pass and take one of hers when a tiny alarm bell goes off in my head.  
Neither  23B nor 26E are anywhere near my seat.  
Bobby and Mom have no claim to either of the seats they’re sitting in. When you and your child are seated apart, you’re supposed to ask the person sitting next to your kid to switch with you. Instead, Bobby’s mom has taken the opportunity to go seat shopping. She spotted these two and figured she could grab them.  
I’m both impressed and dismayed by her chutzpah. She waves the boarding passes at me with barely a glance in my direction. She doesn’t expect me to put up a fight for my seat. I don’t look like a fighter. I look like what I am—a librarian. Nobody is ever intimidated by a librarian.
You never hear anyone say, “She’s got a masters in library science—watch out!” We librarians are hardwired to be helpful. Nice as can be. We’re people-pleasers. But there’s a line between being pleasantly accommodating and being a doormat. A pushover. A chump. And I believe that I’m looking at it right now.  
“Is either of the seats you’re offering me a window seat?” I ask.
She eyes me suspiciously. “A window seat?” 
“The seats that you and your son have been assigned—neither of which you’re sitting in, obviously—is either seat next to a window?
“A window? No.”   
“Then I’ll sit in my own seat, thank you.”
“You won’t  switch?” she demands, her voice shrill.  
“I’m afraid you’ll have to ask the person seated next to your son to trade places with you.”
She grabs Bobby’s arm and yanks him from my seat. “C’mon,” she huffs, “this lady refuses to help us!”   
I reclaim my seat, happy but emotionally drained. Have I just won a small moral victory for overly-nice people everywhere? Or did I just behave like a total jerk? I’ll let you be the judge of that.  
All I know is that the plane hasn’t even left the tarmac and I’ve already experienced way too much turbulence. 
For more of Roz Warren’s work, visit www.rosalindwarren.com.
Category: Airplanes

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