Flying is public transportation, not a personal vehicle (I think of planes as livestock transport and occasionally let out a spontaneous moo!). The space is shared, and works best for everyone involved if people are kind in its ups and downs (pun intended). Cooperation and civility can benefit the ride and create a good life.
As a self-proclaimed ethnographer, I love weirdness. What beliefs make people do what they do? What lies beneath the actions of a culture? Airplanes are a microcosm of our world at our fingertips. It is fascinating.
This recent Seat-Punching drama in the media tells us about communication in our day. Don’t talk to strangers–punch them instead. Don’t talk to people we may have conflict with, insult them, record the reaction, report them, and then sue each other. But never have a civil conversation with kindness and consideration. That would take too much civility. Seat punching makes for an educating series of avoidable, life-changing hassles, costing us trouble. But we will learn about human behavior, especially ours.
To forgo this explosion, decide what you’ll do before boarding. Here’s one idea, tried and true for me. Think about it, no one likes an abrupt movement in their face to infringe on their space. Get in their shoes. A six foot 200 lb adult needs different accommodations than a 5 foot youngster. Consider them.
Before laying your chair back, look behind you to assess the situation. Who is the person? Big or little, old or young, sleeping or working, a laptop open, or what? Is it going to be a big disruption for them? Do you want to start a fight?
Most seats have dual back adjustments. Once you see if there’s room to negotiate the space, move slow and sweet to try the first notch, or even the second. If groans erupt, a quick return to first notch says I heard you and am aware. It informs the person that you are not doing everything you could be doing, you are cooperating in the limited space, and you are being considerate.
Be kind and courteous. It prevents people from feeling bullied for the 10th time today and covers it with goodness. Kindness is as contagious as bullying. Don’t give them reasons to go home and kick the dog.
For the receiver of a seat back in your face, it can be more complicated. The person in front of you has acted with little consideration for you. In some cases, they paid extra for the roomy seat. If they explain that, it’s hard to argue your rights.
An aggressive return can land you in court. Some people will take us to the mat for the sake of a win. Years of stress is not worth an aggressive reaction.
Some ideas to test? Ask them if they could help you survive the flight with your bad case of the flu. Ask how you can work with a seat back imprint on your forehead, or your fingers pinched in the laptop. Ask if their mother would like to switch seats with you on this flight. Ask if they’d like to switch seats for half the flight. Or … if they can split the difference and move the seat up one notch. Negotiate.
Test these ideas for ethnography purposes. What did you learn? File that away in your psyche under Wisdom for the Ages. The greatest gift we can give ourselves is not to see others as they are, but to see them as they might be with a little coaxing.
Other ideas? Tell us all.