A dispatch from the middle seat
I wrote this post while sitting in Seat 22B – the dreaded middle seat – on a five hour flight from San Francisco to Philadelphia. I didn’t start out this trip with a plan to be in the middle seat. In fact I had selected an aisle seat, which I much prefer. Flying by myself is a relatively rare occurrence, and I love the chance to stretch out a bit and get up easily to use the restroom.
I travel so often with my children that when I’m alone I feel light, unburdened, self-contained. I carry no snacks. I don’t have to worry if there aren’t any good movies showing on the plane. I don’t have to do three checks just to make sure that the menagerie of stuffed animals is all packed up before moving onto the next stage of the journey. And I don’t have to worry about changing our seating arrangements now that airlines no longer guarantee that families are seated together. Five hours on a plane isn’t exactly fun, but when I’m alone it feels so absolutely easy that it’s almost like a day at the spa.
Thanks to the winter storm this week, when I arrived at the gate for this flight just before it started boarding, I discovered chaos. The women working at the desk were pleading with customers to check their bags to make sure there was room on the plane for all the carryon suitcases. Passengers who intended to go home to Chicago were being routed to Philadelphia because of a snowstorm. A crush of humanity pressed impatiently all around me.
It wasn’t long before I was summoned to the desk. There was a mother flying by herself with her 8-year-old son and deaf teenage daughter. They really wanted to sit together and had been unable to find someone to help them do so. Would I be willing to give up my seat and sit across the aisle in the middle seat instead?
Before I could even be told what perks they would offer me in return I said yes. Yes, and yes and yes. That’s because my number one operating principle as a traveling parent is to pay it both forward and backward to members of my tribe. Backward for the hotel desk clerk in Rome, whose wife was pregnant with their first child, and who played with Tommy ever morning when he got up at 4 a.m. so that Matt could shut his eyes for ten minutes on a nearby bench. Forward to the next adult on a plane or in hotel lobby who lets Teddy chat about Pokemon or dinosaurs or dolphins while I relax a little knowing that he is entertained.
It turned out that my actual reward was a $100 voucher for a future flight (begging the question as to just how much money airlines make or save with this new policy, which just seems deeply foolish and inhuman to me). But the fact is that I would have done it for no dollars and that’s a fact.
So I was in the middle, and as luck would have it, the person in front of me was one of those who felt it necessary to have their seat leaned as far back as it would go. For five hours I had a TV screen I couldn’t turn off but had to pay to use for anything other than ads inches from my face to say nothing of strangers at each shoulder, maybe not such a spa day of a flight after all. But as I waited in the crush for the slow trek onto the plane, I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned to find the mother standing there with a smile on her face. “Thank you so much,” she said. “I feel so much better knowing that I can sit with my daughter.”
Just looking out for my tribe.
And speaking of $100 – have you seen that you can easily win a Visa gift card for that amount on my site this week?