The first thing I noticed about the passenger in seat 9C on a recent US Airways flight from Orlando to Washington was that he was carrying a light sabre.
You know, as in Star Wars.
After we reached our cruising altitude, I got up to use the restroom, and when I returned, I found that he had reclined his seat — all the way. I had a little problem with that because I was in 10C, and I was trying to write a column on my laptop.
The seat pitch in economy class is small enough to give a Lilliputian claustrophobia, so it should come as no surprise that my PC wouldn’t open enough for me to use it.
No problem, I thought. I’m the travel troubleshooter. I can handle this.
“Sir,” I said, as politely as I could. “Would you mind sliding your seat up a notch? I can’t open my laptop with your seat all the way back.”
“Sir?” I said, adding a little volume.
I tapped him on his shoulder gently.
“Please,” I said. “I can’t work.”
“I’ve been up since 4 a.m.,” Mr. Star Wars murmured, and turned away.
“What a coincidence,” I said, my blood pressure rising. “So have I.”
I had several options. First, I could escalate the confrontation. (But the man was traveling with a toy; a troubling sign.) I could move to a different seat. Or I could ask a flight attendant to intervene.
I’ll be honest: I felt like smacking Mr. Star Wars with his plastic weapon.
I picked door number three: to bring this ridiculous encounter to the attention of a flight attendant. You’ll probably find his response — and his resolution — to be interesting.
“Kindergarten,” he sighed, when I explained my predicament. “We’re on your side, but there’s not much we can do.”
The attendants didn’t want to confront Mr. Star Wars because they shared my misgivings, that this particular character might not be completely stable. The flight was full, even in first class. Otherwise, I’m pretty sure they would have offered me an upgrade for the rest of the short flight.
“It’s a shared space, isn’t it?” I asked.
“Yes,” said the attendant. “Just because you can lean all the way back doesn’t mean you should.”
How about the empty jumpseat, I asked him. Could I sit there? No — that’s against regulations, he said.
So how did this standoff end? I’ll get to the solution in a second. But first, a few words about who is to blame for this mess.
Ultimately, it’s a passenger’s responsibility to know proper flying etiquette (and don’t laugh –— there is such a thing). But there are other culpable parties. Chief among them, the airline.
Think about it. If the seats in economy class were made for adults, then we wouldn’t have to put up with this childish behavior. If US Airways offered a humane amount of legroom, then Mr. Star Wars could lean back and I could work on my laptop.