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What would you do – another airplane etiquette question

by Mark P. McDonald  |  June 23, 2010  |  2 Comments

A while ago I wrote about a conundrum I faced on a flight with a passenger in seat 19A who decided that it was ok to drive the back of his seat into my knee.  I posed the question, what you would do about it.

Now I pose another question.  In this case it’s a passenger in seat 13J and instead of sitting behind them I am access the aisle on a 12-hour flight from London to Singapore – en route to Sydney.  Here is the rub.  I had planned to do a bunch of work on the flight – after all 12 hours without the internet or cell phone ringing is a gift that should not be wasted.

Here is the rub, there is no person sitting in 13K meaning that the person across the aisle from me has an open seat, while the seat next to me is full.  So I asked the person sitting next to me the following questions:

I was wondering if you were planning on working on the flight?

It got a puzzled look, so I explained.

I was hoping to do a lot of work on the flight and the seat next to you is open.  I was wondering if we might switch seats to I could use the open seat for workspace?

She looked at me, and then said that she had to think about it.

Then she tipped her seatback, put on her earphones and started a movie.

I guess it will take her some time to think about it.

How should I think about this?

What would you do either as the person sitting in 13J, with the open seat that she does not plan to use?

Or, me the person looking for the space. Was I rude to ask?

I just find it interesting how people respond and I have more often than not been happy to change seats so a couple could sit together that kind of thing.  Am I a chump for doing this?

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Category: personal-observation  

Mark McDonald, Ph.D., is a Vice President and Fellow Emeritus in Gartner for General Managers Program.

Thoughts on What would you do – another airplane etiquette question

  1. David Whelan says:

    Sounds like you fly with some real jerks. Seats are a problem, but my knees usually extend far enough that the seat in front of me meets resistance almost immediately. It’s a bit passive aggressive but I’ve never had to ask anyone to put their seat up.

    If I’d been sitting next to an empty seat and someone had indicated they’d like to swap and I was going to end up with an equivalent seat (aisle for aisle, same row, the swapped seat wasn’t otherwise being encroached upon by the seat neighbor’s love handles or audible string concerti), the gracious thing to do would be to swap. I guess someone see unused space as a luxury.

  2. Mark McDonald says:

    I wanted to share a ‘private’ email response I received regarding the post. This person represents the counter position.



    I just posted a blog entry for today and found yours scanning the other postings.

    Sorry to sound like a jerk, but I wouldn’t want to give up my seat (maybe I would do it against my desire for karma or if you caught me in a good mood, but I wouldn’t want to is the point). An open seat is valuable. It is worth something – some people (maybe this woman is one) try hard to get one. Frequent fliers can sometimes finagle them or take effort to get seated next to one. In rare cases someone actually pays for it. It could just be a gift of luck, or karmic payback for a previous flight with an armrest hog. Granted, if the woman is small and not extending her elbows maybe she doesn’t need it, but that’s rare. My natural pose here at home is to have my elbows hanging about 3 inches out from the armrest. And she can already see your seat has a seatback eating up the space.

    As for the other situation, I don’t think people who slam their seats back have good etiquette. I always go back gradually, look as I go, and often don’t go back as far as I could. But, unfortunately, it’s their right – more than you’re entitled to the space in front of you. I just do what you did – stand my ground and see what gives. Lately my issue has been with people that keep it back after being told to prepare for landing – I’m looking forward to those last few minutes of open space and get annoyed when they don’t come.

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