Thursday, September 24, 2009

Never Mess with a Little Sister

For claustrophobics, there are few experiences more enchanting than sealing yourself up inside a big tinfoil Tylenol and hurtling across America.

I’ve built some coping mechanisms. Being too broke to ever go anywhere, for instance. But when a flight becomes necessary, I go for headphones, mild hallucinogenics, meditation and occasional walks up and down the aisle.

Except when I’m on a cross-country nonstop with a non-reclining seat and so much turbulence my teeth were sticking out of my eyebrows. Walks became impossible and the walls closed in.

What made the experience even more completely awesome was the spiky-haired hipster in front of me. He’d reclined to the point that I was tempted to dig out some chopsticks and perform a head lice inspection. After about three hours, my chest tightening, and a panic attack rolling in, I decided to take action.

I put on my best Happy Secretary voice. *tap tap* “Excuse me, would you mind moving your seat up a bit for a little while? I’m starting to feel squashed.”

Well, the look he gave me implied I’d asked something along the lines of, “Hello good sir, I was wondering if I could have your left nut, your mother’s virtue, and perhaps a cottage in the countryside.”

“Why, yes, I would mind.”

He clamped his earbuds back in place. I politely said I was claustrophobic, and that I really needed the space and air or I might have a panic attack. He ignored me while his traveling companion looked a little embarrassed (the companion, though, was in the process of crushing my next-door neighbor, so I guess jerks of a feather really do fly together).

I briefly entertained the idea of calling over a flight attendant. After all, if I had a fit on the plane it would be unpleasant for everyone. But then I pictured myself saying, “Mo-ooom, Hipster’s on my side of the car again!” I’m more mature than that.

I swaddled myself in a shawl, took deep breaths, pictured open spaces and light, and pulled myself together. After a while, I calmed down. Crisis averted. Until I heard a squeak and a clack.
The Hipster was reclining even further.

Fine. Keep your seat the way it is. I'll live. But reclining further is just being a petty, mean-spirited, vindictive little bully. I know I seem like an easy target. I’m girly and giggly and small and my voice is so chirpy that I could probably speak the language of parakeets if I only tried.

But Hipster didn’t know something important: I'm also a little sister. And, like any little sister anywhere, I know how to turn any journey into a relentless sort of hell.

I propped myself up and proceeded to dig my knees into his back for the remaining two hours of the flight.


FoggyDew said...

Sorry the trip (back?) was such a pain. As someone who doesn't generally fit into airline seats anyway, I sympathize completely. The only thing that could have made it better, I'm sure, was a screaming toddler. Personally, I would have spent every second after his refusal doing exactly what you did, only harder. Every move I made would have been a calculated attempt to launch him from his seat.

thoughts said...

There's a sweltering place in hell for people who feel the need to recline their seats. I'm 6'4" and can already barely fit in the damn seat.

I too find the knee dig to be the best way to help my fellow passenger realize that he or she doesn't need to recline the seat - you see, I'm a little brother.

Brando said...

At that point you would have been justified by grabbing his hand, smacking him with it, and asking "why are you hitting yourself? Why are you hitting yourself?"

Jamie said...

As much as I feel your pain, you guys seriously are going to sit here and not only complain about people actually reclining their seats on an airplane, but go so far as to encourage retaliation in the form of kicking, for (gasp) using the seat in the manner in which it was designed?

While I am not a huge seat-recliner myself since I usually read on the plane, it's not like it's a faux pas to do that. It's allowed. It's why they recline. There's no unwritten rule that says "even though the airplanes have designed out seats to recline exactly 18 degrees and no more, we should never do so."

If someone did the "knee dig" to my seat while I was just trying to recline because I wanted to sleep, I'd be doing the "turn around and glare" first, followed by the "I can't seem to get comfortable bouncing back and forth all the time," and finally the "accidental over-the-head coke spill" until we had come to an understanding.

And if someone asked me not to recline my seat, unless they were holding a baby or there was some kind of medical concern, I'd just say "take it up with the stewardess."

Shannon said...

Foggy - If only I had the leg strength to send the guy flying...

thoughts - Welcome back! Younger siblings unite!

Brando - That's an older sibling trick, actually. Younger siblings scream "Hipster hit me!" whether or not it's true.

Jamie - Sigh. There's reclining a bit so you're comfortable, then there's being an inconsiderate dick who so values his or her own comfort that they consider it perfectly OK to squash the person behind them. I didn't ask him to move the whole way back up, I asked him to get the everlovin' heck out of my lap for a little bit so I could breathe.

Jamie said...

Shannon, you're the size of a smurf. You don't have a leg to stand on when it comes to complaining about airplane room. Most people would be more cramped in first class than you are even with full-recline in front of you.

thoughts said...

I side with Shannon on this one. Who cares if she's smaller? The whole post is about her feeling claustrophobic. The db just had to move his seat up a little to help her out and actually be nice.

And just because the seats are designed to recline, doesn't mean you need to go all the way back to the point a person can't set a drink down on his or her tray table. Have some decency and understand that this isn't your plane.

There's reasonable and unreasonable. The knee dig comes in when the person in front of me moves to the unreasonable.

Beach Bum said...

I don't know, it's not his fault you have a problem with his seat reclining. And if the person in front of him also reclined their seat, he would be squished if he didn't reclined himself.

I gotta say, I'm with the hipster in this one. When you fly, you know your rights, and one of them is to recline the seat when you want it reclined (it's much more comfortable that way).

The only time I think people should put the seat forward is when food is being served, otherwise it's hard for the person to eat, as there is not much room above the tray if a seat is reclined all the way back. Aside from that, sorry, it's not his fault you didn't like it.

Brett said...

Wow, way to be sympathetic (not!) The point is not so much that the "hipster" dude was reclining, but that he was an ass about it. Had he actually been asleep, he wouldn't have been able to be such a douchebag to Shannon.

Jamie said...

I wouldn't recline my seat while food or drink service was taking place.

But being on an airplane is an exercise in being uncomfortable. You have babies, 8-year-olds kicking your seat, excessively large people who's shoulders will encroach into your space, edge-seaters who will use the armrest in the center-seat leaving you with none, and so on. Reclining your seat is sometimes the only bright spot in an otherwise awful situation, it's the only thing you can control.

So if I got on that plane, and was having the most awful travel experience imaginable, and was probably tired and had been stuck in the airport for hours because flying sucks ass no matter what and some *tiny* person behind me asked me not to recline my seat, wanted to take away the one escape I had from the hell that is air travel...

There are two sides to everything.

Brando said...

Jamie, were you the hipster sitting in front of Shannon???

Jamie said...

I'm too old to be a hipster.

Lemmonex said...

I don't know about asking him to sit up right, but reclining further was definitely a dink move.

Shannon said...

What's amusing me about the responses is this: the post was less about recliners vs. non-recliners, and more about the breakdown of common courtesy.

I made a politely worded request for the hipster to move his seat up a little and give me a break (NEVER did I tell him to move it completely upright for the rest of the flight - that would have been an unreasonable request). It wouldn't have killed the man to do what I asked.

Instead of even considering my comfort, he shot me a dirty look and then retaliated by throwing his seat back even further. Which caused me to dig my knees into his back - not mature on my part, I'll admit.

Factors: I'm small, yes, but I am also INTENSELY claustrophobic and was on the verge of a panic attack. It's real, and it sucks. I rarely fly, but in this case I had to for work.

Also, my seat did not recline, and the passenger in front of the hipster was not reclining either (I checked before I even asked him to move). So, this guy valued his own comfort above everything else, including the obviously freaked-out woman behind him.

It is my contention that yes, flying sucks, as do all situations where humans are crowded together. But in bad situations, humans owe one another kindness and courtesy, not an attitude of "I've got mine, to hell with everyone else."

Malnurtured Snay said...

In fairness, if Shannon is the size of a smurf, she's the size of a pretty damn giant one.

Zandria said...

I hope that you not only dug your knees into his back, but that you bounced your knees into his back OVER AND OVER. He deserved it!

(And yes, the bad part wasn't that he was's that he moved back FARTHER out of spite.)

HP said...

I think by now it should be rather evident that 1.) flying sucks for everyone; 2.) people are mostly concerned with their own self interests.

So...flying is also going to be an experience defined by a clash of total strangers simply trying to make themselves more comfortable. Yes, the hipster was a dick in reclining even more after Shann expressed her discomfort. However, he was probably also trying to make himself more comfortable and didn't especially care what the person behind him nattering about her discomfort had to say about it.

In situations like that all you can do is accept that you're going to be unhappy and learn to deal with it. Just be happy you're small and don't take up much space. Think how hellish it would be if you were both claustrophobic and a giant.

Titania said...

Welcome back, smurfy giant! I hate, hate, hate flying

Just A Girl said...

I NEVER recline my seat. I really don't remember the last time I did. Mainly because it's not any more comfortable for me, so why make the person behind me uncomfortable? I would have punched Hipster Douche, just by virtue of him being a hipster though.

J said...

On a vaguely related note, this was spotted on my friend Nat's Facebook feed today: "Pro tip: dont introduce yourself to your redeye neighbors with 'so, I guess we're going to be sleeping together.'"

Marissa said...

I gotta say, "common courtesy" in this case isn't black and white. While I understand you aren't comfortable flying, he probably isn't either. No one is. Flying on a U.S. airplane is barbaric and it really is a matter of just going with the flow and making the best out of what's thrown at you. And if that's a dude reclining (I won't use "hipster" in this case because I think it's ridiculous to use that term in a derogatory way) in what you believe is your space, then that's what it is. The seats recline, he's taking advantage of the design to maximize his own comfort in a crappy situation. Is it fair to ask him to give up some of his comfort to increase yours? What if you had been in a reclining seat and you reclined onto the person sitting behind you and then they complained to you? Maybe I'm extra rude or maybe it's just that I'm a pretty seasoned traveler and am on a plane at least once a month, but I think I would say, "Listen, sorry you're feeling cramped, but welcome to U.S. air travel in the 21st century. It sucks for everyone. Deal with it."

I mean, save for an emergency of some sort (I think if someone was having a heart attack I would jump out of my seat and help), I think that's just the way it is in modern-day airplanes. I think the airplane design is to blame in this situation and not necessarily the person who probably didn't recline more just to f*ck with you, but to get more comfortable himself. If he did recline just to f*ck with you, he's certifiable. Making yourself more uncomfortable to make someone else more uncomfortable makes no sense.

I don't know. I guess I would've just grinned and beared (bore?) it...Or seen whether there were other seats around.

lacochran said...

You should have smacked him.

With a turkey burger.

Glad you're posting again! :)

Heather said...

Good to see a post :)

I think after reading this one I will just stick to traveling via cars/trains/boats/alpacas , I def. hate flying.

Shannon said...

Marissa, all - I wrote this post both because it's a funny story, and because it brings up questions about the decline of civility.

I only recline if it's an overnight flight and everyone else is reclining/asleep. I also ask the person behind me if it's ok. Here's why:

No one person is entitled to more space or comfort than anyone else. A crappy situation is no excuse to develop a sense of me-first entitlement. Flying sucks. I agree. So what right do you have to make it worse for others?

If you are doing something that bothers someone else, and they politely ask you to stop, then yes, common courtesy and decency dictate that you do what you've been asked to do. Or at least give a reason as to why you can't comply. A snotty rejoinder is NOT an acceptable response.

And, considering the gentleman's general rudeness, and the fact that I overheard him and his travelling companion DISCUSSING THE FACT THEY WERE SEATED IN FRONT OF NON-RECLINING SEATS, yes, I think the further reclining was vindictive and intentional.

I'm not saying that I'm a perfect saint in this situation. Far from it. The knees were mostly there to keep him from leaning back any further, but, yes, they were partially there to get back at him for being so rude to me. Nothing makes my blood boil like a bully.

What I find so interesting is that I wrote about entitlement, vindictiveness, and courtesy, and the responses are reinforcing my original point. There are two camps:

1. I'm entitled to lean back, because that's what the seats do! I'm gonna make everything better for me. (FYI - current seats are closer together than ever, but still lean back with the same pitch - so yes, airplane design is at fault.)

2. I'd be more vindictive than you were, and kick kick kick my way to Dulles.

And there's an overall heat and lack of courtesy in the comments that I find disconcerting - this blog is typically a happy zone.

So, what it comes down to is that flying sucks, but that's no excuse for the breakdown in civility that occurs every time the cabin doors close.

bh said...

I'm a habitually leaner-backer, but personally, if somebody explains on a cross country flight they are having a panic attack and need a couple of inches, I think I can sit up for awhile, or at least not lean back deeper.

And I'm with you: What's with all the "I bought it, I'm entitled to it bullshit?" Technically yes, but that's the kind of myopic "it's mine" view that has neighbors coming to fisticuffs over shrubbery. Try to empathize a little with your fellow man (or little woman).

My kids have discovered the perfect method for driving somebody insane on a plane: Letting the seat table drop over and over and over again. Feel free to torture the next hipster you encounter on a plane with their hard earned knowledge.

I'm scottish by descent, so picking fights comes naturally.

Jamie said...

What's with all the "I bought it, I'm entitled to it bullshit?"

I knew it! You're all communists.

Maxie said...

What an ass for leaning back more. i don't blame you for kneeing him. That made YOU comfortable. And after all, your knees are built to go up just like his airline seat is built to go back. Give it to him.

Shannon said...

bh - I think I was on a plane with your kids! Ker-CLACK. Ker-CLACK!

Jamie - In Mother Russia, airplane flies you!

Maxie - My knees are built to do a lot of things, most of which aren't pleasant.

Tina said...

Glad to see you back and yes there is very little common courtesy left anywhere in the US these days. I agree that if someone makes a reasonable and polite request it should be honored or at least politely declined. If someone makes a rude request - well they were pretty darn stupid to start off by pissing off the person they wanted something from. I see nothing wrong with pointing that out as I decline.

And the extra lean back made him a total dick. Without that I probably would not have needed to do something to him but after that - evil twin time all the way.

Sudhir said...


As a frequent traveler - about two to three flights a week, let me pass on some information with regard to choosing seats. Go to, I have not been failed by this site till date.

I agree the guy was inconsiderate, but as bad as it was for him to behave the way he did, he was eligible to recline. He was a jerk to recline even further, but he could do it. Ideally, you should talk to the flight attendants and even prior to it, let the airline know about your condition. They usually try and accommodate these things.

Now if the flight attendant was also not able to help, then here is my suggestion, you ask for a glass of water with loads of ice. Let it really chill and then have your neighbor ask you to move and as you stand accidentally pour the water all over his sorry a#$ and then profusely apologize! You have the satisfaction of seeing him take a cold shower and cut retaliation off with a hollow apology.

If only we could all get along! "Life is Good".

Hey let me know if you want to do happy hour next week. I am in town then.

Alex said...

reclining seats on planes is just one small example of the much-forgotten rule that just because something is a "right" (although I don't remember seeing that in the Constitution), doesn't make it *right*.

That guy was a jerk for not trying to accommodate you when you asked nicely, and so sharp knee digs was a perfectly appropriate response, one I would've considered too. In fact, in my case, my knees will dig into the back of the person in front of me if they recline too far whether I want them to or not.

Flying is hell, but it would be slightly less so if people made some small effort to think about those around them.

Shannon said...

Tina - next time, I'm taking your evil twin on the plane with me!

Sudhir - Thanks for the tip! I'll definitely try SeatGuru next time. It didn't occur to me that the seats in front of an exit row do not recline. Not that I would have reclined anyway...but still. Incidentally, Virgin America's seats practically go horizontal. If I'd known that, I would have chosen a different airline.

Alex - I agree. I guess my main point is this: just because you CAN do something, doesn't mean you SHOULD. A little consideration for others can go a long way.

Anonymous said...

Wow. The guy has every right to put his seat back. You should have asked a flight attendant to see if they can get "YOU" another seat. The sense of entitlement some of people never ceases to amaze me. You want to make everyone else uncomfortable, because you are uncomfortable. Either ask to be moved or fly business class next time douchebag.

Sudhir said...

Unfortunately, it is due to people who lack consideration for others and take their entitlement as a pure right and behave in an obnoxious manner that we have such rude society where everyone is purely thinking of "ME". Is it his right to recline the seat, yes! Does he live in a society where being considerate of one another is dwindling, yes! Are we going back the dark ages, yes! The anonymous comment made above just goes to show the people who are forcing society in general to decay and crumble. It is not this persons fault that the support the inconsiderate person who reclined the chair! I am sure that person does not travel often. Common decency and consideration is truly rare and the anonymous post proves it.

Shame on you!