Tuesday, February 03, 2009

My Kingdom For An Empty Middle Seat

The week before last I jetted west to work out of my LA office for a few days and took the last direct Southwest flight from LAX to Nashville Friday night.

I checked in online the previous day (right at the 24 hour mark to make sure I got an “A” boarding pass), and with A35 in my hand was confident I would have an empty seat beside me to spread out and get some work done during the 3 1/1 hour flight.

I had confirmed the flight had about 20 or so empty seats, and my standard strategy in these cases is to find another large person in an aisle seat and secure the window seat near him/her. For strategically thinking Southwest frequent flyers that have to work on the plane, there is quite a bit of thought put into seat selection:

1. If you can hold it, always take the window seat so you’re not getting up constantly for others to go bathroom, and you’re not forever getting wacked in the side by people passing by and their luggage.

2. Confirm whether the flight is full. If it is, look for a couple already seated in aisle and middle seat that are thin. Take the window.

3. If the flight isn’t full, look for a single person seated in the aisle seat that is the LARGEST person available, thereby creating a very small space for the middle seat and encouraging boarding passengers to “keep on walking.” DO NOT take a window seat in an empty aisle, as a couple may board knowing they will have to have an aisle and middle seat between them, and choose your row.

4. Once seated, place your backpack or carry-on in the empty middle seat while moving both your feet under the seat in front of the middle seat. For boarding passengers that might be thinking about taking the middle seat but are too timid to ask if the seat is being saved you increase the chance they will “keep on walking.” Also, by reserving the under seat space in front of the middle seat with your feet, you have a place to put your carry-on when seating is done and still keep all your leg room in front of your window seat.

My strategy tends to work well unless there is some unforeseen circumstance that throws a stick in the spokes. And that’s what happened on that fateful flight home.

Just before the door closed a group of 4 men boarded the plane. They were all friends, and all very drunk. They stumbled down the aisle laughing and talking wildly while looking for seats that where near each other. All that was left were middle seats, and they settled on my general area.

The largest amongst them claimed the middle seat next to me, and plopped his big sweaty and drunk body next to mine. There were empty middle seats (next to much smaller/thinner people than I ) in front of me, behind me, and across from me. But no- he had to pick my row.

For 3 ½ hours I was treated to loud drunk story telling, the smell of whisky and sweat, and a sickeningly hot and wet body pressed into mine while I tried to read a few scripts. Horrible, horrible flight.