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Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Reclining or Not, A Eureka Moment in Air Travel.

Recent travel-related news items caught my and a lot of people’s attention: the fight between passengers over leg space and reclining seats. See, for example,

(Two incidents between passengers on American flights over the right to recline their seats resulted in two diverted planes, one arrest and a heated, global debate.)

Please now allow me a short diversion, or circling of our destination, before I get to the topic of reclining seats.
I had been sitting at my keyboard trying to think of a eureka moment (or is that an eureka moment?) so I could write about it to enter a contest in a women’s magazine. Unfortunately, I've had no recent eureka moments. But thinking about the contest did cause me to think about my last true eureka moment, which came at about age seven.
I still remember the feeling—as if I’d been struck by lightning. Or by the seat back on an airline when the person in front of me reclined and smacked my knees.  Anyway, at the age of seven or so, like a sudden smack in the knee, it dawned on me that what adults were saying was not meant literally. I may have been a little slow until that point. Maybe I still am.
But at least since then I've know that God is not “up there” in church behind the stained glass windows. And when your guests say they are going “to hit the road” they are not going to go outside and slap the pavement. I've even progressed to the point of knowing that when someone tells you “the check is in the mail”, at best, they only mean they have an intention of paying you--sometime.
Getting  back on track to our destination, the reclining, or not, of airline seats, I’m firmly on the side of both travelers. I hate being squished in a seat where you can’t put your seat back. And I also hate having the person in front of me recline his or her seat. I've come away with bruises on my knees when a large passenger in front of me abruptly reclines the seat. Did I mention I have only moderately long legs? But they usually are touching the seat in front of me, even without the seat back reclined. No doubt because most airlines have crammed so many seats on their planes.
The only party in this little dispute with whom I do not sympathize is the airline industry. I expect they may use this recent incident to steal the “bright idea” of an economist who says we should negotiate for money over this space, essentially have the person behind us on the plane pay us to not recline.

I think the party who will make money from this idea is the airline industry. I can easily see them imposing another fee, as if there are not enough airline fees: an added charge for passengers who want to recline and/or to sit behind seats that do not recline. The airlines may even present this as a “safety fee” to keep passengers from fighting about the bit of space offered by reclining or not.
In addition to charging more fees for everything from checking to or carrying on luggage, food, drinks, pillows, headsets, WiFi, you name it, the airlines also are in the process of trying to squeeze more and more passengers into less and less space. Soon they will have us all standing up as we fly shoulder to shoulder and hip to hip. Such a “seat pattern” has even been proposed by some airlines. Why not just strap us to the roof of the planes? Mitt Romney did that with his Irish setter on his car. He says the dog loved it. Maybe we will too.
In our haste to our destination we should not overlook there is a eureka moment here. Probably the revelation hit the two arguing passengers, the pro-and con-recliners, sometime around the time the pilot announced he was landing in Chicago and they were tossed unceremoniously out on the tarmac.
What does one do then? Try to book a new flight to your destination? Will TSA let a passenger who just caused a plane to make an unscheduled stop back on another plane? Or does the still-angry passenger need to stand in line and try to rent a car? I wouldn't want to be in line with him or her at the car rental.
Maybe the kicked-off-the-plane passenger stands in another line for a restroom, looks in the mirror, and has a revelation. As miserable as air travel now is, it’s certainly got to be worse, stuck in Chicago’s O’Hara airport when that was not your intended destination.
Knowing that most of what adults say is not meant literally, even if they use the word “literally”, is still one of the biggest breakthroughs of my life in dealing with other people. When the airline says your plane will be on time, the airline hopes you enjoyed your flight, or that TSA security is keeping you safe, you know it’s a lot like saying “the check is in the mail”.  Good intentions at best.
But please, airline industry, and I do mean this literally, don’t come up with a plan to make all of us passengers stand up through the flights or strap us to the roof of the planes. Good intentions will not be good enough in the event you try to squeeze even one additional passenger or bag onto my flight. 

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