I’m not an anti-social traveler. In fact, I love to meet new people when I’m traveling. But when I find myself sitting on an airplane with the seat next to me open, I tend to get a little nervous wondering who is going to come and occupy the middle seat next to me.
On most airlines, I feel OK about looking to see who is coming down the aisle, because if they’re assigned to the seat next to me, they’re going to sit there, whether they like the looks of me or not. But when I fly Southwest, and other airlines that have open seating, I find myself strategizing on how best to preserve my extra space.
On a short flight, the stakes are low, but on a long flight, the difference between having an open seat next to you and having a size XXL traveler plop down beside you can be huge. And in fairness, it isn’t just large people you don’t want next to you. The overly chatty, the obnoxious, and the malodorous can be even worse. On Thursday, I traveled on Southwest from Chicago to Los Angeles, a 4.5-hour flight (if it’s on time), and, with most of the passengers already on board, I still had an open middle seat next to my aisle.
I know it’s horrible and selfish, but as the few remaining stragglers made their way down the aisle, a small voice inside me was pleading, please, please, please don’t sit next to me. My brain quickly ran through the different strategies that one might employ in order to preserve the extra space.
It rarely works, but who hasn’t put their reading material or other stuff on the seat next to them to make it seem as though the seat might be occupied? Admit it, you’ve done this before.
Make The Center Seat Seem Even Smaller Than It is
Put the armrest up, spread your legs out and make that center seat look as small and unappealing as possible.
It’s a longshot, but if you’re working on a laptop positioned on the tray table, some passersby might be so polite that they’ll chose another middle seat rather than make you get up and reposition with a computer in tow. (Or you can talk on the phone, but I’ve never stooped to that level because it’s an annoyance to everyone in the vicinity.)
There are plenty of different ways to do this – you can stare, you can let your eyes roll around towards the back of your head, let your tongue hang out of your mouth, drool a bit perhaps. Just watch “One Flew Over the Cukoo’s Nest” if you need some suggestions. If you really want to take this one the extra mile, wear a T-shirt with an aggressively anti-social slogan on it. Something like, “I worship Satan” might do the trick.
Give Off God Vibes
Have a bible out and before the person even asks if the seat next to you is free, ask them if they’ve accepted the Lord, Jesus Christ as Their Savior.
Give Off Skunky Vibes
You probably don’t want to avoid showering for days before your flight but you can carry a bag with some smelly cheese, durian or some other food that smells awful.
Carry Depends or Have a Barf Bag Cocked and Ready to Go
Would you sit next to someone that had a box of Depends undergarments on their lap? What about someone who was hyperventilating and clutching a barf bag?
Gangsta-rap or Richard Marx at Full Blast
I guarantee you that if you are blasting Richard Marx’s “I Will Be Right Here Waiting For You” or NWA’s “F**ck the Police” into a pair of oversized headphones, people will think twice about sidling up next to you. 2 Live Cru’s “Me So Horny” Or the Devinyl’s “I Touch Myself” could work for most men, but might serve the opposite purpose if women try it.
Court A Skinny Passerby
If it’s a relatively full flight and I’m resigned to the fact that someone is going to sit next to me, I might make the effort to smile at people that I think would make good seat mates. Sometimes, if they’re looking at the seat next to me, I’ll go one step further and invite them to sit down. Alternately, when I see someone who I really do not want to sit next to me coming down the aisle, my heart starts beating faster and I begin to employ any and all of the tactics mentioned above.
Sometimes I’ve already spotted people I don’t want to sit next to before I’ve even boarded the flight, such as the individual in the photo at the top of this post, who I encountered on Thursday. It wasn’t just the fact that he was quite large but also the fact that he looked like he might break my neck or cast some kind of satanic curse on me if I happened to brush his elbow by accident. When I saw him sit in a middle seat next to someone a few rows in front of me, I was ready to pop open a bottle of Champagne. I’m sure he’s a great guy but I just didn’t want to sit next to him (sue me).
Don’t Make Eye Contact
This was the tactic I tried on my recent Southwest flight. My head was buried in a newspaper, even though I was too nervous about who was going to sit next to me to do anything more than run my eyes across the words without really digesting what was on the page.
On this occasion, the tactic didn’t work. I heard a voice ask if the seat next to me was occupied and I looked up to see, who else but an attractive and petite woman of perhaps 25. An ideal seat mate if there ever was one. The truth is that I enjoyed chatting with her and the woman in the window seat and the trip was, in fact, a good reminder that trying to repel people isn’t always the best idea.
[Photo credits: Dave Seminara and Skley on Flickr]