Way back in 1998 I had a job where I had to fly to Kansas City each week and work, then come back home to Raleigh, NC for the weekend. There were no direct flights either way, but the layovers were always the same. They were not the same in each direction, for some reason, but each direction’s layover was the same week after week. It all became pretty routine after a while, well except for this one time there was a thing that happened…
I boarded the plane as usual and took my seat. Most times there were empty seats and people could (and did) move around a bit once the plane was loaded and we knew the seats were empty for the flight. After taking my seat, a window seat, a couple came on board with their young son. I could overhear their conversation a couple of rows ahead of me. Apparently they had not bought their tickets in a manner that their son’s seat was with theirs.
The couple took their seats and asked the other person on that row, who was already seated, if he minded switching seats so their son could sit with them. He didn’t mind, but he didn’t exactly switch seats either, instead he just sat on the next row. As you might expect, soon the person came aboard who’s seat he had taken and after a brief explanation that person also took a random different seat instead. This all continued until the plane was almost full.
Literally the last person on the plane was a slightly older than middle-aged woman. I mention that not to disparage her in any way, but just to give some weight to the story. As she continued down the aisle looking for her seat, my brain started to churn a potential what-if scenario… and as fate would have it, she approached the aisle where I had the window seat, and our row was already full. She told the man in her seat that he was in fact in her seat. He asked if she minded sitting somewhere else. She was adamant, she had requested an outside-aisle seat and that was hers.
Seeing there was a problem, a flight attendant approached and asked about the problem. The woman said this man was in her seat. Realizing that the “can you sit elsewhere” idea had already been floated, and after verifying the seat on the lady’s ticket. She asked the man where his seat was and why he was not in it. He, of course, explained that someone else was already in his seat when he had boarded the plane. I’m sure you can see where this was headed…
A few other people around me started cluing in to the mess that was about to unravel as the flight attendant was now trying to reverse the cavalcade of randomly mis-seated people that started when the couple wanted to switch seats to have their son sit with them. I don’t remember exactly how it all settled, but I remember the couple and their son stayed together and the woman got her aisle seat on my row. I also remember a lot of people being mad at that woman.
During the flight, I explained to the woman what had happened… I told her that I completely understood her wanting the seat she had specifically requested and that the other problem could have been solved in two different ways. Either that couple should have bought their tickets together in the first place or that first seat-switch should have been a literal switch rather than the cascading thing of everyone taking a random seat that trickled down eventually to her not being in hers.
As it happens, she came across as a little gruff, but the truth was she requested that seat because she had difficulty getting up and down and needed the aisle seat to be able to do so comfortably. I just remember the comedy in my mind that I enjoyed first as I knew instinctively how that first seat switch might be a problem if the plane filled to capacity, and then again later as it all came to fruition and the poor flight attendant had to try and unravel it all as each thread she pulled uncovered another passenger in the wrong seat!