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The Polite Spine Takes Flight

This is my mother’s story. She handled the rude boor beautifully.

My mother boarded a plane on a trip to visit a friend. She had purchased the window seat. As she found her assigned and paid for seat, she was surprised to find a woman sitting in her window seat. My mother, always being courteous and never offensive, re-checked her seat assignment and yes, she was in fact, assigned to THAT window seat. My mother explained to the woman that the seat she was sitting in was her seat. The Rude Boor said, “I like to see out the window, that’s why I took this seat”. My mother sat in the seat closest to the aisle. It was a 2 person row. She flew to her destination without incident until it was time to exit the plane. As many people do, they jump up and try to be the first off the plane. The rude boor was no exception. As she jumped up to leave, she asked my mother to get up and move so she could get off the plane. My mother said, “I like to be the last one to exit the plane. That’s why I sit at the window seat.” The rude boor sat down and waited. I hope she learned her lesson. Bravo, Mom!   0411-12


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  • Aje April 12, 2012, 7:42 am

    Heehee. I like this.

  • SciFiLeslie April 12, 2012, 7:43 am

    Fantastic story! Sadly, I doubt the boor learned anything.

  • Margo April 12, 2012, 7:51 am

    Hmm. But Mom didn’t get to sit in the seat she had booked and paid for, and Boor got her way.

    Why not simply reply, when Boor first said she liked the window seat “So do I. Which is why I booked that seat.Please move out of my seat” ?

  • Marc Sulinski April 12, 2012, 7:57 am

    I am not sure how much “spine” was shown here. Really, she should have asked for a flight attendant’s help in getting into her correct seet.

  • Margaret April 12, 2012, 8:01 am

    Well, maybe. From what I’ve learned here, getting the flight attendant and asking him or her for assistance would have been a fully developed spine.

  • Ames April 12, 2012, 8:07 am

    I’m thinking this is more ‘passive-agressive spine’

    I’m not sure if it could be called ‘polite spine’. If she paid for the window seat, she should have politely called attention to it and taken it back.

  • alex April 12, 2012, 8:14 am

    ah, I love this!! I think what your mother did was brilliant! I probably would have made her move before the flight began by saying something like, “so do I, which is why I picked it.” But I like what she did better 🙂

  • LovleAnjel April 12, 2012, 8:16 am

    I’m not sure that’s so much having a spine as being passive-aggressive.

  • The Elf April 12, 2012, 8:18 am

    I love it! What a great solution!

    Perhaps Mom was not that bothered by sitting in the aisle rather than the window, or even preferred the aisle. If that is the case, I can see not raising a fuss about the seating. Dealing with it afterwards like that was just perfect!

    My preference is for window seats, but it’s not that strong a preference. What I really want is to sit next to my husband when we fly together. So, I’d call the flight attendant over if the rude boor had taken the seat next to him (window or not), but likely not if she had taken the window seat in a two-person row and I was flying alone. It’s just not worth it. Now, window seat in a three-person row, where my option would be to sit in the middle, that’s a different story!

  • MoniCAN April 12, 2012, 8:18 am

    I don’t think this was polite spine. This was revenge.

  • Jay April 12, 2012, 8:22 am

    “Well, then I’ll be happy to get off before you, so you can be last!”

    Not sure this counts as spine. Asking the lady to move would’ve been spine.

  • Tana April 12, 2012, 8:26 am

    Wow, what nerve that woman had. Congrats to the OP’s mother for taking a small stand. Growing that first vertebrae of a polite spine is the most difficult, I’m sure next time she’ll do even better.

    I fly back to the States at least once a year to visit my family. It’s a long flight and I have a particular seat that I book (paying extra to reserve it before the 24 hour free period) to ensure my comfort. If someone had the audacity to take my seat, they WOULD end up moving. Either by my sweet southern request or by the request of the flight attendant. You do NOT cut in line or take my spot.

    Honestly, I’ve yet to see anyone on a flight refuse to get up once their mistake has been pointed out. Who are these seat hogging boors?

  • Margaret April 12, 2012, 8:36 am

    Love it! I think that’s just a different kind of polite spine. It’s got a nicer karmic ring to it than if she had made the other woman move at the beginning.

  • sv April 12, 2012, 8:48 am

    Perfect! Clearly your mama wanted to make a point more than she wanted to look out the window. Bravo!

  • Enna April 12, 2012, 8:49 am

    I think it would have been best to get an attendent to deal with this woman. However the rude boor didn’t get away with it completely as she sat down and waited and didn’t kick up a fuss, so maybe, the rude boor did learn something: that if she had moved she would have been able to get off the plane when she wanted to. Unless Rude boor is very stupid she should have put two and two together.

  • Cat April 12, 2012, 9:12 am

    Well, now, being passive-aggressive can make a point very well. In this case, I think it did.
    Alternatively, it is also possible to comment, “Yes, window seats are nice. Perhaps you should think of getting one when you book your ticket. Unhappily, I also like the window seat and I am terribly sorry, but you will need to move since that is my seat.”

  • ShinyFun April 12, 2012, 9:19 am

    How was what your mother did polite? If she didn’t have spine enough to get her seat, that’s on her, but to make the woman sit on the plane during deboarding is just rude. Your mother should have let the woman out.

  • Cat Whisperer April 12, 2012, 9:26 am

    I like this. A revenge in kind, delivered with deadly courtesy and fitting the crime. Nicely done.

    As I’m sitting here at my computer, I’m remembering a long ago time when air travel was an adventure, not an ordeal; when you didn’t have to surrender your personal dignity and comfort in order to comply with security; when people weren’t stressed-out and cranky before they ever boarded the plane; and when your flight experience was that of a valued customer whose comfort was important to the airline, rather than being treated like one unimportant sardine being packed in a cylindrical can to maximize airline profit.

    People actually used to behave with courtesy and good manners on airplanes then because flying was a high-class experience and you didn’t want to embarrass yourself.

    Back in those days, a person who wanted a window seat but couldn’t get one at check-in would have courteously inquired of their seatmate if it was possible to to change places. Or asked the flight attendant if there was someone who would like to switch seats.

    But that was then. This is now. Sad.

  • Gina April 12, 2012, 9:30 am

    I have to disagree. She didn’t insist on the seat she paid for and retaliated in a pretty passive-aggressive way.

  • Helen April 12, 2012, 9:44 am

    I can see the person who was asked to move being a rather difficult seat-mate throughout the flight, if she were forced to move. (People with that large a sense of entitlement “I want that seat, so I’m taking it” tend to behave poorly when they don’t get their way.)

    Still, if you have that big a problem sitting in a different seat, you shouldn’t act like it’s no big deal and then get revenge later. Sure, the first person was wrong, but so was the second person, and two wrongs do not make a right.

  • Calliope April 12, 2012, 9:54 am

    “Back in those days, a person who wanted a window seat but couldn’t get one at check-in would have courteously inquired of their seatmate if it was possible to to change places. Or asked the flight attendant if there was someone who would like to switch seats.

    But that was then. This is now. Sad.”

    Cat Whisperer, I’m with you on some of your complaints about modern air travel, but not this one. I’ve been involved in several seat snafus on planes over the years, and witnessed many more, and all of them have been handled politely. In fact, just a few months ago, my husband and I checked in for a flight to find that the seats we’d reserved–including an aisle seat for me, important because I was hugely pregnant–had been reassigned to other customers, leaving us two center seats in separate aisles. When we boarded the plane, I simply asked a flight attendant if she would see if it was possible to find a different seat for me. The man in the aisle seat next to my husband overheard and immediately volunteered to switch seats with me. I see things like this happen on planes all the time, and I really don’t believe that it’s uncommon.

  • Kate April 12, 2012, 9:56 am

    This isn’t a polite spine, this is retaliatory rudeness. Polite spine would be asking the woman to move, and calling a flight attendant if need be.

  • Teapot April 12, 2012, 10:15 am

    Spine or not, passive-agressive or not, I love your mom!

  • AuntieMame April 12, 2012, 10:53 am

    I am missing something. How is being passive aggressive and getting revenge having a polite spine? How hard is it to signal a flight attendant and have the woman moved? I don’t think the OP’s Mother handled it well at all, the whole incident was immature on all sides.

  • HonorH April 12, 2012, 11:11 am

    I have to agree with the others that your mother should’ve insisted on her seat in the first place. If Rude Boor refused to move, your mother could’ve gotten a flight attendant involved. That would’ve been a much better solution than the one your mother chose. Sorry, but I don’t count this as a win.

  • Karen April 12, 2012, 11:37 am

    I had a similar situation and handled it differently. I had booked the window seat for a long cross country flight, and when I boarded, a young man (I’d say in his 20s) was sitting in my seat. I told him he was in my seat, and he said “I like the window seat, why don’t you take this one (pointing to the middle seat) because it’s empty.” I said ” I like the window seat, too, and that’s why I booked it, so please move.” He again tried to get me to take the middle seat, and I said no, asking him again to please move. With disgust, he moved to the middle seat and sat there pouting. All this time the gentleman who had the aisle seat was patiently standing, waiting for me to be able to get in my seat. I asked the rude young man to please step out in the aisle so that I didn’t have to climb over him, and he did so, but with little grace. Once the flight was underway, rude young man commented “you know, usually the woman takes the middle seat.” I just looked at him and said “not this woman.” Several times he leaned over me to open or shut the shade on the window and I finally said “look, do you mind? This is my space, and that’s your space. Please stay in it.” He got a little angrier, and said something like “why don’t you sit in the aisle if you don’t like it.” but at that point I simply ignored him and he did nothing else for the rest of the trip–except hog the arm rest and floor space.

  • Elle April 12, 2012, 11:37 am

    “Well, now, being passive-aggressive can make a point very well. In this case, I think it did.”

    It can make a point, but passive aggression is still a bullpoopy move. It does absolutely *zero* to solve a problem and in fact drags it out. In this case it dragged the problem out over the entire flight when all it would have taken is “Excuse me, flight attendant? There seems to be a mixup in our seat assignments.”

    Maybe I just have a far lower tolerance for PA behavior than is normal.

  • German Shepherd April 12, 2012, 12:39 pm

    I agree the method was more pa than a polite spine, but at least boor got a taste of her own medicine!

  • Xtina April 12, 2012, 1:16 pm

    Actually, I like how this panned out. Although I would have been firm on the seat-stealer moving from my seat (and if necessary, getting flight attendants to help) in the first place, I think Mom did a good thing here by teaching Rude Boor that yeah, you can get what you want, but there will be consequences. hahaha. Plus, Mom must have the patience of a saint to sit there and wait for a whole plane to empty.

  • Shea April 12, 2012, 1:39 pm

    I agree with Gina and Ames, this wasn’t a polite spine, it was passive-aggressive. The OP’s mother should have asked the woman to move out of her seat, and if the woman refused, called a flight attendant to deal with the seat-stealing Special Snowflake.

    With the tactic the mother took, the seat-stealer still got to sit in her preferred seat throughout the flight, and was only a bit inconvenienced at the end of the flight. She still got her way, and the OP’s mom didn’t get the seat she paid for.

  • Chocobo April 12, 2012, 3:01 pm

    Polite spine or not, I admit I like the story. It’s a nice cautionary tale about the effects of karmic balance. Made me chuckle!

  • Ann April 12, 2012, 3:49 pm

    It does make a cute story, but I can’t imagine spending one’s whole flight plotting one’s revenge. That’s just not a good use of head space.

    So much better to simply ask the woman to move, and enlist the help of the attendant if necessary.

  • jen a. April 12, 2012, 4:09 pm

    I could be wrong, but I thought the mother actually did want to be last off the plane. As in, she might have had mobility issues and needed help with baggage or something. I know some people don’t like to be jostled and pushed around when deboarding. Also, I don’t think it necessarily costs more to book the window seat. You just have to book it early. Therefore she actually booked the window seat so as to not inconvenience others. If the rude lady wanted the window seat, then fine. She can have it, but the same consideration will be shown to her at the end of the flight.

  • Smart Mom April 12, 2012, 4:23 pm

    I have a similar story with a much happier ending. When I boarded the plane for my vacation last year, I found a man sitting in my assigned window seat. I strongly prefer window seats, and was momentarily dismayed to see him there. I exercised my polite spine and said, “Excuse me, is this 14J? I believe that’s my seat.” He was very polite and quickly stepped out and let me in before he sat in the aisle seat.

    If it were not for this exchange “breaking the ice” I had planned to spend the five hour flight with my nose buried in the very interesting book that I had brought with me. Instead, this polite man, who I learned was in the US Navy traveling on a special assignment, and I talked all the way to our destination. He even helped me with my luggage and walked me to the rental car place!

  • zhoen April 12, 2012, 6:13 pm

    Mom was polite, and avoided having the Boor fume and bother her throughout the flight. Karen was right to do as she did, but left herself open to the Boor’s harrassment. Not passive-agggressive, but rather wise. She had to sit next to the idiot the whole flight, after all.

  • sweetonsno April 12, 2012, 8:19 pm

    I agree. This wasn’t a polite spine. It was revenge. I think it was executed quite well, but it was not a polite spine.

    The proper situation here is to politely explain that you want them to get OUT of your seat. I prefer an aisle seat myself, so I always check in early to make sure that I get it.

    I think the correct response to her justification for taking the response (“I like to look out the window, that’s why I took this seat”) is “I like to look out the window, that’s why I reserved a window seat.”

  • Cat April 12, 2012, 10:51 pm

    Some people seem to have a knee-jerk reaction to the words, “passive-aggressive” as if it is never effective in the long run and is an inferior response in every instance.
    People respond to behaviors in various ways. For some people, a very subtle approach may work-such as letting the woman keep the preferred seat, but making her remain seated to accommodate her fellow-passenger’s preference to wait until the plane had emptied before leaving the aircraft. It did underline what happens when one person insists on having his/her way and it effects someone else.
    Others may respond to a direct command from a person of authority, but it doesn’t always work. The woman could have said to a flight attendent, “I’m not moving. What are you going to do about it? Let’s see you make me!” and then an entire planeload of travelers gets to return to the gate and wait for law enforcement to remove the woman, making everyone late. If you read the newspapers, you can probably recall cases in which this happened.
    There is no one effective way to deal with all people. If this worked for this woman, fine. The cookie-cutter solutions put me in mind of Barney Fife, from “The Andy Griffin Show” ,who was always telling Andy how to raise Opie, although he himself had no children. Andy referred to it as, “Barney’s imaginary child”.

  • just sayin' April 13, 2012, 1:18 am

    i agree with jen a. it seems to me that the OP just waited to give that last bit of information for storytelling pizzazz. if her mother really did just choose the window seat to avoid inconveniencing others when upon arrival, she still very politely got her preference–to leave the plane (next to) last without dealing with the hassle of the stampede.

    i very much understand that impulse and often do the same thing–maybe that’s why i assumed that was the case. when i came back to read comments after first reading this story this morning, i was quite surprised that anyone interpreted it as passive aggressive or revengeful.
    perhaps those who read it as passive aggressive care more about the actual window seats or are more likely to plot revenge as well?

  • Melissa April 13, 2012, 7:24 am

    I would have just asked her to move….wasn’t the point of specifically buying a ticket for a window seat to, um, be able to sit in a window seat?

  • JillyBean April 13, 2012, 8:17 am

    I think what the mother did was excellent. And for those that say, “The other woman still got what she wanted, so, nothing was really done.” all I can say is that after a long flight, all I want is to get off the plane. Having to wait even a minute is annoying. I’m sure the lady learned her lesson.

  • TheaterDiva1 April 13, 2012, 11:33 am

    Sounds like retaliatory rudeness to me… It would be better if the LW’s mom had made that comment about wanting to be the last one off BEFORE the flight – thus giving the window hog a heads up and a chance to move now and not be inconvenienced later. If that didn’t work, than call in a FA.

  • Elle April 13, 2012, 11:38 am

    “Some people seem to have a knee-jerk reaction to the words, “passive-aggressive” as if it is never effective in the long run and is an inferior response in every instance.”

    Because it is an inferior response. And if you’re using it to solve an issue “in the long run” then you’ve got a BIG problem. It is a horrible conflict-resolution method because one, it can’t solve a problem quickly; two, it creates far more ill will in all parties than a straight confrontation; and three, at *best* you have a 50% chance that the wrongdoer actually realizes they’ve done something wrong.

    To expand on that last point, not every wrongdoer knows they are in the wrong. Sometimes it’s more a matter of obliviousness or cluelessness. Say, for instance, the window woman in this story has exclusively flown Southwest where you pick your seats on a first-come-first-serve basis and she honestly didn’t know she was wrong. In that case it would be embarrassing, but educational and kind to say “I reserved that seat when I booked my ticket. Would you please move.” If this were the case then at the end of the story the only takeaway window woman is likely to get is that the OPs mom is mean. (btw, this is not meant to be an alternate interpretation of what really happened. I deliberately rewrote the story for illustration purposes.)

    Now, I am in favor of letting people batter themselves against the natural outcome of the decision they’ve made. That could very well be what happened to the OP’s mom. I’m not saying she acted in a passive aggressive fashion. The storytelling done by the OP is fantastic so what might seem passive aggressive could just be the natural consequences or it could be the punchline to a great story. I don’t want to pick on this particular story. My reaction is solely against the idea of solving problems with PA behavior.

    To me, having a polite spine is about sticking up for yourself. It’s not about teaching a lesson. Maybe I’m wrong about that, I didn’t coin the phrase after all. To me, passive aggressive behavior is about teaching a lesson, not about standing up for yourself or resolving a conflict. I cannot, for the life of me, think of a situation where a passive aggressive reaction to a wrongdoing is the most effective technique to move forward in a positive direction.

  • TheMom April 13, 2012, 11:51 am

    I believe in the old adage, “Choose your battles and the hill you want to die on.” I think one can/should stick up for one’s rights in some situations that merit the challenge, but to me, this wasn’t one. I’ve been exposed to rude and inconsiderate behavior on many, many occasions and there is something to be said for “letting this one pass.” If I were to defend my space and my rights every time they were trampled on by others, I’d be perceived as a “difficult” person, smug in her defense that boorishness should be challenged at every opportunity. Sure, I hate to linger, hunched under the overhead baggage compartment as people seated behind me don’t allow me to exit at “my turn”; Of course, I’d prefer the cashier at JC Penney’s to complete my transaction before she answers the phone and assists another customer; Admittedly, I’d prefer a server 40 years younger than I to NOT call me honey, baby, sweetie, darlin’. I can’t deny, I’ve felt a little angry when I leave three car spaces between me and the car ahead, then some nimrod pulls in front of me at 80 mph without using his blinker. But you know, sometimes it just makes me FEEL better to let it go.
    I made my expectations clear when I told the lady she was sitting in my seat. She made her intentions clear that she wasn’t moving. Yes, I showed passive agressiveness and maybe revenge, but “Revenge is a dish best served cold.” I enjoyed the 1 hour flight, plotting my opportunity to get even. Polite spine isn’t just standing one’s ground, it’s choosing one’s battles and strategizing how to defend that ground with the least number of casualties (hurt feelings, misjudging anothers intentions, causing a scene that embarrasses others, etc.) And when, the prize is just too precious to “let go,” choosing the hill you want to die on, and letting the chips fall where they may. Thanks for the opinions, though. In another lifetime, I probably would have handled it differently.

  • Justin April 13, 2012, 2:34 pm

    The funny thing about airlines, you don’t really know who you are sitting next to most of the time. While I’ve been fortunate and never had anyone too obnoxious I find that sometimes it is easiest to roll with the little things and skip the revenge.

    Last year I was flying to Texas and made some small talk with the person next to me off an on throughout the flight as we swapped travel stories. When we were landing we finally got to what we did for a living. He was an executive with a chemical company, I am IT for a lab that was trying to form a business relationship with his company. While no etiquette blunders occured it illustrates the fact that it is a small world.

    If something is a big enough deal to require revenge use a polite spine and solve the problem. If it isn’t a big deal let it go, there are plenty of more important things to worry about.

  • Shalamar April 13, 2012, 2:49 pm

    I had a sort-of-similar experience with a much happier outcome. When my husband and I got married in 1993, we booked our honeymoon through a travel agent who handled everything – flights, cruise, and hotel. Unfortunately, we found out the hard way that she wasn’t very good at her job, since she had forgotten to confirm our flights. Therefore, when we showed up at the airport to fly to the destination at which we’d board our cruise, the airline had no seats for us and had to put us on standby. Luckily, we managed to get seats – unluckily, they were several rows apart. That was fine, though, we hadn’t expected anything else. As I was getting comfortable, the flight attendant came by and noticed my bridal bouquet, which I was still clutching. (Our wedding had been the previous day, and I couldn’t bring myself to throw out my lovely flowers when they were still fresh). She had one of those naturally loud voices and asked “Are you a BRIDE?” I confirmed that I was. “Is this your HUSBAND?” she asked, pointing at the gentleman sitting beside me. Amused, I said “No, that’s him,” and pointed to my new husband several rows away. “Why aren’t you sitting TOGETHER?” I explained the snafu with seating. “That won’t do at all,” she said decisively. Then she bawled at the top of her lungs “EXCUSE ME, FOLKS! WE HAVE NEWLYWEDS ON BOARD WHO NEED TO SIT TOGETHER! YOU AND YOU, PLEASE SWITCH YOUR SEATS SO THEY CAN SIT TOGETHER!” I was very embarrassed and said “No, that’s okay!”, but she insisted, and the poor passengers she’d targeted didn’t say no (they were probably too scared!). So, we sat together on our flight, and she brought us complimentary glasses of champagne afterwards.

    I often think of her and smile and wish that I’d gotten her name. She might’ve been a bit over-the-top, but her heart was definitely in the right place.

  • babs April 13, 2012, 4:38 pm

    Thanks to TheMom for some clarification and I agree with everything she says, although it may qualify more for the “sweet revenge” instead of the “polite spine” category. I was raised by a very sweet mother who knew how to pick her battles, so I may have done the very same thing (probably without the creative outcome) if I felt that giving up the seat I reserved would be less unsettling that sitting next to a rude woman for the entire trip. However, if I paid extra for a priority seat, like you have to do on some airlines these days, it would definitely be a different story. In that case, there’s no way, no how, I would allow that.

  • X April 13, 2012, 6:46 pm

    Thanks for the extra explanation, TheMom. Even if I hadnt already been on your side with the original story, that would seal it — no reason you should have subjected yourself to her behavior for the duration of the flight if you had called a flight attndent over to intervene. I thought your response was pointed and rather elegant in its way.

    I always book aisle seats since I’m quite tall. Since I’m also skinny and female, I have on more than one occasion encountered a man who has booked the middle seat, boards after me, and then (when I stand to let him into his seat), says “It’s ok, you can move over,” like he’s doing me a favour to give me the middle seat. As the youngest and shortest in my family, I spent enough time forced into the middle backseat of cars, thanks; there’s a reason I spend the extra to book my seat early and get the seat I want. Fortunately–and since i have so far always been on board before the would-be seat takers–a smile and a “I prefer the aisle, thanks” have always been the only response I needed.

    On the other side of things, I’ve had people /offer/ me the window seat in a way that made it genuinely clear they thought I hadn’t been able to snag one myself when booking. Not everyone who flies is a boor, fortunately! (They didn’t complain when I kept my aisle seat, though).

  • PinUpPeggy April 14, 2012, 12:45 am

    I would like to point out that the Admin of the site came up with the title for the story, not the submitter. Maybe the submitter didn’t categorize herself as a “polite spine”. If I was in that situation, I wouldn’t go tattling to the flight attendant if it wasn’t a big deal. I think the story is great, and HEY, “TheMom”, YOU ROCK!

  • Gilraen April 14, 2012, 5:58 am

    I am fine as long as I don’t sit in the middle of a three or more seater row. So I think this response would have been similar to mine.

  • wowwow April 16, 2012, 10:05 am

    I travel by plane alot and it has gotten to where I tell myself beforehand that I probably will just have to deal with whatever situation is dealt me where I get on the plane.

    I book aisle seats, but usually they are reassigned to others (why?). I have not gotten seats at all on planes that were over booked. I have had planes take off early (yes!) and so have missed connecting flights and have had to sit for hours waiting on the next one. I have gotten to the airport plenty early and to find the plane very late and have had to sit for hours. I have gotten on planes where the stewards will say, sit anywhere but do it fast, so that I’m not even in the area I’m assigned, so it makes no sense to bother anyone about moving out of a seat.

    My point is, that the only “proper etiquette” on a plane that is left now what we can expect of our own selves, and that is to be polite, helpful to other passengers, alert to situations where you can be of assistance, patient, calm and quiet–and expect nothing in return.