I travel fairly regularly on business, and consider myself to be a mildly reasonable airline passenger. I do have my moments, though. This past week, I had one of those moments.
Over the course of 2005, I racked up enough miles to make the coveted "elite" status on a major American carrier...let's just call them "Legacy" airlines. This legacy airline is connected via an "alliance" with a number of other carriers. Together, I can usually get to where I need to go within budget. As luck would have it, though, my ethics got the best of me for my most recent trip, and instead of booking a more expensive trip on "Legacy," I decided to save my client a few hundred dollars and book on another airline. We'll call them "The World's Largest Low-fare Airline" (TWLLA) because that's what they call themselves.
I should have known my trip was jinxed from the start.
I went to use the online check-in the day prior to leaving and realized that in my flurry of business travel for this month, I had inadvertently booked my last week of March trip for the first week of April. Now, normally, on Legacy, I can change for a difference in fare +$50. I find that reasonable enough, knowing that the airlines like to know as far in advance who's flying where. Although I was able to handle the change completely online, TWLLA, remember the second "L" stands for "Low-cost," charged me $100 for a change fee. At a 100% markup over the standard change fee on Legacy, it hardly seemed to justify the "L."
Upon returning home, I went to one of the many e-ticket check-in kiosks and entered my ticket data. I had purposely requested a seat in the back of the plane for three reasons: 1) I could get an aisle, 2) I wanted to put my roll-aboard above me, not check it, and getting on first allows me that option (more on that later), and 3) I had time to disembark, so didn't need to get off the plane in a hurry. At any rate, I checked in and noticed that although I had the exact same seat going home as I had sat in on the way out, I was no longer in "Zone 3" but instead had been relegated to "Zone 5." Becuase my blog is new, you don't know about my trip last year on TWLLA to Newark, and therefore my disdain for zones higher than 3. Sufficeth to say, I wasn't a happy non-elite traveler on TWLLA. I asked the kiosk baggage agent for a logical explanation to this obviously confusing procedure. After drawing me a pyramid diagram and mumbling something about "windows" and "middles" it became clear to me that she would be unable to provide the logic I had asked for. I mumbled something about my love for TWLLA on my way to the TSA checkpoint. I knew it wasn't her policy, so decided to take it up with the gate agent.
Upon arrival at the gate, I realized that I there would be a sizable wait until an agent would arrive. When a gate agent did arrive, I approached the desk and told Victoria that I had a couple of questions, but would happily wait until she was ready for me. I noticed that behind her was a plaque noting the "marketing partners" that TWLLA had. Legacy wasn't one of them, but the airline with whom I'd gained my elite status was. Bonus. I asked if I would be given priority boarding or if it was solely a marketing alliance. Much to my chagrin, it was for marketing only. Not Victoria's fault, but I did have to ask. My next question was for her to explain the "zone" situation. She drew me a diagram I had seen earlier...downstairs at the check-in kiosk. It didn't make sense then, and the change in altitude didn't clear it up for me. My last question was whether there was an exit-row seat. She had a middle and gave it to me. I looked over my boarding pass: Zone 4.
I joked about my complaining and she was sympathetic. As I waited to board, Victoria called me over and told me that since a number of connecting flights wouldn't be able to make it, she had an aisle seat in the exit row. She gave it to me. I glanced at my boarding pass: Zone 6.
I joked to Victoria about it and she "hand-cancelled" it and made it zone 4.
I boarded my flight which was supposed to be overbooked and quickly noticed that it would be about 2/3 full. I also noticed that the seat next to me was empty. Probably since until about five minutes prior, it had belonged to me. The attendants prepped to close the door and made the announcement: "We are waiting for a couple of connecting flights. If you are seated in a seat that is not yours, please return to your assigned seat so as to expedite our departure." This was repeated four times. Once before the man who ran up from a few rows behind me to sit in the seat next to me did so, and thrice after. He said to me as he sat down, "It doesn't look like this is going to fill up, so I'll just take this seat."
Foul. 2-2 count.
That changed my demeanor. How dare he sit in an unassigned seat! Is he also hard-of-hearing? The attendant just told everyone to sit in their assigned seats only! Who is he to shirk this obviously ironclad instruction from those in authority? Can't the sky marshal pull a gun on this clown and force him to comply? Well, since all of this was a dialogue with my tired mind, nothing happened, and this guy squished his wide frame into the middle seat. By the way, did I mention that he sat and composed e-mails on his Treo during the whole flight? Aren't those supposed to be in the off position? Is it a miracle our flight landed? I never saw him switch it to "airplane mode" either...so we may very well have been in serious navigational-hazard danger!
There is an unwritten rule of flying that, if you get to the armrest first, you win. That's where this guy missed the memo. I placed my elbows on both armrests, something I don't normally do on the aisle out of respect for the claustrophobia that may beset a middle-sitter. In this case, I made an exception. He infringed on me, and I was going to plant my flag firmly on both armrests and claim the territory for me. He eventually took a break from his illicit e-mailing and leaned back...pressing his forearm firmly against mine. Again, in 99% of cases, the "presser" imposes his (or her) will on the armrest incumbent and the incumbent gives way. I was pleased to be one of the 1% in this case. He pressed...and pressed...and pressed...for a good ten minutes...and I never gave way, as I pretended to eat my Mike and Ikes and fiddle with my iPod. After ten minutes, he gave up, lurched forward, and continued to endanger us by broadcasting his e-mails, obviously he had just cured cancer and needed to get the formula out, during the flight.
Double to the gap.
In retrospect, this could've been easily avoided. Had he simply requested the seat at the gate, I wouldn't have treated him thus. Had he simply kept his mouth shut about his "plan" when he sat down, I wouldn't have treated him thus. Had I just been a little more charitable, I wouldn't have treated him thus. But, true to today's me-first mentality, that last option is not viable. It wasn't my fault, it was his. And I'm suing.