He was a large man, the man in seat 11A. Large enough to to require that the armrest between the seats be raised in order for him to fit comfortably in his seat on the Southwest Airlines flight.
I am an actor…part of my job is to observe people. It’s something we do as a part of our craft. Observing people is one of the tools we use in creating new characters. Sometimes I do this intentionally and other times…like this one, the opportunity just falls into your lap…so to speak.
My lap tends to feel rather cramped on airlines so I like to take advantage of my A-List status on Southwest Airlines – which allows me to board in the first group. (No assigned seats on Southwest, so getting on early is essential if you hope to have an aisle or a window seat.) I head to the middle of the plane to hopefully snag the aisle seat in the exit row, which has extra leg room. In this case seat 11C is my destination.
I’m in luck as I arrive at row 11 and 11C is available. The man in 11A – the window seat – is already occupied and settled in. The flight attendant announces that this will be a full flight and every seat will be taken. This flight will have a number of “larger people” on board as a college football team has booked about half of the seats. However, the man in 11A is clearly not one of the team, being older and, let’s just say he didn’t have the physique to match the rest of the team.
The first occupant of the middle seat, 11B, is a middle-aged man, and has a look of all business. At first he seems happy to have scored a seat with extra legroom. Then he sits and the look on his face changes as he realizes that the armrest is missing between the seats, forcing body contact between him and the man in 11A. He almost immediately pops up and looks to the back of the plane. Without a word he grabs his bag and squeezes out to move to another seat.
The man in seat 11A seems oblivious to this as he is focused on his iPad. In fact he has not engaged anyone since I have arrived in row 11, looking at the screen the whole time.
The second occupant of seat 11B is a younger man. He also has the look of a business man, although less traditional than the first occupant and thankfully he is skinny, not built like one of the football players, and should be a better fit in the space between me and the man in 11A. However, it doesn’t take long for him to also realize that this seat is going to be less comfortable than he imagined; he fidgets and squirms and he too begins to look back, a bit frantic even, to see if there is another seat. But it appears he is out of luck. All the seats are taken and the flight attendants are starting their routine announcements in preparation for departure.
The flight attendant is required to ask all the occupants of an exit row if they are willing to help and if necessary open the exit door in case of an emergency. I am surprised and amused when 11B says no, he is not willing and will need to be reseated. I see the slightest bit of an incredulous smirk on the face of the man in 11A.
Now what has been an interesting observation taking place in row 11, suddenly becomes public as the flight attendant has to make announcements over the PA looking for a volunteer to replace the man in 11B.
It takes several announcements with no takers before finally a hand shoots up from the front of the plane. The man in 11B quickly gathers his stuff as if he can’t get out of there fast enough. A few seconds later an attractive woman makes her way down the aisle to replace him. I hear the first words from the man in the seat 11A, “Alright!–that’s much better” as the woman finds her way to the seat between us…it was almost as if he had planned it…and I got the feeling that this is not the first time he has experienced this dilemma.
The woman in seat 11B is outgoing. As she gets into her seat she says, “Oh, I get to sit next to “Ralph Lauren,” referring to me. Well that certainly made my day. She immediately engages 11A in conversation. And we are off.
It doesn’t take long for 11B to raise the question, “So what was the deal with the other guy who was sitting here?”
11A replies, “I guess he didn’t want to sit next to me. You’re the third person to have that seat.”
“That’s ridiculous!” says the woman in 11B.
11A and 11B hit it off well and converse while I turn to my iPad and headphones to watch a video. A short time later I unplug and the question is asked by 11B, “What football team is this anyway?”
I happened to have observed their logos and tell them the name of the college.
11A is connected to wifi on his iPad. A few seconds later they have the football team’s webpage up on the screen. Guess who the first occupant of 11B was? The coach of the football team.
The woman in 11B says, “Let’s see if we can find out who that other guy was that I replaced in this seat.”
Anonymous no more.
So as for my acting lessons:
- From the first two occupants in seat 11B I observed different ways to “squeeze” out of an uncomfortable situation.
- From the third occupant of 11B I observed how to make the best of an awkward situation and how being just a little outgoing can put people at ease.
- From the man in 11A I observed ways to appear oblivious when in reality you are very much aware. I also observed self-control when those around you are being insensitive, while trying to appear that they are not.
- From the man in 11C I observed that you don’t have to worry about getting stuck in the middle seat if you are A-List. And that being told you look life Ralph Lauren, can go to your head if you let it.
Interesting observations to say the least. I am left to ponder what I would have done, if I had happened to be one of the first occupants of 11B. Of course I could have offered to take 11B right from the start and solved the problem…but…but I was A-List.
Somebody ought to write a script…
Posted by Chuck Neighbors