Thursday, August 28, 2008

Seat neighbor lotto

After a half hour delay in the terminal while US Airways replaced the duct tape on engine #2 of the San Francisco-bound A320 out of Phoenix, I was sitting in my window seat waiting for the other passengers to board.

A middle-aged woman was seated in the aisle seat in my row, with the middle seat still unoccupied. As I was enjoying a "carry-on cocktail" that I was able to sneak down the jetway, a voice came over the cabin intercom telling my fellow travelers and I that “we have a full flight today, so please place small carry-on items under the seat in front of you.”

Oy! Full flight, and me with the window seat. The only thing that could be worse is if I had the middle seat.

As passengers kept filing on, filling up the overhead bins and moving to seats in the rear of the plane, I began playing the seat neighbor lottery game with myself. You know how this goes, you take a look at each person that comes through the four “first class” rows, quickly sizing them up and mentally calculating how pleasant it would (or wouldn’t) be to have them sitting uncomfortably close to you for the next two hours.

The criteria are obvious. The smaller the better. You don’t want a huge person illegally crossing the armrest boarder and invading the sovereign territory of your seat. Don't get me wrong. God knows I'm no delicate flower myself. I'm reasonable, but COME ON PEOPLE!

Younger is better, too. I don’t need a hacking geriatric sitting next to me, devouring my soul with excruciatingly tedious stories about the olden days, coughing up a lung and generally harshing my mellow.

If you’re a dude, you’re hoping for a passenger of the female persuasion, because who wants to sit next to a guy smelling of cheap cologne. In fact, I suspect that if you’re a chick, you’re hoping to avoid sitting next to dudes as well. Let’s face it people, women are just a lot more pleasant to be around that guys.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt if they’re easy on the eyes. It may sound shallow (because it is), but nobody wants to sit next to Quasimodo through two time zones. Although, taking all factors into account, I’d rather sit next to a small ugly chick than a big, good-looking guy.

Anyway, knowing my luck, I was expecting a John Candy look-alike to win the lottery for the seat next to me. Each time a petite fox (do people still use that word?) came through, I would watch her continue to the back of the cabin or take a seat a few rows forward. Then a large ogre would saunter through with two gigantic carry-ons and I just knew he was coming for my row.

Then the line of passengers started to slow down. The saccharine sweet voice of the gate agent announced over the intercom “Passenger boarding is complete. Flight attendants, please secure the cabin for takeoff.”

“What’s this?” I thought to myself.

I began to feel a sense of what passes for excitement in the livestock shipping world of business travel. Could it be that I have a chance at winning the biggest prize in the seat-neighbor lottery? No, I dare not even hope that it might be the case. I dare not put my faith in fate only to have my hopes dashed at the last second.

But as the minutes passed, and fewer and fewer passengers were left to take their seats, I started to hope against all odds.

Finally, only one person remained. He was a smallish, athletic looking middle-aged man wearing casual khakis and a knit shirt. He stopped a few rows in front of me to jam his oversized carry on bag into not enough room in the overhead bin. Forcing the door of bin shut, he looked down into the cabin.

He walked closer, closer. I knew at that point he would sit next to me. It’s a full flight, after all. There’s one passenger left and hence, only one seat.

But NO! He kept walking! Turns out his seat was in the very back next to the twin lavatories (worst seats on the plane, my friends).

And now there was no doubt about it, I would spend the next two hours with room to stretch out my legs into the center seat. I would have plenty of elbow room, a place to put my magazines, room to pull out my laptop and get some work done.

I had won the jackpot in the seat neighbor lottery.

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  1. Ah, the simple things...Better than the last Snickers bar in the vending machine. Congrats on your big win.

  2. rare luck. this story almost happened to me, except in the final second a guy plopped in the seat next to mine who was so fat that his buttocks rested on the arm rests without touching the cushion. luckily stewardess offered him to become an "exit row volunteer",despite that he would only block the exit row. so in the end I was flying alone,albeit slightly wrinkled

  3. True 'dat! (Do people still say this?) Best post I have read in awhile. I have had this experience far too many times. Each time I board a plane these days I can't help but think of how all the joy (if it ever existed) has been systematically sucked out of travel.

  4. This post had my on the edge of my seat. Such drama! Such suspense! Well done!

  5. Wow, congratulations! Now you can quit playing Powerball because you will never have that kind of luck again.

    Oh, and "Fox" is still good!

  6. congrats! i know how the game is played myself.

    My two worst enemies in the world are:
    1. the person sitting next to me on the airplane
    2. the person that is the very last one on the plane, the guy that gets on like 10 minutes after everyone else is there waiting, waiting...

    i played this game just yesterday with mixed results.


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