My dear friend Scott has what I guess I’d call a “healthy aversion” toward squirrels. Not the bloody, rabid, zombie squirrels you might see on TV, no, he has a “mild trepidation” toward the common neighborhood furry gray squirrel. I’m on his side in this and while I’m not afraid of them, per se, I am on a quest to eliminate them from my property. They have a habit of chewing through electrical wires (the wires in my boat to be specific) and I have no compunction whatsoever about shooting the fuzzy little bastards, right out of the trees they’re squatting in. Deep down, Scott knows it’s ridiculous to fear these rude little rodents, but that’s not to say that his anxiety grows as they approach him while he tries to enjoy his morning coffee in the backyard. An outburst might be inevitable, but a measure of self control must be employed so that the squirrel remains calm and that Scott doesn’t look, well, downright silly in the eyes of his children, neighbors, his dog, etc.
Veterans of business travel know this feeling very well. Those who routinely book their tickets many weeks in advance usually reserve their seats quickly afterward. Reserving a seat represents the one last measure of control that we have over an airline. We have to pay a fee for every other service they provide, so picking a seat can be a very personally gratifying experience. When a clueless mother of 4 climbs aboard the airplane and frantically starts looking around at the seats, the anxiety levels of those in their reserved spaces start to rise! When the mother finally walks right up to you and flippantly inquires, “Would you mind moving back to 17B so my son can sit here with me?” it is enough to cause the eyes of even the most polite frequent fliers to twitch. Just as in Scott’s case, a measure of self control must be employed!
I’ve heard and/or thought of many different answers to the question, “Would you mind switching your seat?” My favorite response is, “That would be GREAT, since I’ve already wet this one…” Honestly, the most generous thing to do in this situation is to just be polite and to make the switch. However, I believe there are situations where it’s plainly OK to politely decline. Here are some scenarios, the “gut response” you’re likely to feel, and the correct thing to say in that situation. I have personally witnessed or taken part in each of these:
Question 1: “Do you mind sitting over there?”
Gut Response: What, you’re the self-appointed seat fairy? Without even a selfish rationalization of “why,” I’m supposed to just get up and move for you?
Correct thing to say: “That’s OK, I don’t mind sitting right HERE.”
Question 2: “They stuck my daughter back there in a middle seat. Would you switch with her so she can sit with me?”
Gut Response: Uh, YOU stuck your own daughter back there in the middle seat when you neglected to log on and select a seat like I did, ten weeks ago!
Correct thing to say: “No thank you, ma’am.”
Question 3: “You probably noticed that I’m seven feet tall, would you mind if I took your exit row seat?”
Gut Response: Gee, the airline charges a $100 fee to upgrade to an exit row… if you have the cash to reimburse me, we’ll talk!
Correct thing to say: “I’m sorry sir, but I paid extra money for this seat. Perhaps someone else would switch with you?”
Question 4: “I have an intense fear of flying, can I trade your aisle for my window seat?”
Gut Response: You have an “intense fear” and you didn’t even ASK the gate agent if you were next to a window?? There are 80 people on this plane who are squished into a middle seat who would DIE for a window, and you’re just now figuring this out?
Correct thing to say: “I’m sorry; I get airsick and will vomit if I have to look out the window.”
I completely understand that lots of the people on planes fly very infrequently and that it’s easy to think of a plane as a giant bus with a bunch of seats for everyone to pick from. Until the day that all airlines employ open seating, we need to be sensitive to those folks and we really should try not to hurt them. Meanwhile, one day I hope to find Scott at my house, drunk with fury and maniacally wielding my pellet gun, eye to the scope, as he declares a full on war against every generation of toothy varmint my backyard can provide. It will be therapeutic, cathartic, cleansing… Until that glorious day, I’ll employ the same self control he has during the approach of a squirrel toward the “varmints” who approach me on the plane.
EXTRA: If you have questions for Ken regarding business travel, hotels, airplanes, etc, please call 1-877-49-EXPERT. Your questions will be recorded and Ken will answer the best ones in his Ask the Expert podcast show.