We flew to Colorado for the holidays last Friday. When I booked our reservations I tried to get all of our seats close together, but despite my most dogged attempts, getting five seats together just wasn’t possible. Still I was fairly optimistic as I had managed to have Richard and Nic together in the row in front of Joe and Emma with me just needing to trade my window seat for an aisle seat in the same row but on the other side of the plane. When the gentleman who had the aisle seat next to Joe and Emma, the seat I was hoping to trade him for, arrived, I explained that we were trying to sit together and would he mind terribly if I traded my lovely window seat just two seats over for his aisle seat. No, he told me. He was not willing to do that. He then told me that he had a grandson with autism and felt for my predicament, but couldn’t trade seats as he didn’t like sitting near the window. Not discouraged I asked the woman in the other aisle seat of that same row if she would mind terribly moving over just two seats to the window seat, thus letting the gentleman occupy her seat, while I occupied his. (I know this is beginning to resemble a Shakespearean novel with a vast cast of characters. I should have tried to download a seating map for this post.) The woman, barely looked up, avoided any eye contact and said flatly, “No.” She then proceeded to read her book about the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. By this point, all the passengers within three rows of us, were aware of what was going on. Undeterred, I asked a few more people seated in an aisle seat if any would mind trading with me. I was rebuffed each and every time. At this point with my options becoming fewer, I decided to try and solicit the help of a flight attendant, though in the past this has never proven helpful. Never-the-less off I went in search of a flight attendant while the gentleman took his seat next to Joe and Emma. As I headed up the aisle another man, sitting several rows behind us, said he would trade his aisle seat for my window seat. As the trade took place he leaned over to the first man and said, “You know, you could have helped her out.”
I thanked the man profusely and asked if we could buy his lunch. He declined, said he flies at least once a week and it was no big deal. I thanked him again and sat down. Joe and I have been reading some material about speech and literacy, so we began to discuss how we might best apply what we were reading to our work with Emma.
About an hour into the flight, the man whose seat I was now occupying leaned over to me on his way back to his seat and said, “Forgive me.”
“Please,” I said, “don’t worry about it.”
“No. I should have given you the seat. It was wrong of me. That man who volunteered, I’m proud of him.”
“Thank you for coming over,” I said. And he sat back down.
A couple of things I keep coming back to, are not so much how people are not willing to move their seats, I understand it’s a pain. Traveling has become hellish, everyone has just been through security lines, removal of shoes, waiting, standing in line and finally they get to their seat, the last thing anyone wants is to be asked to move. I hadn’t realized the window/aisle conflict was such an issue. I had thought as long as it wasn’t a middle seat it wouldn’t be hard to trade, but clearly this was incorrect. But it made me think about the airlines themselves. Is there not something the airlines could do for families traveling with children with disabilities? I don’t know the answer to this question. I don’t know how they could help, but it does seem that the airlines would do well to at least have an awareness that this is a growing problem. We go through some sort of problem almost every time we travel. I have gotten better at choosing seats that, while often not together, are at least seats people might be willing to trade. But every now and again my best laid plans run amok.
For more on Emma’s journey through a childhood of autism, go to: Emma’s Hope Book