I was raised to be mindful, to be mannered among strangers. I was raised to defer, when appropriate, and to engage those around me, as appropriate. I was raised to understand restraint and to fully appreciate an act of civility, as well as how to behave with gentility–especially when others do not. I was taught to let others out of the elevator first, before entering. I was taught to stand when an adult entered the room. I was taught that utilizing these finely honed manners is what would separate me from those unfortunate someones who were never taught this. And I mostly lived according to these standards–at least for all appearances’ sake–despite my rants to myself and those posted on my blog.
But, I am thinking my great-grandmother, my grandmother, and my mother (God rest all their souls) got it all wrong. Because they didn’t foresee the close quarters of today’s airplanes, nor the anarchy that pervades what remains of a semblance of the rules of etiquette they lived by. No, today I wonder if they are each wondering where they went wrong with this Gal–if they are judging me based on my actions on Saturday’s flight.
Really, it wasn’t my fault.
I paid a small fortune for my last-minute airfare to the Pacific Northwest. I paid this fortune to two different discount airlines, because otherwise I would have paid a huge fortune to United or Delta. My outbound flight through JFK was unremarkable–the Squeaky Frome look-alike kept to herself (she’s still in jail, right?), the skinny man dressed all in purple who mumbled to himself sat nowhere near my row, and the woman with two yapping dogs in mesh carry-on bags was shown to the rear of the plane.
No, it was my last-minute splurge to upgrade to business class on the way home that positioned me square in the way of a type of guest I know all too well–the spoiled brat VIP who behaves badly, because they know they can.
The scene: A couple enters the plane, glances at their boarding passes, then stares at the woman who has seated herself in one of their seats and spread her book, laptop, purse, sweatshirt, loose papers, and God knows what else all over the other seat. “Excuse me,” says one of them, “I believe you are in our seats.”
Now, my Mom trifecta likely would have assumed that a mannered person would have excused herself, gathered her belongings, and asked for further assistance from the flight attendant as to where she might sit. Uh, no. This one said instead, “They told me to sit here,” clearly daring the couple to challenge her. At which point, a flight attendant interjected herself.
“Can I see your boarding pass, ma’am?” she asked the lone traveler.
“I don’t have one. They told me to sit anywhere in Business, wherever there was an open seat.”
“Well, ma’am, these seats are assigned. Let me help you gather your items. You can sit right–” and she turned and pointed to the empty seat next to me, “–there.”
“I can get my own things,” muttered the squatter, dismissing the flight attendant’s offer to help.
After much huffing and puffing and sighing and “I’ll blow your house down” noises, Ms. Sit Anywhere gathered her stuff and shuffled across the aisle to stand next to my seat.
Her anger fairly rippled through her ample arms, shook her sagging jowls, and quivered through her protruding middle. As she stared at me and paused, I realized I had two choices to make in less than a split second–swerve and duck or get the hell out of the way. Because I learned one podium lesson very well as a maitre d’–some people throw things when they are angry and sometimes it’s a pager you handed to them. This one had no pager, but she had my head and face in her sights, and it emanated from her flexing cellulite.
I couldn’t move fast enough. The zipper of her hoodie grazed my cheek. Her book missed me by mere inches. The corner of her purse brushed my chest.
Are you f—ing kidding me?
I jumped up at that point, just as she pushed past me to plop her dimpled behind in the window seat, my look of shock registering right away with the flight attendant.
“Ma’am,” the flight attendant barked in the best teacher voice, ever, “With all due respect, there is a passenger in the seat next to you and you almost hit her by throwing your things. She is trying to get out of your way!”
ALMOST hit me?
Instead of slapping her as someone would have done in the movies, I gave her my most withering, “Uh, yeah, b—-!” look, which wasn’t all that effective or practiced because I am not sure I have ever used it before. But even in my attempt, I knew I was lost. All my upbringing had been crassly stashed in an overhead bin, and I was primed for the worst kind of reality TV brawl.
Thankfully, the flight attendant saved me from myself, just as my great grandmother, grandmother and mom surely were fanning themselves with angels wings. “Don’t worry, I’ll talk to her and we’ll move her,” she said.
Yeah you will!
But I was happy to back down at this point.
They hauled the crazy lady outside of the cabin and onto the ramp, and after much finger pointing and arm waving, she stomped back in and over to my row, reached over, and grabbed her belongings out of the seat she’d thrown them in. “Sorry,” she sneered at me, the overt sarcasm easy enough for a toddler to grasp, “I didn’t mean to throw anything at you.”
And this was the moment at hand for me, the moment it didn’t matter what I said or how I said it, because she was not some bullheaded guest in my restaurant who I had to treat as “right.” No, she was wrong, had been called out, and was no one I ever planned to see again. That’s right, I spoke my mind.
“Oh whatever,” I spit out, rolling my eyes like the teenager I mimicked, and I half wondered if she was going to swing her purse at me, but she stepped once again into the aisle.
“Bitch,” I ostensibly said to myself, but plenty loud enough for her to hear as she made her way in front of me. She froze, paused, and looked back at me. And I stared right back at her. And won, apparently, because she turned and trundled down the aisle to the back of the plane.
Oh my God, did that feel good.
Later, the flight attendant approached me mid-flight. “I want to apologize again for what happened,” she said.
“Hey, not your fault, but thanks,” I told her.
“No, really, my apologies. It was just so awkward.”
“Well, no harm done, awkward or not,” I smiled.
“But it was really awkward,” she stressed again.
Okay. So what?
“Really awkward,” she repeated.
Okay, I’ll bite.
“Why? She wasn’t thrown off the plane or anything,” I pointed out.
“I know. But…” and she paused for a millisecond, weighing whether to say her next thought.
“But what?” I prodded, because now I was curious, and I knew she wanted to share a punch line.
“Because she is the pilot’s wife!”
Oh dear. Yeah, what do you do with that?
“Well, I guess that’s why they didn’t throw her off the plane!” I laughed.
“You would think that by flying free she would have…” but she didn’t finish that thought. She was her VIP in her world, and she was stuck with her.
“Yeah, you would think,” I finished for her.
You would think she would get over herself. You would think her stupid pilot husband would have long ago explained to her what I had been brought up knowing.
You would think…oh, whatever. Just another VIP. Thankfully, not mine.