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Saturday, February 27, 2016

When Giving Up Your Seat Means So Much More

I read this New York Times article today about an accomplished retired lawyer who was asked to move from her seat on an airline just because her fellow seat passenger refused to be seated next to a woman for "religious" reasons.

This story struck a very personal note as a very similar incident happened to me in a Saudia flight from Riyadh to Dubai a few years ago.

I had specifically selected an aisle seat in a packed economy class cabin.  There was a Muslim woman in a hijab and abaya in the window seat, and a few minutes later along came a heavy-set Saudi Muslim man. He took one look at both of us already in our seats, then at the empty seat between us, and told a nearby flight attendant he wanted to move as he claimed he couldn't sit next to a Muslim woman to whom he was not related. 

All the classes in the flight were near capacity and there wasn't another spare seat he could take that wasn't next to a Muslim woman. So the harried flight attendant leaned over to me and asked if I would move over to the middle seat. 

Now all this happened very rapidly and it was somewhat chaotic in the plane which was already delayed in its departure. Nearby passengers were stuffing their oversized luggage in overhead compartments, others were trying to squeeze by with young children in tow, so I initially had difficulty hearing the request. It was in this harried environment that resulted with me automatically saying OK whilst feeling mildly exasperated and alternatively rationalizing it was not that big a deal; I then moved over to the middle seat. 

I regretted it the moment I agreed to the request and still do to this day. You see, it wasn't only that it was physically uncomfortable for me to sit in the middle, but more due to the fact that I did not stand my ground, stay in my aisle seat and tell that male passenger to go find an alternate seat somewhere else. 

It's not even a case of me moving seats out of noble and unselfish reasons, because if I believed I was any of those things to justify my action, then that would be a huge lie. The truth of the matter was, in that split second when I agreed to swap seats for no reason other than to accommodate one person who didn't want to sit next to another for "religious" reasons, I was a patsy, a doormat, and an enabler, and I will never, ever let that happen again.


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