Up, Up in the Air

I was recently stuck on an plane for longer than is comfortable on an airline who will not be named.  My sources later revealed this airline is notorious for discounting not only their prices but also their customer experience and notably, customer legroom.  Now, I’m a bit of a shorty so this is how I “give back” on airplanes – I don’t need all the leg space so preciously allocated to me.   The gentleman, who inevitably sits in the middle seat next to me (I prefer the window), is usually forced to squeeze his long limbs into my extra space.  I’m a giver.  Needless to say, I vowed never to fly this airline again.  Unless they are the only ones offering convenient flight times.  Dang it.

I’ve been flying since I was a kid.  I used to anxiously clamor to get on the plane and claim my assigned seat so I could settle in.  I had a ritual of respectfully watching the flight attendant go through the safety plan and dutifully noting my nearest exit door.  In recent years, my attitude has changed.  I now subscribe to the philosophy of limiting that the time scrunched into a tin can, ears popping, and snuggled next to a stranger is preferable.  I board nearly last.  I figure I’ve got a seat, travel light, and they’re not going to take off without me.

But as my fellow passengers and I were waiting for this anonymous airline to track down a pilot and do whatever pilot shenanigans are needed to ensure our safety, I started thinking about airline armrests.  This flight was PACKED.  Every single row had three seats, four armrests, three adults (usually) and six adult arms (usually).  I started wondering about how each person made the decision, or decisions throughout the flight, to use or not use the armrest.  I’m not the first person to muse about this.  There are etiquette rules and some unique, yet somewhat passive aggressive ways to solve this.   However, my psychologist mind drifts to the analogy of choices made in life.

Now, you may believe I’m over thinking this but hear me out.  Put yourself in an airline seat – which one do you choose?  How do you make a decision about using the armrest?  Do you even think about it or is it automatic?  Is it ingrained in your personality to not take up space and you pull your arms in tight?  Do you feel entitled to take up one armrest?  Both of them?  Do you fight it out with your fellow aisle mate for territory?  Does it matter if it is a child, a man, or a woman sitting next to you?  Could you have a discussion with a stranger about it? Would you joke or be irritated?  Is it enough to have your own private window or aisle armrest and so you give up the other one?  Do you wait and see what the passenger next to you does?

Put these decisions into another lens. In a meeting, which seat do you choose at the conference table?  Is it near the door or the head of the table?  Do you think before you speak? Are meetings a competitive sport or do you tune out?  Does it change based on the day, topic, or who is speaking?  Do you take up your space with your ideas or comments?  Are you waiting for others to speak first?  Are you quietly listening the whole time?  Have you ever had a discussion about how meetings go at your workplace?

Put these decisions into the lens of a relationship.  How do you make decisions about what points to make during a fight?  Do you even bother fighting or trying to take a stand?  Do you feel entitled to have your way with certain things, even to the detriment of the other person?  Have you ever discussed how to “fight better” with your spouse?  Do you choose different strategies with friends, kids, or spouses?  Do you feel like you get enough in the relationship and don’t mind letting something slide that’s less important.  Do you wait for the other person to bring something up?

The small things are echoes of the big things.  If you pay attention, people tell you about themselves ALL THE TIME.  As a psychologist, sometimes people will ask me if I can read their minds.  This is not exactly true but it sometimes feels as though I have x-ray vision; I can’t help but see all the little ways people teach me about themselves and you can do it too.  I use this power for good – it helps me find empathy and understanding for others.  I use with my clients to help them see through the static of everyday life and to determine how to make decisions about who might be a good person to trust (or not), who has integrity, who is willing to listen, or who is solid enough to lean on.  At Resolute Recovery, LLC, we use this power to see the whole picture and create a plan for change.

In case you’re wondering, I choose the window seat and happily take the window armrest.  I pull down the other one and don’t use it.  I don’t pay attention to whether my fellow passenger uses it or not – I have enough and I’ve given up any rights to it.  To me, it’s about balance, getting enough of my (armrest) needs met, and living as a cooperative, full human being in the world.

What about you?  What would you do?  What do you think it says about you and your personality?  What do you think it says about personality and the bigger picture?  

Also published on Medium.