I find this rather difficult to write, as I am a person of some size myself, but I shall press ahead anyway in the fond hope that no one is offended. Recently, on a holiday in the USA, my wife and I found ourselves on an internal flight on a budget US airline. If I share with you at the outset that this airline made Ryanair look like the Savoy hotel of the airline industry, you’ll begin to get the picture.
Anyhow, I was allocated seat 4B on a plane that the check-in steward told me was completely full – a middle seat; my wife was in seat 4E – a middle seat on the other side of the aisle. I had missed the bit about pre-booking your seat for $25 a seat; how full was the flight from Phoenix-Mesa to Rapid City going to be, for heaven’s sake? It turned out to be very full. Who knew?
As we were waiting to board, a person well to the north of 450 lbs/ 32 stone/ 205 kg was wheelchaired in to the departure area, then pre-boarded. I thought no more of it until about ten minutes later when I found the same person seated in seat 4C. It later transpired that this poor lady was a recovering addict and doing her best to regain some health. I doff my cap to her. However read the first sentence again and you will not be surprised to know that I turned to the steward, looking for some assistance – but without wishing to cause offence. She shrugged and instructed me to take my assigned seat. Well, I would have if I could have found it, but find it, I could not. “Take your assigned seat,” the spawn of the devil glared at me, so with much difficulty and heaving, the person stood up and let me in to my bit of my assigned seat.
Forget all the H&S stuff about the armrest being down; that wasn’t happening; finding my seat belt was something of an issue; when the person in the window seat arrived, well again, you get the picture. She and I became very close and friendly over the next hour or so; every time I moved, she knew – as did my close friend in seat 4C.
It was the most horrendously uncomfortable flight I have ever taken; it probably wasn’t much fun for the occupant of 4C; I never asked 4A, but felt that she got off with things lightly, if I am being honest. After about an hour, the person in 4C complained about “pins and needles” and stood up; I took my chance and did likewise and again, quietly, asked if I could use the jump seat. “That is a restricted area”, I was told. “The seat belt is more complicated and different from the normal one,” the devil incarnate added unnecessarily. Then – and this was her clincher – it’s a health and safety issue. “Like the armrest that I can’t put down,” I said, but that fell on deaf ears.
I asked if there were any other seats available and she replied that there might be a spare one or two down at the back. So off to the back to the back I went and, lo and behold, there were actually two or three seats scattered around – including a spare aisle seat, for heaven’s sake. Why had she not told me this and spared both me and the apologetic occupant of 4C the whole embarrassing nonsense that had ensued during the previous hour?
The next time Lucifer came down the aisle, to fetch the detritus from the expensively cheap cups of coffee we had bought, I challenged her in a very polite but firm way and got nothing meaningful by way of response. H&S, company policy, other duties, blah, blah, blah.
So, what am I going to do about it? Well, I shall be contacting the airline and telling them exactly what happened. I shall finish my email with a very specific request for an amount of money to cover the poor service that I received and the fact that for the first hour of the flight, both I and my fellow passenger were placed in both an uncomfortable and potentially dangerous predicament. In my experience, in negotiation, if you have a complaint and can justify asking for compensation, you are better to be specific about the amount that you ask for than relying on the goodwill of the airline to cough up something.
As a footnote, I should just say that our two cases had a splendid journey, thank you for asking and both made it to the other end unscathed and in fine fettle.