Assholes on Planes

Getting ready for Ethiopian Airlines’ Lubumbashi-Addis Ababa flight to depart. The last few passengers are boarding, we’re all getting settled in. I turn off my iPad and deposit it in the seat pocket in front of me, tuck all my other things under, and buckle my seat belt. I’m traveling alone this time and am lucky enough to have found a cheap fare in business class. Well, relatively cheap considering the cost of the competitors, and hard to turn down considering the overseas portion to Toronto will be on the brand-new Boeing 787 Dreamliner. So here we are, me and my privileged and genteel neighbors, sipping champagne and refreshing ourselves with warm wet towelettes.

The older British gentleman in front of me drops his towelette behind him. It lands on my personal item, a Congolese-fabric bag with my travel folder and other not-entirely-waterproof goodies poking out the top. Not a big deal. In fact I don’t even notice it until I hear him complain to the flight attendant, “I dropped my towel!” and urge her to give him another one. I consider handing his towel to him, but then decide it could be construed as rude. It’s now soiled, after all, plus he might think I’m forcing his hand to apologize or something silly like that. So I simply pick it up and put it with mine for the flight attendant to pick up later. This maneuver requires me to unbuckle my seat belt and nearly exit the seat just to reach the items at my feet, the seats are so gloriously roomy.

At that moment the doors close, and I take one last look around. Anything else I need out of my bag while I’m down here? Oh yes, my headphones. Oh look, they’ve provided a pair in the seat pocket that look similar to my Bose pair. I take a look at them. Well, they’re wrapped in plastic. Might as well save a plastic bag and use mine. So I put theirs back in the seat pocket and deposit mine next to them.

The man in front of me stands up and twists around to face me. I assume it could only be about the towel he dropped and, wishing to save him from unnecessary embarrassment, I meet his leveled gaze — or should I say glare — with an anticipatory smile.

“Excuse me, but do discontinue use of the seat pocket thank you.”

He turns around and plops back into his seat with a loud harrumph just as quickly as he appeared, leaving me no time to respond, my stupid smile still frozen on my metaphorically freshly-slapped face.

Stunned, I’m trying to think quickly as my blood pressure rises involuntarily. Have I abused my seat-pocket privileges? How many times have I used it? Twice, I think. Once for the iPad, once for the headphones. Oh no, twice for the headphones. Out, then back in. So three times total. And all during the preflight settling-in process, which, in my humble opinion, allows for unlimited deposits and withdrawals.

Or does it? Is there a new rule that I’m not aware of? When the door closes, passengers must discontinue use of electronic devices AND seat pockets? Wait a minute. Wait a gosh-darn minute here. I haven’t yet perused any of the magazines, flight information, or even the airplane safety card, all strategically placed in that particular seat pocket for the information and enjoyment of the particular customer facing it… i.e., ME. This is about the right time for some light reading, too, now that the doors are closed. Not to mention the rustling-around that can be expected after the 10,000-foot electronics-now-acceptable milestone, again when the movie begins, yet again before and after the meal is served, and then once more when preparing for landing. Any other times, repeated and forceful seat-pocket access is downright annoying, I’m with you there, mister. But we haven’t even taken off yet, sir, and really, your patience is already shot??

This conclusion of mine takes an entire paragraph in print yet a nanosecond to reach. His words are still hanging in the air. His “thank you” was attached to the preceding request, if you can call it that, without so much as a comma. You know the kind. It means this is not a request, at least not the kind you are allowed to take exception to, so I’ll go ahead and thank you in advance for your compliance thank you very much. It also had that lift at the end, that patronizing “thank YOU” which really means I have clearly stepped over the line with him sometime during our short relationship as cabin mates. Another clue that I was dealing with a genuine asshole here was that he didn’t even bother to look at me as he finished his ridiculous non-request. Halfway through his sentence his gaze fell somewhere in the empty seat beside me, as he began turning his back. I mean the important thing was for him to deliver his message, not to be subjected to my reaction to it, right? He wouldn’t want to give me the false impression of wanting to engage in an actual conversation or any such silliness, would he?

I knew the right thing to do would be to switch to an empty seat, leaving him in peace for the flight. Very adult, very mature. And then I looked at his dropped wet towel sitting beside me, still waiting to be picked up by the flight attendants.

I couldn’t help it. I grabbed the opportunity and the towel and stood up over him. My voice was surprisingly calm as I said, “You dropped this,” and then let the towel fall gently, as if in slow motion, from my hand onto his armrest, which just happened to be occupied at that moment by his arm.

“Thank YOU,” he said in the same patronizing, lilting tone. A brief pause as he lifted the wet towel from his arm and considered where to put it. I half expected him to lob it backwards in the direction of my face. And then, a rather loud and sing-songy retort as if this sort of thing happens all the time to him: “Twas an ACC-i-dent!”

Wondering if the irony of his own indignation had yet to sink in, I decided to send him one more subtle message about my independence as a free-thinking human being, especially one that had just paid full price for the use of this particular seat, pockets and all other amenities included. I deposited the menu that the flight attendants had just passed out into said seat pocket. And maybe, just maybe, with a totally unnecessary but completely satisfying extra little “snap” as I pulled the pocket out as far as possible and let it go, like a rubber band.


  1. Jennifer, that is funny. You write really well and your command of the language is impressive.

    Where were you when this event occurred?


      1. Thanks guys! I was flying between Lubumbashi (Congo) and Addis Ababa (capital of Ethiopia, hub for Ethiopian Airlines which connects to North America).


  2. All I have to say is “you go, girl!” There is no room in this world for A-holes like him……Hope the rest of your trip was pleasant!


    1. Thanks Pam, yes! The next leg was the long one from Ethiopia to Canada on a brand-new plane with those lie-flat beds in business class… so no annoying neighbors to deal with! The flight was lovely, I didn’t want it to end.


  3. Your last 2 posts were so fun, Jen – bring me right back plane rides with entitled passengers and Congolese weddings – they know how to throw parties better than anyone. Your descriptions and videos were great and spot on. I really have never seen a pair of newlyweds smile. Maybe they are much wiser about what the future holds than we are….


    1. “Entitled” is exactly right. I’ve often found it hazardous to fly with first-class folks. When we landed in Addis I made a beeline to the gate with a 3-hour wait instead of hanging out in the lounge. Just wasn’t in the mood to mingle.

      But I’ll still pay for a more comfortable seat and better food, don’t get me wrong 😉

      I miss you!


  4. “Excuse me, but do discontinue use of the seat pocket thank you.”… Wow! I wish I was there what a jackass. I hope you used the damn pocket as much as you needed and more!


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