The flight, unlike all the others on our trip, was rather lightly booked. The flight attendants were heading up and down the aisle telling people that once everyone was on board, they’d be able to select seats in less crowded rows. Good news, that meant my wife and I could share three seats instead of the overly-small two seats.
Across the aisle from me were an older couple and a man. The man was sitting next to the window. All three people seemed very nice.
Once everyone was on board, a flight attendant said to the man that there were extra seats and that he could move to where he would have more room. “Oh, no,” he very politely said, “I am very comfortable where I am.” His demeanor said that he was not comfortable, but just wanted to be polite and did not want to be a bother.
The flight attendant was visibly surprised. She asked the older couple if they would like the man to move. “Oh, no,” they both very politely said. “This gentleman is perfectly welcome where he is.” Their demeanor betrayed, that they, too, did not want to be a bother. They certainly did not want to be impolite to the man.
The flight attendant was again surprised. She said, “Are you sure? There are plenty of extra seats on the plane. You will be much more comfortable if the gentleman moves.” As if in unison, they all said, “No, we’re fine. Thank you.”
As though he wanted to dispel any doubts about what was going on, the older gentleman leaned over to the flight attendant and asked quietly whether there was an empty row so that the two of them could move. The flight attendant said, “No.” He smiled and said that was all right.
These people were all being so polite to one another that they were about to be uncomfortable for hours instead of just being honest. How sad.
I have been in a few situations in my life where I saw something going wrong, but did not do or say anything. One time in particular, many years ago, a dear friend made a terrible mistake that I could have warned him about. I did not warn him, because I did not want to offend him. Afterwards, he learned that I thought he was making a mistake. He said, “I know you didn’t want to hurt my feelings. But what kind of a friend let’s a friend mess up so bad without saying something?”
He was right. I failed him, because I was afraid of hurting his feelings. I let my fear dictate my actions. I vowed to myself that I would never make that mistake again. Unfortunately, I still made that mistake a few more times.
But not this time.
As the flight attendant started to walk away, I caught her attention. I said, softly so that only she would hear, that it was obvious that the three of them would be more comfortable if the man moved. I politely asked her to instruct the man to move. She shrugged and said that it was not up to her. She had tried.
So, I repeated myself – this time loud enough for the three of them to hear. The flight attendant smiled and said that it was up to them, not her. She said that sometimes people do things that do not really make sense to her, but it’s up to them.
I turned to the man and said, “I know you are just being polite by saying you are comfortable. But these nice people and you will be much more comfortable if you move. So, please move.”
The man looked really surprised. But within seconds, he was standing and moving to another seat.
The flight attendant smiled and thanked me. The older couple looked so relieved. Both of them thanked me very graciously.
And I did a good deed by being assertive.