The depressing notion that civility is in terminal decline was given additional support, as if any were required, this past Sunday in the skies over the Midwest. There, aboard a United Airlines flight 1462, a 737 enroute from Newark to Denver, two passengers got into an altercation that resulted in the flight being diverted to Chicago where the two combatants were removed from the plane by local law enforcement.
The cause of the disagreement was not, as might perhaps have been assumed, an issue of such consequence as, say, a preferred political candidate, the concept of original sin, or whether the New York Yankees have a post-season future this year. Not a bit of it. The cause was one passenger’s use of a $22 gadget that prevents the recline of the seat immediately ahead. No arrests were made, as the incident was deemed “a customer service issue and not a threat to aviation security,” according to a TSA spokesperson. Still, an unreported number of other passengers were subjected to a 90-minute delay, possible missed connections and other tribulations well-known to all air travellers. To say nothing of the domino effect as the flight’s delayed arrival in Denver rippled through United’s system
This incident played out in the Economy Plus section of the aircraft, where, on this particular flight, 51 seats were available to passengers who had paid a premium of some sort for the privilege of an extra four inches of leg room. Ignoring the 12 non-reclining exit row seats, as many as 39 souls could have settled into their marginally more commodious seats for the 4-plus hour flight with the expectation, should they desire, of using their seat’s designed recline capability to ease the journey.
Unfortunately, one Economy Plus customer on this particular flight seems to have succumbed to the malign notion that, having paid the extra tariff, the space separating his seat from the seat immediately forward was his exclusive domain and not to be infringed upon by anyone, certainly not the passenger in front of him. To the end of forestalling this awful eventuality, he deployed the gadgets on the seat ahead.
History fails to relate if our hero, luxuriating in his personal seatback-free space, saw fit to recline his own seat, thereby encroaching on the passenger behind. In any event, the forward occupant of the now recline-disabled seat, thwarted in her quest for a modicum of additional comfort, requested a flight attendant to intervene on her behalf and, upon our hero’s refusal to give any ground, launched the contents of a water glass at him. (Acknowledgement here to the TSA carry-on inspectors who just conceivably limited the weaponry to a potable liquid.) Words of an unpleasant, discordant nature presumably followed at which point the flight crew, perhaps fearful of their routine air passage to Denver devolving into something like the streets of Aleppo, defused the situation with an emergency visit to the conveniently proximate Windy City.
Sadly on display here, as on elementary school playgrounds, is a stunning lack of consideration by both parties for anyone other than themselves. Like most escalating disagreements, this one could and unquestionably should have been easily stifled at any point in its spiral. Self-centeredness is a failing as old and common as dirt, but its increase certainly contributes to the woes of the modern world.