Negotiating with seatmates: Making flights negotiable

I recently experienced the joy of a 13-hour flight without a functioning video system (thanks “Reunited Airlines“!). On the plus side, those 13 hours afforded ample time to reflect on making life negotiable. What I realized was that flights themselves offer untold opportunities for improving our lot through some simple negotiation strategies, many of which I’ve already discussed on this blog.

So while the memories of those 13 hours are fresh in my brain (not to mention other body parts), I thought I’d jot down a few of the many opportunities for in-flight negotiations with our fellow passengers. You might consider negotiating if your flying compatriots are…

  • Taking up too much space / using your armrest / spreading their newspaper: Perhaps the most common offense, our fellow passengers often seem blissfully unaware that they haven’t purchased two seats, one being yours. Here, I’d advise making the first offer by occupying all of your own space before they sit down—and I do mean all of it. Then don’t let that arm leave the armrest! And if their newspaper strays into your space, well then, it may be time for a thoroughgoing yawn and stretch of the arms.
  • Blowing the air on you: Why do they do that? Can’t they see your eyebrows flapping in the breeze? Here, I find that simply asking them if you can move the blower a bit may help, as they probably don’t have any awareness of your impending frostbite. And if they’re really that hot, well then, they’d probably appreciate a more direct encounter with the gale-force winds.
  • Kicking / bumping your seat: This one’s tricky, as it often involves people of an age group that is physically incapable of regulating their leg movements. All too often, though, it involves people old enough to control their appendages with precision. With adults at least, I find that sharing information about your frustration by casting a brief (albeit intense) glance backwards is enough to curtail the kicking. If not, then your counteroffer could involve a sudden seat recline.
  • Moving your bag / cramming something on top of it: It’s amazing – once that bag goes into the overhead bin, others seem to totally forget that somebody actually owns it. Who among the flying public has not seen someone else crushing their bag in a futile attempt to cram their enormous treasure chest into the bin? And how did they get that thing onboard anyway? Frustrating as this behavior might be, I find that it most often results from a fear of having to check the treasure chest, not a malign attempt to destroy your Samsonite. Thus, it’s more of an integrative negotiation than a distributive negotiation: you both want to find a suitable place for the treasure chest. Accordingly, I often offer to help the person with the treasure chest, even while preventing it from puncturing my 3-oz toothpaste.
  • Blocking you from using the bathroom: It’s the moment that every flier fears. A large cup of coffee, a window seat, turbulence requiring a sustained seatbelt, and a sleeping set of seatmates. If you get to that point, it’s too late. You better hold it or jump over them. The solution to this one starts way before the need to go—at the very beginning of the flight. While I’m the last person to seek out an extended, transformative conversation with my seatmates, it is helpful to schmooze at least a little upon boarding, if only by smiling or saying hello. This early overture toward trust will pave your path to the bathroom later.

These examples are mostly for fun, but they do point out how often we can (and probably should) negotiate our way through the most common situations. Here’s hoping they start you thinking about all of your own opportunities to negotiate (or at least make your next flight a bit more negotiable).

Have you ever negotiated on a plane?

5 thoughts on “Negotiating with seatmates: Making flights negotiable

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