Wednesday, May 6, 2009

On taking up space on planes, and elsewhere

I don't know why, but I was kind of expecting the flight over here to be terrible. Probably because now that we live in Colorado, the trip to Germany is even longer, and that plus everyone talking about the whole United charging extra for fat people thing made me forget that I do fit in one seat, if not comfortably, and I was imagining myself like an especially large hippopotamus, strapped in with several seat belt extenders, beached on a seat and a half with Torsten squashed miserably next to me.

In reality, as seems to often happen with me, it was nothing like I was expecting. I did fit into the seat, I did not require a seat belt extender, and as I have never had a problem doing either of those things before I do recognize in hindsight that fears about those things were totally unfounded. I even had some modicum of leg room, at least on the 777 we took for the long flight across the ocean, if not the short flight to Dallas. Unfortunately, Torsten, being eight inches taller than me, can't say the same, but even he did not wind up with bruises on his knees.

Can I say, though, how much nicer it is to travel with a partner? I have done a lot of international traveling on my own, and while I can do it, it's so nice to have someone next to you. And I don't mean in terms of entertainment, although that too. I mean for pure physical comfort. With a partner next to you, especially if you're in your own little set of two seats, you can lift the armrest between you--so you don't, if you're on the larger side, have to feel those armrests start pressing painfully into your hips somewhere around hour 3. You don't have to exert your leg muscles to the point of trembling just to avoid possibly inconveniencing your seatmate with an inadvertent knee bump. You can lean on someone to sleep. If you do anything embarrassing while sleeping, it doesn't matter. If you have to pee and you're in the window seat, you can shove past the sleeping person next to you without guilt. You can even--dare I say it--cuddle, and perhaps even demand a short back rub, if it doesn't require your mate to twist his wrist unnaturally to reach.

Basically, it's nine bajillion times better than flying on your own, especially if you're a woman, because you know who doesn't seem to worry about half of these things? Men. They sit in their seats, immediately put them back as far as they go--preferably during a mealtime so that the person behind them ends up with their tray of nearly unidentifiable "food" all over their chest--and spread their legs as wide as possible so that their knees extend way beyond the armrests on both sides. If they have to pee and the person on the aisle is asleep, they do not seem to have qualms about waking them up so they can get out.

Now, if you're seated next to (or behind) a man like this, it is definitely frustrating. But at the same time, I admire this kind of attitude. What is it with women being more concerned about not infringing on anyone else's space than about their own comfort? Why did I spend so much time before the trip freaking out not about how uncomfortable it would be for ME not to fit in a seat, if I didn't, and more about how my seatmate, an assumed stranger whom I would never see again, would feel about the inch or two of infringement on their personal space? Why do nearly all women, regardless of how large they are, cross their legs, hunch their shoulders, and generally focus on not inconveniencing the world instead of on their own comfort?

Really, we could all take a cue from these men with their legs sprawled wide, because if we aren't looking out for our own comfort then it's pretty likely that nobody else will be either. We don't have to go so far as to shove our neighbors' legs out of the way for the sake of an extra inch of knee space, but I think I'm done with being hunched in an awkward position, muscles trembling with exertion, all to avoid bothering some stranger who most likely wouldn't be bothered anyway. It's time for me to start looking out for myself. And I hope other women will do the same.

31 comments:

  1. I do that on the train when I am not riding to and from work with my boyfriend. No more!!!! =) Ok, maybe I will start with not hunching and then move on to stretching my legs. Baby steps! Hee hee.

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  2. This is such a fantastic post! I totally worry about everyone else before my self. And the thing is, if you don't provide for your own comfort, who will?

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  3. Amen, Sister!

    Men spend 0 time thinking about how much space they take up.

    And traveling with a partner is SO much better. Just knowing that I have my bf on my team to help me get my bag out of the overhead compartment is a huge relief.

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  4. I think it's just because we're more considerate! I always look behind me and if the person sitting directly behind me has their seat back, then they're going to deal with mine. Otherwise I'm happy to keep mine straight out of consideration for that other person.

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  5. I think I'm more on the spread outy side. I am tall, so long legs and tiny airplane seats don't mesh. I stretch out and put the seat back, but I do alternate between propping my legs up and stretching out.

    Flying with someone is way better than flying alone. Have a great trip!

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  6. WOW, I always have THAT man sitting in front of me AND next to me when I fly! Having extremely long legs it is a bit of a bother but never fail I will cross and recross my legs continuously while making sure to KICK the back of his seat and 'accidently' kick the dude's knee next to me with my pointy high heeled shoes (a must while traveling alone for this very purpose)! Enjoy your trip!

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  7. LOL Interesting. I always pick the aisle seat for that veryr eason. I hate to have people et up to let me out. I love travellin with my husband because then I can lift the armrest and rest myhead on his shoulder. even though, more often than not, h's the one slumped over asleep since I cannot sleep through most flights. Including the non-stop to India.

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  8. again: i think i'm a man. when i get on a plane i immediately claim the arm rest before the dude next to me can, and i have pretty long legs so i usually end up with my knees out wide, sort of straddling the seat in front of me. and i always pick the window seat, so... sorry, aisle seat, but i'm going to ask you to get up at some point. i only feel guilty if they're asleep, in which case i try to wait until they wake up. and if they don't... well, dude, get the window seat if you wanted to sleep uninterupted ;-)

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  9. lol - men are generally not concerned about people liking them I think. They don't care what people think when they won't ever see them again!

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  10. HEAR HEAR HEAR! *wild clapping*

    I never, ever, ever try to take the arm rest when I'm seated next to a stranger.

    I'm going to go for it next time. One small armrest for me, one GIANT ARMREST for WOMANKIND!

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  11. I get like that, I always try to keep space in planes. I don't wanna bother anyone beside me too. I choose aisle seats usually so it's easy for me to walk if i wanna go to the bathroom without bothering other people

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  12. I don't know, I kind of think the men should be more like US. Not that they will, so I see your point.

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  13. Since I"m a short girl married to a very tall man, I've gotten used to not minding his legs intruding on my space. And even before we dated, I never really minded long legs of a seat-mate because my short legs usually balanced the space issue out. Now, get a rude person whose laptop plus 100-page presentation spills into my space and I'm way more likely to do something about it. Ahem, probably have done something about it on more than one occasion. =)

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  14. I recently had to do a lot of travel for business, by myself. Then a couple weeks ago, I took a trip with my husband. Yes, traveling with a partner is a million time better. At least I don't sleep with the fear of my head falling onto some stranger's shoulder.

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  15. I thought I was the only one with muscle pain from trying to avoid the other persons legs! Nice to know I'm not alone, it drives me nuts!

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  16. glad to hear that the flight wasn't as bad as you feared! i totally love traveling with someone, so we can keep that arm rest UP.. the seats on a plane are SMALL and could make the skinniest person feel full. okay, maybe not- but still. airplane seats piss me off. lol

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  17. I've definitely traveled with a partner where I wished I was on my own. Probably said something about the relationship, no?

    And while I'm all for taking up the space you need, I think we should go the other direction with it and get the boys to be a little more considerate of other peoples' space. It IS a gender thing as even the guys with only an inch or two on my 5'7" frame seem to take up more space than I do.

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  18. I always envy the people willing to push their seat back, meanwhile I'm all concerned about inconveniencing others. It's not fair.

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  19. I agree that traveling with your significant other is MUCH better. Someone to talk to, someone to bother (ha ha), someone to lean on. Although my fiance always takes the window seat. Bastard. ;-)

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  20. I just force my friends to submit to being my pillows. They don't always love it, but since I almost always let them have the windows, they deal. But a boyfriend/husband would be even better, I'm sure.

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  21. That's a great attitude to have. :) Sadly, I am a huncher/leg crosser/oh excuse me sort of woman. It's been ingrained from birth - the less space I take up, the better.

    From now on, I'm going to remember this post and SPRAWL whenever possible!

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  22. I'm with Maggie, actually (though it seems we're the minority). I do see your point, but there might be a fine line between looking out for your own comfort and infringing on the comfort of others. Maybe I've just spent trips and concerts too near too many selfish oblivious people, though. I'd rather err on the side of too cautious than be one of them!

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  23. another minority vote: I think that putting your seat back and "claiming" the armrest is one thing, but if any part of my seatmates body is touching mine, I think that is really rude. I understand that some people cant help it, and in those cases would never say something... but my husband is a very very broad person, a former college athlete, and he does not sprawl out in the way you describe when flying alone. he usually tries to get a window and then crosses his outside arm across his body for the majority of the flight so his biceps and shoulders are not infringing on the personal space of the person next to him. Comfortable? probably not, but that is what he puts up with out of politeness. I think it is a matter of mutual respect that everyone try to acknowledge and avoid the personal space of those around them... to the extent possible.

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  24. Really? I find that everyone who sits around me is horribly obnoxious about personal space on an airplane, regardless of gender. Last Saturday, I spent an overnight flight with my legs cramping and squished in behind a man with his seat back, and squished into my side by a woman whose legs were sprawling into my space and the space of the woman next to her.

    In my experience, women, in general, are the least conscious of how much space they take up.

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  25. I haven't flown with anyone in so long, I don't remember. I do like the window seat so that at least I can relax in one direction. Recently I got stuck in an aisle seat, and I swear my ribs were sore the next day from holding my arms in. It's not even that I was trying to be polite, but just not to get bumped by every person walking down the aisle... Window is better.

    I don't worry terribly much about the occasional bumping, it happens, but once on a long overnight flight, the woman next to me bumped into me over and over, until I wanted to smack her. Trying to sleep here, could you keep your feet to yourself?

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  26. I've asked myself that question many times--why do I go to such great lengths to make sure other people are comfortable or not inconvenienced when in the process, I'm making myself uncomfortable or inconvenienced? I'm tired of being that way! I need to look out for myself more often. Thanks for posting this!

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  27. That's right, sister. Time to start spreading, er, sprawling those legs out. You might wanna check with the significant other first, though. :)

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  28. I like the idea of a happy medium. Maybe not spreading my legs so wide that I am taking up a half of the next seat (ha... as if I would do that to begin with), but not spending my first 10 minute making sure my purse under the seat doesn't cross over one inch onto their side, either!

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  31. Amen! The last time I moved I found a journal I had to keep for Women's Studies 110, in which I discussed the differences in how I took up/did not take up space depending on gender presentation.

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