How Not To Get a Refund (Or At Least, Any Sympathy)

As I waited to get off the two hour flight that had shuttled me out of New York this morning, I was somewhat aware of the man a few people in front of me making a scene. People were filing off as fast as they could, and he was standing in the aisle near the first row, gesticulating wildly, and speaking strongly—loudly—to the flight attendants. He was in his late sixties, say, white hair, nice clothes, tan skin. “There should be rules about this,” he said. “This was the most uncomfortable flight of my life,” he said. “I should only have to pay half a fare! I demand a refund!”

The flight attendants were tight-lipped and nodding, their mouths saying nothing, their faces saying, “Yes, sir, I’m sorry sir, please move along or maybe, please don’t hit us.” The man kept talking. “I was like this the whole flight!” he said, leaning to the side, making an arc of his body. He kept making a gesture, a sort of pointing, and I thought he was just pointing to a broken seat. I don’t believe in yelling at people—I don’t think helps, ever. But while I moved up in line, I was willing to be a tiny bit sympathetic. The flight was filled with people who’d been trying to fly out since Monday; others who had been living in the airport for days, from the looks of the gate; everyone trying to get out of region that had had a very, very bad week.

But when it came my time to deplane—oh dear god, get me off this plane—I realized he was not pointing to a broken seat, but to his seat mate, a stout man in his seventies or eighties, wearing a seafarer cap. The man in the seafarer cap stared ahead.

Oh.

I can forgive so many people so many things, but cruelty? Never. Later, after doing laps to find my gate, to pee, to get an $11 garden salad, I crossed paths with the older man in the seafarer cap. He was being pushed in a wheelchair. I tried to give him the warmest most genuine smile I could, one that said “I think you’re a human” without saying “I feel sad for you.” I don’t know what a smile like that looks like, actually. I don’t think he saw me.

An addendum, which I don’t think matters, actually, except to illustrate just how clueless the asshole in question was here: I would have described both men as “stout” and neither as either “obese” or “svelte.” Retrospectively, I think the asshole  was usually a first-class flier, slumming it coach, unaccustomed to what so many of us just call “plane seats.” Flying sucks. It always does. Cruelty doesn’t change that (it never does).

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