I’m glad they weren’t flying around the world!

Dear Amy: On a short airplane flight, I was seated next to a woman who chatted to me nonstop about this and that, while I listened and smiled politely.

When she started to voice opinions that I didn’t share and didn’t want to discuss, I tried to wrap up the conversation and turned to my phone.

I texted my daughter an unkind remark about the woman, which the woman saw; she would have had to make an effort to see what I was writing.

The woman became upset, and I felt terrible.

I apologized profusely. The flight attendants even got involved.

We were both silent for the rest of the flight.

At the time I chastised myself for writing something snarky about my seatmate, but the more I thought about it, I wondered if I needed to feel so bad.

After all, the remark had not been directed at her, and she took it upon herself to read a private communication.

What do you think?

— Testy Traveler

Testy Traveler: Your seatmate failed to “read the room,” but some travelers are nervous or excited and choose to distract themselves through chatter (I have now trained myself to respect my seatmate’s privacy until at most 10 minutes before landing).

Your seatmate also failed to read you, as someone who knows how to smile and act politely without actually being polite or kind.

You have the right to think whatever snarky thoughts you might have, but when you commit them to writing, your thoughts will take on a life of their own.

No, she should not have read your text, but she did read it. (I’ve seen this referred to as “shoulder surfing,” and you’ve probably done it.)

Your question to yourself should be: “Should I have written the text in the first place?”

If your middle school child reported to you that she wrote a snarky note about a fellow classmate, but the classmate intercepted it, read it and responded badly, would you encourage your child to justify her own actions the way you are doing?

Generally speaking, if you feel bad about your own behavior, then go ahead and lean into that feeling, because there is a high likelihood that you behaved badly.

If you want to move through a world that is gentler, more respectful and kinder, then the better behavior might as well start with you.

And — while I’m at it — let us acknowledge the often thankless role of flight attendants, who are there to see to our safety, but end up using their valuable time and energy negotiating this sort of nonsense. (c) Ask Amy

Interesting scenario! Oh my goodness.

I couldn’t disagree with Ask Amy more than I do. Sadly, being polite can lead to being strongarmed into a long and tedious conversation that you can’t escape.

Let’s call the letter writer’s seatmate June. June had no right to be obnoxious and unself-aware to the point that she forced the letter writer to stay engaged with her. June showed no social awareness nor any social conscience. She didn’t fail to read the room, as Ask Amy surmised–it seems more likely that she didn’t bother to read the room. Slight difference.

And then June snooped and saw the text. A case could be made that the letter writer did that “accidentally on purpose” with the text, but I do believe that the letter writer felt awful about it, and we already know how obnoxious and boundary-free June is. I’d put the guilt there on June for snoop-reading the text.

(I’ve traveled a few times and never with a cellphone, so I’m struggling to visualize how easy it would be to read someone else’s text. Feel free to chime in! But the letter writer tells us that June must’ve been snooping deliberately and making an actual effort to read it. I tend to believe her.)

And then June got upset by the text. If it were snail-mail that June snooped in, rather than a text or email, then June would be guilty of mail fraud, a federal offense.

I could understand getting upset if you accidentally read a text like, the person next to me is ugly! And wow, there’s some flatulence. When will this flight end? But given the circumstances under which June read the text, including June’s own bad behavior that led to its being composed, I don’t think she had any moral right to throw a hissy over its contents.

I wouldn’t compare the text to sending a mean note in class. That has a connotation of being mean and snarky for the pure fun of it, like with my above pretend text about flatulence. But often, correspondence that diminishes someone could be done for virtuous reasons: you need to vent, you need to work through an issue pertaining to someone, you need to feel heard or supported, etc., etc. Quite presumably the letter writer wrote the damning text in order to help herself relax. And she did feel bad that it was seen by June.

And never again will the letter writer compose a text on a plane without being hypervigilant of her seatmates. But it’s one of those things you can’t learn until it happens. Prior, the letter writer had reason to believe that she could compose a private text aboard a plane. Now she knows she can’t. Lesson learned. But I’d categorize it as something you shouldn’t be required to guess until it happens to you. In other words, the letter writer had no bloody clue that her seatmate was reading the text.

If you want to move through a world that is gentler, more respectful and kinder, then the better behavior might as well start with you.

I agree, but I don’t think it applies here. It would be hard to be assertive enough to shut down the conversation, and the text wasn’t meant to be overseen.

And — while I’m at it — let us acknowledge the often thankless role of flight attendants, who are there to see to our safety, but end up using their valuable time and energy negotiating this sort of nonsense.

Actually, this is the job of the flight attendants. Keeping us safe, really? All you need to know is to avoid opening any large doors on the side of the plane. The way I see it, flight attendants are moderators, psychologists, parents, customer service reps, bartenders, servers, and the whole shebang. That they keep us alive is secondary to their need to garner truces. (Said rather tongue-in-cheek.)

If this happened to me, I’d resent June for making me look like a troublemaker. Despite my propinquity for engaging people in mortal combat, I’m the sort of person who wants to please authority figures with my good attitude. Go figure. [Shrug.] It’s frustrating when you’re like, “I had nothing to do with it!” and no one believes you.

At the time I chastised myself for writing something snarky about my seatmate, but the more I thought about it, I wondered if I needed to feel so bad.

After all, the remark had not been directed at her, and she took it upon herself to read a private communication.

Interesting. I can tell the letter writer feels genuinely bad that June read the text, but at the same time, who gave June the right to do that?! No one. I’d feel bad about the situation if I were the letter writer. I’d regret that the flight attendants had to get stressed over it, and I’d regret that June read the text. But I wouldn’t blame myself.

Actually, knowing me, I would blame myself. But then I’d reason with myself and be like, Meg, you really had nothing to do with it. You weren’t instigating. You were stuck next to this person. Wrong place, wrong time. 

When she started to voice opinions that I didn’t share and didn’t want to discuss, I tried to wrap up the conversation and turned to my phone.

Being paranoid, easily triggered, introverted, highly sensitive, and generally incapable of engaging “normally” with strangers, this situation would stress me out beyond belief. (At least I don’t have any social anxiety!) While I’m sure I’m biased for that reason alone, I can’t come up with any justification for June to have been so demanding of her seatmate’s energy. It’s like, geez, develop some self-awareness, June, about how you come across. I almost hope the text made June realize the error of her ways.

9 thoughts on “I’m glad they weren’t flying around the world!

  1. This is a bigger issue that should have nothing to do with the text message. There should really be a separate section for yakkers. If you’re not sitting in the yakkers sections, you need to STFU. Someone shouldn’t have to pull out headphones or pretend to be asleep just to get the person next to them to shut their trap. I’ve done a lot of flying, and I feel very strongly about this. Even when I was moderately more social, the last thing I wanted was some dumbass talking my ear off when I’m trapped in a sardine can at 30,000 feet.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. AMEN! PREACH!! And that’s not a bad idea, not at all! Like a place for smokers and non-smokers!! That’s genius! I wish the airlines would adopt such a policy! I agree with you entirely that it’s just like, please, I don’t even know you and I want to do my own thing here.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I hear ya!! Yikes, I wish I’d thought that through better before buying my recent tickets to Prague!! 😀 Well, I do like the view, though. And yeah, middle seat is dreadful. I paid extra to get window for the two major flights here and back. The thought of being in the middle seat for a long flight is, well, unthinkable.

        Like

    1. HA HA HA HA HA HA H AH AHA! I’m so glad! I was afraid it was just me! 😀 Yeah, really, Ask Amy!! Geez. She was feeling hostile, I guess!! Ask Amy does sometimes try to defend “normal” behavior, like how she said people are stressed on planes so they gab. I’m not buying it. [Shaking my head.] There was no excuse for June’s obnoxiousness!!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m an anxious flyer and if a stranger started talking to me I’d be polite but I’d have to make it clear I needed my space. That doesn’t make me a bad person, we’re allowed to not want to talk to people, especially when we didn’t ask and are not enjoying the conversation.

        Liked by 1 person

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