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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A special place in hell...

... should be reserved for the kind of people I am about to describe.

But first the [relatively] good news:

Our flight left New York at 5:50PM on Sunday afternoon.  Or, more correctly, it pushed back from the gate at that time.   But due to heavy rain and lightning, our flight, and every other flight waiting to depart JFK, was held on the ground pending a break in the weather.

Finally, after more than five hours of wating for the rain to let up, we were told to buckle up... and so a few minutes after 11:00PM we were finally airborne. 

However, our plan had been for the overnight flight to put us into Vienna first thing in the morning... allowing us a full day of touring before our evening flight.  The pilots were able to make up about an hour over the Atlantic, but by the time we'd landed we'd still lost four hours of our stop-over in Vienna.

Once we'd deplaned, we took the 16 minute train ride into the center of Vienna and spent an enjoyable half day visiting the historic district in the center of the city.  We had wanted to visit the synagogue at the Judengasse (Jew's alley), but when we arrived we were told that it was only open to organized tours.  Instead we had a quick lunch at the nearby kosher bagel joint (good food, but pricey).

A couple of hours before our flight we took the return train to the airport. 

Our Tel Aviv-bound flight left on time... but I would gladly have traded another extended delay for what happened next.

The plane we were on was clean and new, but like all airlines, the seats (at least in cattle class) were very close to one another.  I'm almost 6' 2", so this means that my knees are jammed against the seat in front of me.  The only small relief I can look forward to is that after take-off and between meals, I can recline the seat-back the few meager inches it can travel.

So after we'd taken off, I waited patiently for the drink and meal service to be concluded.  Once the trays and other trash had been collected, I breathed a sigh of relief and finally reclined my seat.

However, almost instantly two kids sitting behind me started shouting loudly (in Hebrew) that my seat-back was bothering them.  When I asked what the problem was, they told me that they were watching a movie on a laptop computer and that they couldn't put the screen at the proper viewing angle if I reclined my seat.

As a gesture of good will I tried to give them an inch or two.  But they responded by using their feet to push my seat violently into the full upright position.

That was it for me.  I explained that if I had to choose between my comfort and their ability to watch a movie, it was a no-brainer... their movie was going to have to wait 'til they got home.  I reclined my seat again.

Apparently, these two kids (one a teenager and the other a pre-teen) weren't used to hearing 'no' for an answer, and they continued to complain loudly and kick my seat-back in an attempt to force it back to the full upright position.

I tried to ignore them for a few minutes, but when it became clear that they weren't going to stop the abuse, I stood up, turned around and yelled at them to stop kicking my chair.  I told them that if they didn't stop I would report them to the flight attendants.

Things quieted down for a few moments.  But not because the kids had gotten the message.  One or both of them had apparently gone to tell their parents that the mean man in front of them had yelled at them and was using his seat to keep them from watching their movie.

Within a few minutes my seat back began to be kicked again, but this time more violently. 

When I turned around to yell again, I saw that now their mother was sitting behind me, and she was using both her hands and feet to try to push my seat into the upright position.  When I told her to stop, she petulantly explained that I had been asked to straighten my seat, and that I was required to comply with the request.  Since I had refused, she was doing it for me.

I pushed the button and forced the seat back again.  She continued to pummel my seat, but after a few minutes it seemed she'd lost interest.

No such luck.  Without warning my seat was pushed fully upright with such force that I nearly hit my head on the seat-back in front of me.  I turned around to yell at the woman, but now saw that she'd moved over one seat and her husband had taken the seat behind me. 

I asked him what the hell was wrong with him.  He replied as his wife had... that I had been requested to straighten my seat, and that since I'd refused, he'd done it for me.

This was too much.  I sat back down... pushed my seat all the way back, and at the same time pushed the flight attendant call button.  It was a full flight, so it took the flight attendant several minutes to arrive.  But in the interim, the idiot behind me continued to pummel my seat with his hands and feet... all the time making derogatory comments about 'religious people' (I was wearing my kippah).

When the flight attendant finally arrived she explained to the neanderthal that everyone was permitted to recline their seats and that he had to stop pushing my seat.  But as soon as she left the abuse continued.

So I pushed the call button again.  When the flight attendant returned, I explained that I was being assaulted and that I wanted her to take action.  She promised to send her crew chief.

In the interim, the husband and wife began assuring me and Zahava (who was sitting across the aisle from me) that they were going to have me arrested for threatening their children when we landed in Israel.  They promised us that ours would be a very sad vacation (they assumed we were tourists).  When Zahava sweetly explained that we lived in Israel, the husband said, "what a shame".

We exchanged a few more 'pleasantries', and he continued to kick and jostle my seat-back... all the while telling me that I was required to come with him to the police station at the airport, and that if I refused to give him my passport and ID number I was committing yet another crime.

I told him to do whatever he wanted, but I was certainly not going anywhere with him when we landed or giving him anything.

Within a few minutes the flight crew chief arrived and asked me my name... checked it against the flight manifest, and then asked the man behind me his name... and checked it against the manifest.  He then listened patiently while the moron and his wife ranted on about how I had been asked to move my seat and that I was required to comply.  He then said the following:

"I am responsible for the safety and comfort of over two hundred passengers on this flight.  I do not have time to play kindergarten teacher.  Every seat on this plane is capable of reclining and everyone who wants to is allowed to use this function.  This man's seat reclines and so does yours.  You are not allowed to move his seat and I must insist that you stop doing so immediately."

As if they hadn't heard, the two of them continued to loudly argue that they had asked me to move my seat and that since they'd asked, I was required to comply.  Each time they said this the crew-chief corrected them and patiently explained that they were mistaken.  Except for during take-off, landing and meal service, everyone was allowed to recline their seats.

After the third time the crew chief had patiently told them they were in the wrong, they loudly asked, "Are you telling us we have no place to make a complaint?"  The crew chief answered, "That's correct... you have no place to make a complaint".

I thought that would be the end of it, but then the cretin began asking the crew chief if he could put his feet against the back of my chair.  The crew chief said that he could, but that he couldn't use them to move my seat.  He then asked "what if I need to move around or adjust my position... can I do that?".  Again, the crew chief answered in the affirmative, but stressed that he couldn't intentionally jostle my seat.

After the crew chief left, the misanthrope spent about 15 minutes digging his feet and knees into the back of my chair and playing at readjusting his position.  It was only after Zahava took out a camera and aimed it at him that he stopped. 

But he wasn't done yet.  He began loudly telling us that it was illegal to photograph someone without their consent, and that this was yet another thing we'd be charged with when we landed.  Not knowing the law, I whispered to Zahava not to take any pictures/movies... but to be prepared to in case things got worse.

Throughout the rest of the flight the miscreant continued to grind his knees into my lower back and 'accidentally' jostle my seat.  But I didn't respond except to return my seat to the recline position whenever he pushed it forward with his 'position readjustments'.

When we finally landed I got our things out of the overhead compartments and ushered my family to the front of the plane.  As we passed the flight crew, several of them gave me sympathetic smiles and head tilts, but that was not much consolation.  The crew chief was standing near the door and he apologized for my discomfort and wished me goodbye with a sympathetic head-tilt.

As we stepped off the plane I saw a large group of security personnel standing in the jet-way just outside the door, but didn't think much of it. 

On the way to passport control, several Israelis approached me and offered what were intended to be comforting statements ranging from "You were in the right", to "You should have beaten him and his wife unconscious". 

Sadly, these comments offered little comfort.  Where were these people during the flight?  If they had shouted at the idiots behind me and told them that their behavior was unacceptable, perhaps they might have stopped.  Bullies rely on the silence and timidity of others to get their way... and these well wishers were classic examples of the sort who passively enable bullies everywhere.

It was only after we'd gotten our baggage and were in the car service on the way home that Zahava turned to me and said, "Did you notice?"

"Notice what?" I said.

"All the security personnel outside the aircraft... and the fact that, even though our bags were relatively late to come off the conveyor, the family who had been behind us never made it to baggage claim."

I have no idea what really happened to them.  It may be that we just didn't see them (although Zahava was clearly looking for them).  It may also be that one or both of the parents was detained and maybe even charged for their disorderly behavior on the flight.

I don't know, and I don't care.  I know it is not particularly in keeping with the seasonal spirit of forgiveness... but I firmly believe that there is a special punishment reserved for such people.  And that if they are not punished in this world.. the world to come holds an unpleasant surprise or two for people like that.

Posted by David Bogner on August 25, 2010 | Permalink

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This story is so much a testament to your self control, for I -- in my exasperated outrage -- would have fitted the pater baboon with a lapstop-style necklace. If I had to fly over half of Europe and the Mediterranean with a family of crazies kicking and banging my seat, there is a good chance a Commandment or two might have been broken, not to mention a few legs and noses.

Posted by: Erica | Aug 25, 2010 3:12:51 PM

Ah...The joys of air travel. I've been relatively lucky. For whatever reason, I've had tremendously good luck in getting some sort of upgrade on my return flights whenever I've been in a long-haul situation. I've been upgraded three or four times, and moved to exit-row or bulkhead seats the rest (and I only take one or two such flights a year).

At the same time, people for whatever reason have terrible manners when it comes to airplanes. I think it may come down to people feeling that if you are going to treat them like animals, then they are going to act according to your expectations.

On a somewhat unrelated note, when I was flying from Zurich to Tel-Aviv, I had a highly amusing experience boarding the plane. The Swiss, being Swiss wanted everyone to form an orderly line, only come when they were called, and so on. The Israelis, not wanting to be friers, were having none of that. I was wondering who was going to go crazy first, the gate staff who had to tell some guy for the twentieth time that the "beeg dee-al" was that he was in boarding group five and only group one was boarding at this time or the Israeli being told for the twentieth time he couldn't board the plane yet.
R/ - R

Posted by: Rob | Aug 25, 2010 3:22:30 PM

I had a very similar experience, on a flight to the states. The young man behind me was very tall and did not want me reclining. Every time I tried to recline, he shoved his legs into the back of my chair and I couldn't move it. The flight attendants just basically shrugged when I complained. Even when he fell asleep, he was able to sense me trying to move my chair. It was an impossible flight and I was exhausted at the end.

Posted by: Madelyn | Aug 25, 2010 4:43:45 PM

I feel bad for their kids. Those kids are going to grow up to be bullies, just like their parents. Actually, it soulds like they've already gotten there.

So sorry for your experience. That's why I hate flying - at least till I can afford my own private jet, which should be... about never.

Posted by: Rabba bar bar Chana | Aug 25, 2010 5:54:27 PM

A shame you couldn't switch seats with someone who doesn't want to recline.....

Posted by: rickismom | Aug 25, 2010 6:05:26 PM

Have you ever read Stephen King's story "The Jaunt"? I've been haunted by the story ever since I read it many years ago. His basic idea is very apropos to your experience, and instructive on several levels, too. "Longer than you think, Dad," it cackled, "Longer than you think."
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Jaunt

Posted by: Barzilai | Aug 25, 2010 10:03:26 PM

Wow, I would not have kept quiet! While still on the plane, I would have requested a complaint form and written out a full description of how the people sitting in seats x & y spent the duration of the flight kicking and kneeing my chair.

A sympathetic nod is insufficient compensation for hours of physical abuse.

Occasionally, I deal with people like that in a rather unconventional way. I express my sympathy that they are so miserable that the only way they get pleasure is to try and make others as miserable as they are. I try to express my sorrow and sympathy quietly, to further contrast their brutish behavior.

Posted by: RivkA | Aug 25, 2010 11:02:59 PM

Sitting in a middle seat and fighting for the use of an armrest is also a pain.

Posted by: Bob Miller | Aug 25, 2010 11:44:27 PM

Fortunately I am very patient man. The two US soldiers several rows behind me on my first flight to Manila (1984) were such a nuisance, and so obnoxiously drunk, that for nearly nineteen hours everyone was having fits. The flight attendants were NOt going to interfere (who the heck WANTS to deal with very large smelly white guys?).
There were, however, officers waiting at the gate for them. They would have gotten back to Subic before being declared awol if they hadn't been so obstreperous....... and one of them would never have broken his jaw if he had just been 'polite'.
Apparently obnoxious behaviour is a standard on PAL flights. That, and passenger digestive distress.

Posted by: At The back of the Hill | Aug 25, 2010 11:52:30 PM

Fortunately I am very patient man. The two US soldiers several rows behind me on my first flight to Manila (1984) were such a nuisance, and so obnoxiously drunk, that for nearly nineteen hours everyone was having fits. The flight attendants were NOt going to interfere (who the heck WANTS to deal with very large smelly white guys?).
There were, however, officers waiting at the gate for them. They would have gotten back to Subic before being declared awol if they hadn't been so obstreperous....... and one of them would never have broken his jaw if he had just been 'polite'.
Apparently obnoxious behaviour is a standard on PAL flights. That, and passenger digestive distress.

Posted by: At The back of the Hill | Aug 25, 2010 11:52:30 PM

Sorry - comment wasn't so good I had to post it twice.

Posted by: At The back of the Hill | Aug 25, 2010 11:53:10 PM

I am sorry you had to endure this.

Posted by: Ilana-Davitata | Aug 26, 2010 12:13:21 AM

Well, you can look at the bright side -- at least these cretins weren't behind you for an extra 5 hours on the ground before takeoff!

Posted by: Jonathan | Aug 26, 2010 12:15:58 AM

Yikes... When did you get all that self-control????!! You tolerated way too much.
It was great having you here... Miss you.

Posted by: Val | Aug 26, 2010 5:27:37 AM

Poor you!

I sympathise. It is 42 hours flying with changeovers door to door (yup, that long) from my home here to my parent's house - four flights total. I am a very tall female and usually fly with Asian airlines due to the cheaper fares. Sadly this also means minimal leg room. My recovery time is normally three days at either end. Add to that at least one difficult person per flight. It is enough to drive you to drink.

Well done for being as restrained as you were. I would like to think that security were there for this mean family.

Posted by: Kiwi Noa | Aug 26, 2010 9:59:37 AM

What airline was this?

Posted by: Nachum | Aug 26, 2010 10:43:07 AM

I hope you have the pictures. Put in a complaint with police, airline etc. Send in bills from chiropractor and other health professionals. You were assaulted.

Posted by: Batya | Aug 26, 2010 1:36:21 PM

ARGH@#!!@#! I all but sat on my 3-year-old to prevent her from kicking the seat in front of her on a 4-hour flight. Fortunately, there were some empty seats farther up, so the two women in front of her and my husband moved up, meaning that I was able to give her a little more wiggle room. (ended up being great - my kids both slept over 2 hours on the flight. Add in the time they sat watching Dora on the netbook, and we had a bearable flight.

I did once (I was in my mid-teens and flying alone) have the experience that someone in front of me leaned back when I was using the tray as a head rest (to sleep) and it actually meant that my head got crushed. Somehow it got worked out. I think he ended up leaning back only 2/3 of the way. I remember being in tears and yelling at him somewhere in our exchange, but kicking the seat would never have crossed my mind as a possibility. It would have been as outlandish an idea to me as someone suggesting that I open the door of the plane and shove him out - completely out of the realm of possibility.

Posted by: LeahGG | Aug 26, 2010 2:16:28 PM

Zahava turned to me and said, "Did you notice?"

"Notice what?" I said.

When I read this part I laughed. My wife also makes some vague comments (e.g. "What do you think about it?"), and acts surprised that I don't know exactly what she's talking about. ("Think about what?? The lasagna I'm eating? The kid running around? The lamp over there? Give me a clue!")

Posted by: JDMDad | Aug 26, 2010 4:05:06 PM

Wow and I was annoyed last time I travelled alone from the UK when after giving up my window seat to a little girl her adult relations snuggled up and went to sleep leaving me to entertain and take care of their chatty, restless but basically sweet little daughter.

They should have a time out room (maybe a galley cupboard?) where they can arrest and detain people who create that much hassle on a flight.

Posted by: Esther | Aug 26, 2010 5:04:39 PM

JDMDad: SURE! Take his side! This must be a Mars/Venus issue -- and it is a source of contention, as I am completely unaware when I do it and it drives David insane.

Posted by: zahava | Aug 26, 2010 5:15:51 PM

I would have sworn out a complaint against them immediately upon arrival, had the flight crew not already arranged to have them detained. In these post-9/11 days, nobody - and I mean nobody - should be cut any slack for getting testy with flight crew or disobeying their instructions. It's a safety and security issue, beyond just being boorish and obnoxious.

Posted by: Elisson | Aug 26, 2010 9:00:56 PM

I don't know if you thought of this or even if it were possible, but I would have suggested a seat swap - let them sit in front of you, or swap with the wife/husband and let them sit straight. Pointless arguing with them.

Posted by: J. | Aug 27, 2010 9:31:49 AM

how about israeli inter-city busses and the apparently accepted "minhag" of slouching and resting your knees on the seat in front of you? if i fought about each occurance of this uncomfortable indignity i'd never have a peaceful ride, so i make certain exceptions for "shalom bais": if it's an obviously exhausted soldier behind me, or someone who at least places their knees in my back and then DOESN'T MOVE THEM, i hold my peace. other than these exceptions, the offenders will taste my wrath and i don't care if i spend the whole ride arguing, it's better than an unwanted jarring "chinese water torture" massage.

Posted by: jonathan becker | Aug 29, 2010 11:13:27 AM

Dude, I would so seriously have needed to go to the bathroom, carrying my full glass of soda with me and just accidentally have tripped and fallen so that the contents went all over those people. I would have apologized profusely of course. Such a shame. But you know, accidents do happen (like their having been born).

Posted by: Yaeli | Aug 29, 2010 4:27:12 PM

Ugh-so obnoxious. Good for you for not giving in. You are braver than I am.

Posted by: Benji Lovitt | Sep 2, 2010 12:01:34 AM

Haven't flown in years, money for travel being no longer a part of my finances, but when I did fly I always reserved either the row by the door - I am also 6'2" - so I can stretch my legs, or an aisle seat. It ain't easy, and you have to stay alert, but an aisle seat does allow some leg room. You just have to pull that leg in when someone marches down the aisle.

I never had such an ugly experience as you, but I flew before 9/11, so maybe passengers have gotten more surly? The best flight I ever experienced was from LA to Philly. A young fellow - we were both in our 20s - sat next to me, we were both bored, and he taught me a few card tricks. We played cribbage and practiced one-handed shuffling through the entire flight. :)

Posted by: benning | Sep 2, 2010 1:22:48 PM

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