During my Continental mileage run last week, I had a particularly difficult seating predicament that arose on a Houston-LaGuardia flight.
My upgrade had not cleared so I was seated in 7D, an aisle seat in the bulkhead row with a generous cutout for extended legroom. Upon boarding, I was greeted by a Hasidic Jewish man sitting in 7F. He was chanting and reading a book, but set the book down to ask me if I would sit in the center seat, 7E.
I didn’t get it. Why would he want me to move to the center? I asked him why and he explained that he had been assigned the middle seat and it was “against his religion” to sit next to a woman. He pleaded with me to move, but I still wasn’t sure what I was going to do. I hate middle seats and if the gentleman really couldn’t sit next to a woman, he should have purchased two seats.
But (although I am no expert of Jewish rules and regulations so he could have been bluffing for all I know) I agreed to switch seats with him. His request seemed reasonable enough, he did not make a demand but instead asked nicely, and I determined that in the interest of goodwill, I would make the switch.
What would you have done?
There’s more to the story, though. A woman did show up about five minutes later, but stopped with a bewildered look when she arrived at row seven. After consulting her blackberry, she forcefully told me that I was in the wrong seat.
I explained to the woman that I switched seats with the gentleman next to me. She then said to the Jewish man that he was in the wrong seat. The man, agitated, said, “Madam, we explained this to you already. My religion forbids me from sitting next to woman.” The woman then pulled out her blackberry that had a seat map of our flight and said, “The middle seat is supposed to be open. You’re in the wrong seat.”
Looking at me with disbelief in his eyes, the man again asserted he was in the correct seat and fished for his boarding pass in his coat pocket. He triumphantly pulled it out and presented his boarding pass…for 7B. The woman curtly told him he was in the wrong seat and he profusely apologized to her and me and moved across the aisle. Lucky for him, 7C got a battlefield upgrade so he was able to move over the aisle across from me and enjoyed an open middle seat for the flight.
The woman, who happened to be a member of FlyerTalk (who after a day long mileage run was in no mood, she explained, for someone in a middle seat) took her seat and said, “That happens all the time.”
I was just glad the situation resolved itself amicably. I give the lady kudos, though, for piping up—I would have just assumed that the man had been assigned the seat at the last minute and would not have re-checked the seat map.