A Letter From The Air

Dear Madam Occupying Seat 16-B, 

Thank you for taking the time to read this, as I know our relationship has been less than cordial. I am writing this letter in the hopes of repairing our damaged relationship. 

Here, I believe, is our problem. I am aware of your grim commitment to relaxation. You have made that very clear over the last four kneecap-destroying events during which you have thrust your seat back with a force typically reserved for carrier launches. And I admire your persistence. It takes a truly determined person to keep on trying to bash through a physical obstacle over and over again regardless of past success or the yelps of a fellow passenger.

What’s more, speaking as the physical object in question, you have added a certain degree of tactile reality to my George R.R. Martin book. I have never been more deeply moved by the events of the Red Wedding than reading it while having my own shins cracked open by a piece of airline grade plastic. I openly wept during the death of Robb Stark, albeit for reasons wholly unrelated to the plot.

Your animal need for those extra 5-10 degrees of recline is clear. What I find more confusing, to be frank, is your confusion.

I know and regret the language gap which separates us and keeps me from explaining our difficulty in fluent Spanish. Even still, I should have thought that by now the challenge of your seatback and my legs occupying the same physical space would have become clear. Yet with each failed attempt you turn to glower at me with some combination of unveiled contempt and vague confusion. Your rattled off questions in a language I don’t speak help little, as I’ve tried to communicate with a sad smile and head shake.

My increasingly bruised and bloody knees are right there. It seems that this mystery should have cleared up several cap cracking exercises ago. I’d like to give you the benefit of the doubt, to convince myself that maybe you thought there was something wrong with your seat, but the time for good faith has passed. I’m increasingly certain that the last two times were out of spite.

Truly you are the Torquemada of in-flight relaxation.

However I believe I also owe a certain debt of gratitude for your snarling commitment to nap time. I have learned a few things about myself over the past two hours.

I will never become a spy. That much is clear, as had I any government secrets I most certainly would have spilled them by now. I have considered reciting my name, rank and serial number in an effort to get you to stop, but have no number and “writer” impresses few.

It may be time to renegotiate my relationship with my legs. They do great work in getting me around from place to place, but have recently become a liability. Perhaps they need to go.

I am either an atheist or deeply spiritual, as I have over this flight found myself negotiating with several different pantheons while alternatively despairing of faith in a world that would let this happen. This could certainly be an excellent opportunity for cult recruitment.

World peace seems increasingly out of reach.

We need an international way of communicating certain ideas, such as “yes I know you want to put your seat down but I fear my legs are rather self evidently in the way” because I fear this situation is escalating rapidly toward violence. I would not be proud of the headlines “journalist starts fist fight with elderly Peruvian woman at 30,000 feet,” no less the inevitable subtitle “and loses.” But I can see you finger the recline button. Soon I will have no choice but to take action.

M’am, you know what I’m talking about.

I will rest these knees, the very same that have received such abuse at your hands against the back of the seat in front of me. Your seat.

I will drum them. I will bounce my tray table up and down to the tune of whatever happens to be in my head. I will sing top-40 songs directly in your ear. If this is to be war, so be it.

This can be a very, very long flight to Miami.

So I am requesting, if not begging, that you stop. Or the consequences of a very passive aggressive counteroffensive will fall on your head.


The man in the seat behind you


Eric Reed may be the only living travel writer who's afraid to fly. A freelance journalist, reformed lawyer and accidental expert on economic policy, he launched Things Dangerous as a place to tell the ups and downs of a beat writer's life on the road.

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