So, a Man Walks into a Full Airplane and Says…

Two weeks back, my father and sister traveled to Maryland. My father just recently bought a franchise, and since my sister would be managing it, the company asked that they both be there. During the flight back, something happened which I feel is worth mentioning.

Before I start, I should explain: My father has owned businesses all his life. As such, he has over the years developed the proverbial “thick skin” which comes almost preternaturally to those who have been in the line of verbal and legal fire which owning a traditional business usually entails. He’s essentially immune to criticism, at least from strangers, no matter in what form it comes. In his own words, “If someone’s a dickhead to me, I’m just gonna be a bigger dickhead back.” He will, of course, say this with a smile. He also has a habit of thinking his thoughts out loud, for everyone’s enjoyment. Whether he does this for effect or whether it is a result of his many years fighting in the world of business, I cannot say.

To show you a bit of his nature, once my father wanted to buy some shirts from a Wal-mart. (I’ll say they were shirts, since I can’t recall what the items really were.) A big, standing sign said these shirts were on special, about a third of their normal price. My father capitalized on this and grabbed a relatively large number of them. When he went up to the cashier, she told him they were the regular price. He argued this, but she refused to change the price or even check, for that matter, insisting that the price on the computer was the right price. My father then, calmly, went back to the shirt section, grabbed the big, standing sign, returned to the cashier and placed it in front of her. He got his price, and was applauded by people behind him who saw what had happened, at least those who weren’t too annoyed at the time it took for these events to unfold.

My father and sister flew back from Maryland on a Southwest Airlines flight. If you’ve ever flown on Southwest, you know that they have what I like to call the herd seating system. That is, they divide passengers into four groups: Handicapped/Elderly, A, B, and C. When they call one of the groups, all persons in that group are driven into the plane like a herd of cows and grab seats on a first come/first serve basis. (Really, if you think about the name and where the airline started — the land of cows and cowboys — you see why this method of seating makes sense.) This way of seating works great if you’re on one of the first few to sit, not so great if you’re on one of the last.

Because of some complications with the airport, my father and sister were late in arriving at the terminal for their flight. Late enough, in fact, to earn a calling of their names over the intercom, followed by words “your flight is about to leave.”

When they finally boarded the plane they came to the stark realization that this flight was full. Very full, with the only open seats being middle seats, and no two adjacent seats free. My sister sat in a seat available in the front of the plane, which my father couldn’t due to the lack of legroom and a lifetime’s worth of knee problems. Another thing to keep in mind is that my father’s a big guy. Really big. At a height of five-foot, nine-inches and weighing in at around three hundred and fifty pounds, he’s in no way, shape, or form a lightweight. (To be fair, he’s been losing weight, so this is an improvement.)

Looking around, my father thought, “So, who’s going to be the lucky onnnnneee todaaaaayyyy…” Of course, he didn’t quite think it to himself so much as he announced it to the entire plane.

As he made his announcement, a wave of cringe washed over the crowd. People looked down, trying to make themselves bigger than they were, covering empty adjacent seats, and hoping, praying that the fat man now eying the empty seat beside them wouldn’t decide to sit there. My father, a man reminiscent of Modest Mussorgsky, walked slowly down the plane’s center isle, much in the way one would suspect Mussorgsky would have walked between when admiring his Pictures at an Exhibition: slowly, pensively, and with an eye for detail that betrayed not only years of experience, but also a somewhat mischievous nature.

He arrived at the last row of the plane, where a younger man in what seemed to be a very foul mood was sitting. “Looks like you’re it!” he told the man, with a smile. The man then uttered some profanity and made the staff well aware of his displeasure.

Eventually, the man was moved to another seat (why they couldn’t do this earlier, I don’t know). As he left, my father told him “Thank you!” Soon thereafter my sister joined him, with the rest of the flight proving mostly uneventful in either turbulence or my father’s sense of humor.

10 thoughts on “So, a Man Walks into a Full Airplane and Says…

  1. I actually like the way your father does things. I mean, he reminds me of my Supervisor, who INSISTED that she be given the discount on her coffee as stated in the promotional material. But after all the hoo-haa, the manager of the outlet came out and told her that she would have to present a member card in order to be entitled for a discount, which she couldn’t because she wasn’t a member!

    So, I digressed.

    But yea, I think it is good that we stand firm on whatever we believe we’re entitled to, but at the same time we must also be a little flexible so as to not embarrass ourselves! 🙂

  2. I’ve been on the receiving end of your father’s actions on the plane a few times. In general, I think there’s two kinds of reactions: you think he’s extremely mean and actually wants to make life miserable for someone, or you don’t mind and life goes on.

    I try to fall in the second category. To be honest, I’m more concerned about my leg not cramping on a plane because the guy in front of me reclined his seat so far that the seat is resting on my knee than I am about the state of the guy next to me. I suppose the plane your father was on had more of the first.

  3. @Pelf: Define “embarrass ourselves”? The threshold for embarrassment seems to be higher or lower depending on how averse to criticism you are. As I said, my father has pretty thick skin. I don’t think he was embarrassed in the least. Most 58 year olds wouldn’t be, I don’t think.

    @QS: I can tell you he definitely wasn’t trying to make anybody’s life miserable, but he knew what everyone was thinking. (Of course, we always judge ourselves by our intentions while others judge us by our actions.) Let’s face it, everybody’s thought it: please don’t sit me next to the really fat guy. People who are naturally tiny I don’t think would mind that much, but you get an average sized guy and I can see where discomfort comes into the equation. The guy at the seat could have played along with the situation and made the best of it (asking to be moved was fine — this I totally understand — but being an ass wasn’t) but instead he chose to have a bad attitude. This goes back to my dad’s philosophy on that type of matter: “If someone’s a dickhead to me, I’m just gonna be a bigger dickhead back.”

    By the way, QS, long time, so see. How’s life?

  4. Your dad doesn’t sound like an astute business individual.
    He flies Southwest and seems to think winning over potential customers to be aggressive and negative. Spend the extra money and Fly United. They will actually reserve a seat for you and have a business seating section if needed. He should also go on a diet and exercise. Customer relationship is everything and unfortunately first impressions are a fact of life. Not sure how someone who doesn’t seem to take of themself can run or manage a business.

  5. @Chas: Uh… what?

    – “He flies Southwest…Fly United” – Your point being? It’s called being thrifty. Lots of people do it, including business people. Money can be better spent (and invested) in other things. Personally, I prefer AirTran, but that’s just me.

    – “seems to think winning over potential customers to be aggressive and negative” – Wait… customers?

    -“Customer relationship is everything and unfortunately first impressions are a fact of life.” – When did we start to talk about customers? Seriously, I’m lost here.

    – “He should also go on a diet and exercise.” – Thank you, Tony Robins. Your insight is supreme. Oh, and did you miss the part where I mentioned that HE WAS ALREADY DOING THAT?

    Wow… dude… Did you take class on how to be more judgmental or something? You sit there, make assumptions based on a VERY limited set of facts — facts picked for the sake of HUMOR — spin it off, ignore stated information, then start insulting. Just a guess: you’re a political strategist. Am I close? (A name like “Chas” is PERFECT for that!) In either case, I’m guessing you’re fairly young: your ignorance is showing.

    Better to stay quiet and seem foolish than to open it and remove all doubt. It’s too late for that, but I suggest you read “How to win friends and influence people” in order to avoid any future problems. If you have already read the book then, for the love of God, do yourself a favor and re-read it.

    As for his successes as a business person, I’ll just let his 30+ years of experience building, running, and selling businesses, and the fact that he buys businesses without the help of outside financing do the talking. I won’t ask if you can say the same, since it’s none of my business, but I’m sure I can guess the answer.

  6. “If someone’s a dickhead to me, I’m just gonna be a bigger dickhead back.”

    Doesn’t this cause a cycle?

    As for life, my thesis is essentially done. Drop me an email – I’ll be able to explain more there.

  7. Yeah, it does cause a cycle, and it’s something I vehemently disagree with him on, although it’s my nature to do the same. (It’s something I’ve worked on for YEARS, and feel that I will need to work on for the rest of my life.)

  8. i wish I had that good of a sense of humor, I’m a big guy as well, and I hate planes just for that reason. And Chas… who the heck are you?! That is most likely the rudest comment I have ever read. You give this god awful “advice” that has nothing to do with anything, and you don’t even leave a link back to you? WOW.

  9. Actually, that seems like your dad had a pretty good strategy. Pick out someone who looked like a sore looser, get ’em riled enough to want to move, and have your sister come and join him. Worked! Good for him. Flying is a big enough hassle already without being seperated from your family.

    By the way, Chas, here is a little comparison as to why an astute business person might choose Southwest:

    Average flight from Boise to Dallas (just as an example)
    Southwest (Non-stop, refundable ticket): $319
    United (One-stop, they don’t have non-stop, refundable economy): $609.80

    United doesn’t have business class (at least on this flight), they have economy and first class, first class obviously costing more.

    Seems to me like he could buy a few toner cartridges or even another ticket for his daughter for the money he would save flying Southwest. Yep, real dumb business decision.


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