It’s 20 minutes after take off, the plane has reached the cruising altitude, the seat belt sign turns off.
I am a bit sleepy. I’m thinking of pushing my seat back. But what if there’s someone sitting behind me? Maybe to them, the idea would not sound that great. They would certainly lose some leg room.
But what should I do? Maybe I could somehow “sneak it in”? I’m imagining how I press the round button, lightly but firmly lean into my chair, pushing it back in almost imperceptible increments and achieving the right angle for an afternoon nap. Whether there is a person behind me, if I do it really slowly, they will have nothing to complain about. After all, what would the reclining position be for, if I was not to use it?
The thing is, it’s kind of awkward, initiating contact with a complete stranger, with the words: “Would it be okay if I pushed my seat back?” That’s really lame. Maybe I can just pretend I thought nobody is there (in fact, I’m really not sure whether anyone is there or not) and just do it. Yes, that’s it, pretend no one is there. Even if they are, even if they get angry at me, I will never see them again. Why bother?
In that moment, the seat in front of me shakes a little… And before I realize what’s going on: Impact. A hit into my knees.
“Ouch!” I say aloud (volume disproportionately higher than the real physical pain incurred). No reaction from the seat in the front. I lean forward slightly and notice that it’s a lady in her fifties, with a stern expression on her face, intently staring forward. I lean forward a bit more, to allow her to spot me with the corner of her eye. The intensity of her frontal stare intensifies, creating the impression that it’s her stare that keeps the engines of this plane running – and the slightest break in concentration would lead to a disaster.
I take a few breaths to absorb my irritation.
I regain my composure and rub my knees.
And then: With a smile on my face, I turn to the seat behind me and ask: “Would you mind if I pushed my seat back a little?”