DEAR MISS MANNERS: I was on a flight where my bag was too big to fit into the overhead bin, but fit under the seat on the aisle. I was sitting in the inside seat.
When my seat companion arrived, I asked if it was OK if I left it there, offering to see if I could slide it over to under my seat area. He said that it was fine, so I didn't attempt it.
When I was leaving the plane, I had a woman accost me, saying that she thought that was the rudest thing she had ever seen. I explained to her that I had asked if it was all right.
She responded, "He is only 19; what is he going to say?" Clearly, this was his mother.
I'm wondering your opinion of the situation and if you think I was truly rude.
GENTLE READER: What has Miss Manners wondering is whether people who used to design rough camping trips to build teamwork among students or employees now work for the airlines. It would make sense, as their specialty is leading people to miserable conditions under which sufferers must rely on one another.
A typical flight is filled with passengers pleading, "Could we please change seats so that I can sit with my child?" and, "Do you mind putting your chair back up a bit so my tray isn't pushing into my stomach?" and, "I'm sorry to wake you, but would you please step into the aisle so that I can get out and go to the bathroom?"
And then there is your request, as well as numerous others related to the storing of carry-on baggage.
Miss Manners would not have thought that sitting next to one's traveling companions, reclining, being able to lower one's tray, storing hand luggage, dozing and going to the bathroom were outrageous expectations. But since airplanes have been refitting the interiors to make these things difficult, and selling marginal improvements, the passengers are at one another's mercy.
Of course, we should try to accommodate reasonable requests. But it is also possible to decline politely. Your seatmate might have needed the legroom, or had something of his own to stow. Sometimes it is possible to suggest an alternative, as you did when offering to attempt sliding your bag to your side. Asked to change seats, someone could say, "This is a premium row. Whoever has your daughter's seat in the back would probably be delighted to be upgraded."
Or one can simply say, "I'm sorry, I can't help you. Perhaps there's someone who can."
You were not rude, but your critic was. Even if you had been, she was rude in chastising you. But if you were embarrassed, think of her poor son. She has just declared in public that at the age of 19, he is too much of a child to speak for himself.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: My wife has cancer and her health is quickly deteriorating. How do I respond when people kindly inquire on how she is doing?
GENTLE READER: "As well as can be expected, I suppose. I'll tell her you asked about her."
This doesn't really mean anything, Miss Manners acknowledges, as one would have to know her condition to know what could be expected. But it allows others to pursue the inquiry or not, depending on their level of interest.
(Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, www.missmanners.com; to her email, firstname.lastname@example.org; or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)