DEAR MISS MANNERS: I was seated in an aisle seat on an airplane, where the controls for each seat’s individual TV screens were at the very front of the armrest -- a place it is easy to avoid accidentally touching, as arms normally rest somewhere in the middle of the armrest.
It was a five-hour flight, and I was trying to watch a movie. The passenger in the middle seat, with whom I had exchanged pleasantries before we both went on to our individual activities, repeatedly turned my movie off or changed the channel by placing her arm over the controls.
Finally, I said “Excuse me, I am sure you don’t realize you are doing this, but you are accidentally turning off my movie here on the armrest.”
We both laughed, and she apologized, and then continued to do it for the rest of the flight. After this happened about 20 more times, the TV was now on the fritz, unfixable by the flight attendant. I read a book instead.
Once I started reading, friends of hers, including friends with children, started to come up to visit with her. She then began to reach right over my book, blocking my view with her arm, nearly elbowing me in the stomach or knocking over my soda, so she could point at the children, or pretend to pinch their noses while talking to them.
This time I said nothing, but every time it happened (perhaps 10 times during the remainder of the flight) I quietly steamed.
Is there a polite way I could have asked her to refrain from reaching over my seat? I was always polite and accommodating when she wanted to get up, and never gave her any cause to mistreat me that I can think of -- she simply seemed oblivious to the impact of her actions on others. She had had a couple of vodkas, but it did not seem as if that was the problem.
GENTLE READER: Well, they probably did not help.
Miss Manners commends your patience -- and is surprised that you did not need to hit the (tiny) bottle.
With the latest infraction, you could have said, “It seems that you all want to spend time together and I am clearly in the way. Why don’t we switch seats?” If the woman declined, you could have enlisted the help of the flight attendant. Fresh off of her television defeat, she might have been all too eager for a situation that she could easily fix.