Why I Will Not be Getting on a Plane Anytime Soon


I hate flying. Hate it. I’ve written about this before. But after reading McKay Coppins’s piece at The Atlantic, it’s going to take a lot to get me back on a plane.  Here is a taste:

The cabin was restless. It was a weekday afternoon in late April, and I was among dozens of people boarding an airplane that most of us had assumed would be empty. Flight attendants were scrambling to accommodate seat-change requests. Travelers—stuffed shoulder to shoulder into two-seat rows—grumbled at one another from behind masks. An ominous announcement came over the in-flight PA system: “We apologize for the alarming amount of passengers on this flight.” Each of us was a potential vector of deadly disease.

I arrived at my assigned row, and found a stocky, gray-haired man in the seat next to mine. When I moved to sit down, he stopped me. “Sit there,” he said gruffly, pointing to the aisle behind us. “Social distance.”

Not eager for a confrontation, I decided to comply. Within seconds, though, a flight attendant materialized and ordered me back to my assigned seat. My recalcitrant would-be seatmate, vigorously objecting to this development, responded by blocking my entrance to the row with his leg.

A standoff ensued, with the irate passenger protesting that there were plenty of empty rows where I could sit (there weren’t) and the long-suffering flight attendant all but threatening to kick him off the plane (she didn’t). Finally, he relented and I squeezed awkwardly into my seat as the man muttered profanities under his breath.

 In this story I empathize with both Coppins and the guy in the seat next to him.

Read the entire piece here. It gets worse.

On Reclining Airline Seats


First, the guy in the viral video responded the wrong way.  You never hit someone’s seat this way.  It is inappropriate behavior.

Second, I understand why this guy was upset.  When someone reclines it becomes nearly impossible to do any work or eat.  A someone who is 6’8″, I wish more people would realize that I have virtually no room in the seat to begin with and the space only gets smaller when a seat reclines.

Third, because of my height, it is virtually impossible for someone in front of me to recline their seat because my knees will not permit it.  I have sat behind people who have tried to recline multiple times only to turn around and give me a dirty look.  I usually just apologize and tell them that there is nothing I can do because I am 6’8″.

I hate flying.

Out of the Zoo: Conversation Starters


Annie Thorn is a sophomore history major from Kalamazoo, Michigan and our intern here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  As part of her internship she is writing a weekly column titled “Out of the Zoo.”  It focuses on life as a history major at a small liberal arts college.  In this dispatch, Annie reminds us that when we study history, strangers can become friends. –JF

I think airports are fascinating places. In airports, people from all walks of life come together for a brief moment–whether they’re sitting next to each other on a plane, waiting together for a TSA screening, or paying way too much for food at the same kiosk. Then after the plane lands, after they get through security,  after their breakfast is ready, travelers promptly part ways.

I spent a lot of time in the Detroit Metro airport a couple weeks ago en route back to Messiah after Christmas. My connecting flight took off several hours late, leaving me in Detroit for several hours before I boarded my next plane. During my extensive layover, I found ways to entertain myself–using up a Starbucks gift card, people watching, and walking to the other side of the terminal to get Chick Fil A. It wasn’t an ideal situation by any means, but I made the most of it.

When I finally got on the plane, I took an aisle seat next to another college-aged traveler named Matt, who was on his way back to Philadelphia for culinary school. Normally I’m a pretty quiet passenger, exchanging a few lines of small talk with my seat-neighbors and then leaving them alone, but this time proved an exception. Perhaps to the dismay of the rest of the cabin, Matt and I chatted through the entire flight. I learned that Matt has traveled to China, took two gap years to work before starting college, and even saw the movie Cats with some of his friends over break. We talked about the shows we watch, the music we listen to, and the places we’ve been. After picking up our giant suitcases from the baggage claim, Matt showed me how to catch the train to 30th Street Station, and got me there just in time to board the 4:45 Amtrak into Harrisburg.

I don’t know if I’ll ever see Matt again. Maybe our paths will cross on a flight back to the Midwest in the future–I sure hope so–but regardless I’ll always be grateful we met. I can’t help but smile when I think about how we got on the plane as strangers and parted as friends. All we had to do was start a conversation.

I love to meet new people. I think that’s partly why I love history so much. As historians, we are in the very business of meeting new people–people we’ve never seen or contacted or even heard of before. Sometimes the strangers we meet are no longer living.  Sometimes, after reading their stories, we find out they’re a lot like us; and other times we discover that they see the world a whole lot differently than we do. Regardless, it is our job to see historical actors for who they are–to seek out their likes and dislikes, their passions and their fears. Then as we work, as we write, and as we research, people who were once strangers become familiar. We just need to start a conversation.

Rules for Flying


Rule #1:

If you are under six feet and two inches tall, please do not select an exit row seat.  People who are 6’8″ have a really hard time fitting into a regular seat, especially when the person in the seat in front of them decides to recline.

That it my only rule.   Thank you.  🙂

This Political Gridlock Has Now Gone TOO FAR!!

airline seatIn case you have not heard, the Senate just rejected Senator Chuck Schumer’s amendment requiring airlines to stop shrinking the size of seats on planes. (We did a post on this back in February).

Schumer’s amendment was defeated by a vote of 42-54 with “all but three Democrats in favor and all but one Republican against.”  Here is a taste of an article from the Los Angeles Times:

Economy-class airline seats have shrunk in recent years on average from a width of 18 inches to a width of 16.5 inches. The average pitch — the space between a point on one seat and the same on the seat in front of it — has gone from 35 inches to about 31 inches. Many airlines are charging passengers extra for legroom amounts that used to come standard.

No senators spoke against the proposal, but airlines opposed to the measure have accused lawmakers of trying to “re-regulate” an industry that has been deregulated since 1978.

This is wrong on so many levels.  Harrumph!  It is a clear case of tallism!