The Orphan on the Jetliner

Published on October 6, 2009 by CT in Blog, Stories


The Orphan on the Jetliner

I am about to trade places on an airplane with the girl in the middle seat.  If you must know, I actually do have a preference:  window seat, right side of the airplane.  Exit seats and bulkhead seats are nice, and first class is even nicer.  But I don’t mind the back of the airplane so long as I sit beside the right window.

I like to prop my right leg up on the back of the armrest right in front of me.  Doing so is comfortable, and it makes my back feel better on long flights.  However, I do run into problems sometimes, because occasionally the guy in front of me actually wants to use his armrest.  And my foot is sitting right there.  Which can be awkward.

For the most part, though, I have had a great deal of satisfaction with my seat preference.  Even when the right side, window seat is unavailable, I can usually swing a left side window or even an aisle.  They don’t allow me the same foot-propping flexibility as the right side, window seat, but they are satisfactory nonetheless.

However, after thirty-one years of flying, hundreds if not thousands of flights, I have never once, not once, requested a middle seat.

Middle seats are the orphan children of the world.  Most people would rather not deal with them at all, and many feel it is far better to ignore them.  Being with one gives people this really uncomfortable feeling, as if they don’t really know what to do or say.  People make jokes about them.  They talk about them at parties, laughing at them over crumbs from a lemon tart and a bottle of Pinot.  The bottom line is that nobody likes a middle seat.

And there is good reason for it.  People don’t follow rules of good conduct when it comes to middle seats.  Assume you are sitting on the left side of the airplane with two other people.  You would think that the three of you would develop your own unwritten standards of conduct—say, Lean Left or Lean Out.  Mr. A by the window uses the left armrest, Ms. C by the aisle uses the left armrest, leaving the left armrest open for Mr. B in the middle.  Similarly, Mr. A leans left, Ms. C leans right, leaving both armrests open for Mr. B.

But this never happens, does it? The outer seat occupants always occupy the inside armrests, leaving the passengers in the middle to pin their elbows against their sides.  What is interesting about this phenomenon is that it is not done out of ignorance.  Most passengers have experienced the horrors of middle seats, so you would think that people in general would be sympathetic to this predicament, showing compassion and grace upon their unfortunate neighbor whenever the opportunity presented itself.  Sadly, it quickly becomes a case of every man, and every armrest, for himself.

Like most people, I have occupied my fair share of middle seats. I have never been very happy about it.  I try not to make a fuss, and I pretend like everything is fine, but what I am really thinking about is all of the people who are taking up the seats along the right side of the aircraft, wasting their God-given foot propping opportunities.

So why am I about to ask this girl, and plead if I must, if I can trade her my beloved window seat for her middle seat?

I am trying to figure out what it means to love with the kind of love that Jesus talked about.  The kind of love that is a sacrificial love.  If I hate the middle seat, then I am guessing that she does too, and if I were sitting in the middle seat, then I would want to move, so I am guessing she does too.  If she is at least as important to me as I am, then I would be showing her love by giving her what she cannot gain on her own, which sounds a lot like grace.

It occurs to me that giving up my seat for the purpose of trying to love without an agenda means I have an agenda.  I realize that I am not there yet, and that I may never really get there, but I figured that I might as well try in the meantime.

Middle seats, then, are no longer something I avoid.  Now they give me the chance to love an orphan, or as much of an orphan as I can find on an airplane.  I know there are real orphans in this world, and God means for us to care for them, but this is a small step is opening my eyes to a world that is full of people who need to be loved.  I wish I could feed every hungry mouth in the world, but in the meantime, I want to consider everyone I meet as more important than myself, and simply do to them whatever I would have them do to me.

  • Aristarchus

    So, I experience the same problem on the metro. No one wants to stand by the doors. We'd much rather sit or at least stand where people are not breathing down your neck. Here's the question:
    Chris, do you request the aisle seat to be able to give it up or request a middle seat? Or in my metro example, do you quickly grab a seat to offer it to an old lady when boards the train or not take the seat at all.
    I always thought I should quickly grab a seat so I can have the chance to give it away but I would be interested in your thoughts. Does it even matter?

    • Chris_Tomlinson

      Short answer: I request the middle seat, rather than giving it up, when I don't care about getting the credit for giving up my aisle or window seat =). I know–bad motivation. You highlight an interesting perspective–truly loving someone means loving them even if they don't know they're being loved. When I choose a middle seat prior to a full flight (not sure I've ever done that actually), I'm giving someone else a better spot–and they'll never know about it. But I suppose God will. And our hearts will be changed in the process.