Seat 12A is a much-coveted seat when I fly Southwest Airlines. It’s the one seat on a Boeing 737 that has no seat in front of it. For 6-foot-8 people like myself, it’s a taste of heaven to be able to stretch out my long legs. To secure the seat, of course, you need to be one of the first 15 people to board. You can pay $30 and secure one of those first 15 positions. I confess to often spending the money in the hope of having a more comfortable flight. At best you’ll get 12A. At worst you’ll get a bulkhead or exit row seat. You have no idea how precious three inches of legroom can be.
Comfort is relative, of course. No flight is comfortable for a 6-foot-8, 325-lb. giant. The seats are not made for my frame. They don’t go high enough for me to rest my head against the back of the seat, so I can’t sleep without getting a crick in my neck. If the plane is full, some poor person has to cram into the seat next to me. On smaller planes, my shoulders hit the ceiling making walking down the aisle a joke. God forbid I have to use the bathroom in flight. So commandeering seat 12A is a rich bit of grace.
The vast majority of people don’t need 12A. They can easily sit in the regular seats. Their knees aren’t smashed up against the seat in front of them even before people are allowed to move their seat back a few inches. They don’t have size-16 feet they’re trying to cram under the seat in front of them. They are blessed with bodies that fit. They can buy clothes at Walmart. They don’t need to go to the Big and Tall store to purchase a new pair of pants. They’re not even aware of the website called 2BigFeet.com. For some reason unbeknownst to sane people everywhere, some average-sized people decide that they need to sit in 12A. They race ahead and then sit smugly laughing at me as I cram my oversized body into a normal seat. It’s a special kind of meanness. They probably pulled wings off of bugs when they were kids. But it is ‘first come, first served’ so they have every right to sit in 12A. And they do.
I recently flew back from California on Southwest Airlines. I paid the extra $30 and got a boarding assignment of A14. As we boarded, several people immediately filled the bulkhead seats. There was a smallish young woman three people ahead of me who made a beeline for 12A. I was miffed at her, but happy that I’d at least secured an exit row seat. As I placed my satchel in the overhead bin she got up from 12A and said, “Here, take this seat. You need it way more than I do.”
I thanked her profusely. It was a sweet gift. I told her how much I appreciated her generosity. She sat next to me, and a third person filled in the aisle seat. It’s always cozy.
“I don’t know why I even sat there. I wasn’t thinking.” She paused a bit, then added, “Actually, I was thinking. I was thinking only of myself and no one else. I need to be more thoughtful.”
A guy who looked like a professional basketball player looked mournfully at our row as he approached. The young woman jumped up and said, “Sir, why don’t you take my seat. You can use the space. I can sit anywhere.”
He was stunned. Me, too. After a bit of scrambling and reshuffling I had a new seat mate. We talked about the kindness of people. He was almost as tall as me. I asked him if he wanted to switch places and sit in 12A. “For all the world, I do,” he said with a laugh, “but it’s probably more trouble than it’s worth to try to change places.”
I stretched out my legs to honor the gift and the giver.