In the Fumicino Airport in Rome, I’m checking in with my husband. The ticket agent helpfully offers to change our seats in Economy Plus so we can sit together. She says, “You’ll be in the center section.”
I say, “No, thank you. Now we have one aisle seat and one on the bulkhead row. We’ll keep the ones we have.”
“But you’re not together,” she patiently explains. “I’ll put you together,” she says, typing into her computer.
I’m starting to feel a little desperate. My husband is 6 feet tall and needs legroom. I’m slightly claustrophobic. We don’t want to be crammed in the middle section!
I try again, “We’d rather keep the seats we have. Please don’t change anything.”
She looks at me as if I’m a pre-verbal child. She slowly, patiently, repeats herself. “You.. are.. not.. sitting.. together. I will put you together.”
I get what my husband describes as, “an edge” in my voice. “We prefer to keep the seats we have.” She shrugs and surrenders. Finally.
What was there not to understand? I gave her a very clear message. Her friendly assumption got in the way. She saw an older couple, obviously affectionate, and assumed we would want to sit together. What she did not “get” was that we have been sitting together for 51 years and hope to have many more opportunities to do so. But on a 9-hour flight each of us would prefer to be able to get in and out without a lot of rigamarole. Men of a certain need to go to the bathroom more often than younger folks. I feel very uncomfortable if I cannot see a clear path of egress from some direction (an aisle or up front). We both are subject to leg cramps and need to be able to stretch and move our legs and feet. I didn’t want to have to explain our history, just to be able to keep the seats we already had.
The message here is this: when a conversation begins to recycle itself, check your assumptions and those of the other person. She might have simply confirmed that she’d heard me correctly. “You’d prefer to keep the seats you have?” would have worked. On the other hand, I could have thanked her for her thoughtfulness and mentioned our need to stretch. Maybe I lost an opportunity to affirm her sense of concern for older passengers and keep our seats.
Next time I sense a missed communication, I hope I remember that I have a role to play too.