Airline Assault (#277)

By now, most of America is probably aware of #Reclinegate. If you aren’t, it goes like this:

A white woman with back issues reclined her seat on a Delta flight–waiting until after the white man behind her had eaten. (He had the last seat on the plane and could not recline.) The man proceeded to pummel the crap out of the back of her seat. She filmed him. For some reason, the media framed this as a “both sides” issue and ran polls on “who is right?”

Plenty of white men say, “Bitch got what she deserved.”

Most women ask, “How is this not assault?!”

I say,  “Let me tell you a story.”


When my son was almost two, we flew from L.A. to D.C. to see my family. My husband stayed home to have a vacation work and take care of the animals.

I carried Baby D’s car seat in a massive backpack through the airport and onto the plane. It’s not easy to manage a toddler, carry-ons, and buckling a car seat into a window airplane seat (car seats must go into bulkhead seats where they will not not impede any passengers exiting the plane in an emergency). It’s even harder to keep a toddler who doesn’t nap entertained. But I had interactive books, finger puppets, and Thomas the Tank Engine. Also lots of snacks.

I told the woman in front of Baby D that I’d let him out of his seat as soon as the seatbelt sign went off. I offered to buy her a drink just in case he kicked the back of her seat while he was confined during takeoff and landing. She thanked me, but assured me she was fine.

I was exhausted by the time we landed, but Baby D had behaved very well. He was rewarded with See’s Candies.

We had a nice visit with Baby D’s cousins and aunts and uncles.

On our flight back to L.A., though, there was a white man in his early thirties in the seat ahead of Baby D.

After I got Baby D settled, I did my usual mom-spiel, warning him that there was a toddler behind him. I told him that I’d do my darndest to keep Baby D from kicking the seat and offered to buy him a drink or a meal.

The man stood up and announced, “That is unacceptable!”

I recoiled before tentatively saying, “Well, his car seat has to be by the window, so I can’t switch seats with him, but, uh, maybe you could ask a flight attendant to move you?”

Glaring at me, the man flagged down a flight attendant. He demanded to be moved to first class.

The flight attendant told him there was no room. She offered to find someone to switch window seats with him in economy.

“This is my seat! I paid for it!” yelled Entitled White Man. “I should not have to move!”

“Sir, the most I can do is switch your seat.”

“That is not acceptable! I’m about to be assaulted!” (Yes. He used those exact words, like Baby D was UFC dude about to fuck him up…with size 2T sneakers. )

By now we were in full-on scene mode, with nearby passengers whispering and staring. I was mortified. I was brought up to avoid scenes at all costs, and I’d somehow created one while trying to be a considerate parent.

This was not the response I’d expected. When I was single, I’d had my seat kicked numerous times by kids sitting behind me. I’d cursed their inattentive parents. I swore I’d never be that parent as I glared at those parents and their kicking kids, I never yelled at them, because that would be making a scene.

I had an empty middle seat next to me on my last flight! So shocking I took a photo.

Besides, flying is a little bit like the lottery. You accept that while sometimes you might get an empty middle seat in your row, you might also get Harriet Halitosis or Crying Twin Toddlers.

I heard passengers echoing this same sentiment around me as Entitled White Man continued making a scene:

“My dude, seriously?”

“We’ve all been stuck in front of kids.”

“Suck it up.”

Entitled White Man grew more belligerent. The flight crew got involved. The prospect of a delayed flight loomed.

The flight attendant found two volunteers with a window and middle seat. Women, of course. She asked if Baby D and I would be prepared to move.

Of course we would. But it took forever, with toddler, diaper bag, carry-ons, and a giant car seat. I had trouble with the airline seat buckle, bruising and bloodying my knuckles as I fought to secure the car seat. Pumped with adrenaline, feeling the pressure of a delayed flight and a few hundred eyes, I felt slow and clumsy.

But I got us organized. The flight was only delayed a few minutes. When the flight attendant came around with drinks, I asked if I could pay for anything for the woman in front of Baby D. (I was too cowardly to ask her directly and risk another angry scene.)

The flight attendant said, “We already took care of her.” Then she whispered that they’d been very, very close to kicking Entitled White Man off the flight.

Which made me feel a little less like the criminal in the scenario.

After we landed at LAX, multiple women from our flight found me at baggage claim. They wanted to make sure we were okay. They expressed support and vented their rage at Entitled White Man.

Much like the women on Twitter after #Reclinegate.

Because we’ve all been there. We’ve been the accommodating seat-changers when men threw entitled hissy fits. We’ve been made to feel like criminals for take up space. We’ve been bitched out for daring to consider inconveniencing a white man.

And we all know that:

  • Entitled white men would never punch a seat with another man in it.
  • It’s only assault if a man is a victim.

Even if the perpetrator is under age 2.

Published by

Autumn Ashbough

WF writing about the humorous perils of life with Chinese-American significant other.

26 thoughts on “Airline Assault (#277)”

  1. Wow! That’s amazing. Are men getting worse? Are they following the example of our dear leader? Come to think of it, when our kids were kick-the-seat age, my husband and I traveled together, and he could be every bit as intimidating as any entitled white man.

    1. I think some are definitely emboldened, but most have always been like this. Women are just now taping them and speaking up about it. We’re realizing that it’s not isolated–it’s endemic.

  2. Oh what a horrible, but entirely believable, story. That guy was an ass, but stuff like that happens too often. As you concluded: “It’s only assault if a man is a victim.” I can’t even…

      1. I agree. I grew up like you did in that don’t make waves, follow the rules, be rewarded with like behavior, so it’s shocking when someone breaks the social norms. Makes me uncomfortable.

          1. Yes, you’re right. But that’s changing within me. I stand up for myself more now because I’m tired of letting people slide. My motto is: do no harm, but take no shit.

              1. I’m on board with everything both of you said. It’s scary to stand up for yourself to strange, aggressive people even when you think you should because you don’t know what this other person might do to you. Especially if they are *already* demonstrating that they don’t care much about social contracts and seem, when it’s a guy having a fit, to loathe women or at least some of them.

  3. My experience is having a woman 9 months pregnant with a toddler on her lap (no separate seat) sit next to me (in the middle seat). I was sure I had won the worst lottery in the world. I had two choices. I could whine and be ugly or help her out and it would be better for us both. The child was fairly good (no screaming thank God) but still a toddler. I kept all drinks and food not currently being eaten on my pull out and the mom was in charge of entertaining. It all worked out and no one got ugly. Why do only women do that? I was childless so it’s not like a mom gene kicked in. It was just courtesy. I would have had a really lousy flight if I didn’t help out as I’m sure the child would have dumped drinks and food on me. Truly they should have made the guy go on a different flight to let him know it was unacceptable.

    1. I wish they had, but it would have taken so much time and inconvenienced the passengers. Some would have missed connections. It’s a tough call.

      I think most women are more practical, with a how-do-we-get-through-this attitude. Maybe because we weren’t allowed to shirk dishes or had to take care of younger siblings? I dunno, but there’s both more empathy and willingness to do the hard work. I feel like if women had been in charge of fossil fuel companies in the 70s-80s, maybe they would have confronted the greenhouse gas issue head-on, rather than hiding it. Lots of white men learn that mom/ wife will magically handle both the laundry and the emotional labor, leaving them free to pursue their golf, video games, whatever.

    1. He was well-groomed, clean-shaven, and clearly accustomed to being accommodated. Nothing wrong aside from being overly privileged and feeling put out when he wasn’t treated with deference.

      You know, a typical well-off white boy.

        1. I never acted like that before kids, either. I read stories to one unknown child on a plane. I’ve played peek-a-boo to get a kid in the seat ahead of me, bawling over a parental shoulder, to quit crying. I might have scared them into crying even harder, though.

  4. It might be because I’m not a native English speaker, but right now I’m seriously confused about the meaning of assault, haha. Maybe it’s like when people think vagina is the outside bits. Linguistic rantings aside, what an ass and he should have been thrown out of the plane, preferably while flying at 10,000 feet. I watched the video of the other guy and he must have mental problems, no one in their right mind would do that…

    1. Unfortunately, so many men were defending the guy punching the seat that I am afraid a good chunk of our white male population is NOT, in fact, in their right mind. They are in their alt-right mind. Which is troubling.

      Legally, assault is inflicting physical harm or unwanted physical contact upon a person. Anything from shoving to touching their hair.

      1. Those other men were defending him there on the plane, or on the internet? I doubt they would dare doing it in person, however hidden behind a screen…

  5. I’m kind of embarrassed to be a white man commenting on this, but the only thing unacceptable was that idiot’s behavior. I wish the flight attendants HAD kicked him off the plane. If that had happened, maybe next time he’d be a little more tolerant.

    Yet another reason I hate flying! (Not kids behind my seat…entitled passengers (of either sex))!

      1. Oh, yes. I had my seat back pummelled by Entitled White Man when I dared to recline, six months pregnant, for a few minutes’ shut-eye before the plane started its descent. And got tutted at and hustled at a supermarket checkout just for BEING THERE with a baby. That was by Nasty Retired Entitled White Man.
        There are quite a lot of them.

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