If you upholster it, they will come. Wendi Williams came to be sitting in seat 20D on American Eagle Flight 4392 – a brief two-hour hop from New Orleans to Charlotte on January 31. We would never have heard about the trip had she not angered the person behind her by reclining her seat into his face once refreshment service was concluded. He repeatedly hit the back of her seat – eight times in some accounts, nine in others. I guess we'll never know the whole truth. She filmed the event. Cabin staff appeared to take his side. They gave the guy a drink. She social media-ed the event. Virtual hell broke loose. CNN has described her as "an icon in the debate over whether it's OK to recline your airplane seat" – surely not a role her parents ever foresaw as they were instilling a sense of entitlement in her.
The most misguided observer was the one who tweeted "None of this is normal." Everything about it is the new normal. It's the sort of ruckus for which social media was invented. And battle lines were soon all too predictably drawn.
The one thing neither party seems to have done is have a measured and reasonable conversation with each other about their respective plights. A sad commentary on social isolation in a world where people would rather communicate with anonymous thousands through social media than face to face with each other.
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One commentator advised: "filming someone who is unhinged is generally only going to make the situation worse, rather than better" And there are any number of wedding videos to confirm this.
The ultimate fault lies with the airlines. If you don't want the hassles arising from people reclining their seats, don't give them reclinable seats. Purely in ROI terms I'm sure any statistician would probably conclude that in this matter, every one per cent increase in comfort for the recliner, is bought at the cost of a 10 per cent increase in discomfort for the reclined upon. Reclining seats should become a thing of the past – harking back to the golden age of air travel, when you could safely assume you could take a suitcase with you and get a snack on the way. Bonus for crew: no more having to remind people to ensure their seat backs are in the upright position for take-off and landing.
Wendi Williams may have been unlikable, passive-aggressive and entitled, but she didn't hit anyone. Until airlines do away with reclining seats, incidents such as this will continue and the only recourse we have seems to be to be polite, considerate and to communicate. And stop hitting each other.
Many of us reacted with sophisticated metropolitan outrage to the news that girls at Invercargill's James Hargest College who wanted to deviate from its quaint uniform policy and wear shorts or pants, would first have to see the school counsellor.
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We calmed down somewhat when we learned, via the Spinoff, that the measure was because a girl who had previously worn shorts had received "hurtful" negative comments.
Any counselling was to make sure the girls in pants would be able to deal with any such behaviour – to cope with being bullied, in other words. All well and good, but isn't it the bullies who should be getting the counselling?
I don't claim any special knowledge in the field of epidemiology; my expertise is at best that of the enthusiastic amateur. But it does occur to me that if those 3700 people on the Diamond Princess hadn't been kept together in that confined space when the coronavirus broke out on board, there wouldn't be more than 600 of them with the disease now.