I am troubled by an epic first-world problem that a friend has just shared. The plane she was in had been stalled on the runway. While the plane was parked, the steamy, restricted space of a cramped cabin gradually created an uncomfortable balminess.

Overhead were three air vents, no doubt installed to puff a cool breeziness onto each of the three seats below. My friend, seated on the aisle, reached up to direct the vent nearest her in her direction. Middle-seat 20-something-year-old reached up to redirect the vent onto her. My friend reached up again to steer the vent she believed was hers, only to trigger middle-seat passenger to reroute the cool waft back onto herself.

My friend gently and politely advocated to Miss Middle Seat Person for her ‘ownership’ of the outer vent using a sort of three vents – three seats style of logic. Middle Seat Person disagreed using a defiant, “no – they’re mine!” At that point, my friend was at a loss as to what to do next, and I didn’t know what to recommend.

Sharing is Caring

Maybe I have too much time on my hands to ponder such situations; however, I have been bothered by the aeroplane predicament. At a superficial level, the cabin conundrum could be made to disappear with a nonchalant shrug. On the other hand, I realised that I was bugged by wanting to know what the right response is to deal with a fellow traveller’s selfishness. As I traded pressing work deadlines for contemplation, I realised that I was bothered because I did not have a fix that I could explain to my daughters.

I want to lead and coach my own children to be able to advocate for themselves. To know how to do that, I need the wisdom to respond sensitively to selfishness. But, I had no inkling what I might explain and was bothered that I was missing some dad smarts. I don’t want my daughters to be caught on the receiving end of selfishness without having the skills to represent themselves, or knowing they could choose to simply snub the selfishness. Just as importantly, I don’t want my daughters to suffer the selfish scourge of entitlement.

My right brain flew away with imagining a spill incident where my drink ended up in the lap of Miss Middle Seat. Left brain chimed in about being logical, tapping into my values or a sense of the right thing to do, which ruled out the option of creating a scene. Right brain joked about rationalising a punch-up. Left brain ached for a fix to share with my daughters that somehow cared for them and was respectful to the selfish person at the same time.

Standing Firm

Of itself, the tussle over what is essentially a great luxury is as much wasted effort as counting leg hairs. But, I have been upset by not knowing exactly what I might say to my daughters about making their case. I want my daughters to be able to stand up for themselves with a stout sense of right and wrong. Equally, I don’t want them to be the Middle Seat Passenger. For all the profound parenting textbooks that I have saturated myself with, not one has addressed the problematic issue of a stoush over air vents on planes.

“But!” narks the heartfelt pang made by my value of equity, “The issue is about me coaching my daughters to stand up for themselves, not about cool air.”

I am also aware that I don’t get to chat through a solution with the girl’s mum. Our separation is such that I am left to hope that we share a common sense of the right thing to do. The best separated-parent scenario would have us meet up from time to time to natter about aeroplane etiquette over a hot chocolate with our children. Instead, I lean into valued friends, counsellors, mum and the gifted insight of my grandparents on the search to learn how and when to advocate appropriately for myself.

For all my informal life coaches, I am still hunting out the perfect reply that calls “time” on my daughters being cut out of something they should reasonably claim as their own.

I am searching for that communication gem that is simultaneously sensitive and respectful to the Middle Seat Person. I fly out for work shortly, and I want to be sure that my ‘carry-on’ includes a confident quip for standing up for myself. Ideally, it won’t have swear words, so that I might teach and model it to my daughters.


Photo by Ketut Subiyanto.

Published On: July 25th, 20231 CommentTags: , , ,

About the Author: Greg McInerney

Greg is the father of two daughters.

One Comment

  1. Darren Harwood August 2, 2023 at 5:08 pm - Reply

    If it were me un the aisle seat I would fart towards the middle seat. Logically it is the nearest cool point; no need to raise the cabin temperature with additional hot air. Lead by example.

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