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There's always one: What to do when someone asks to sit next to you on an empty plane

Sept. 05, 2020
5 min read
There's always one: What to do when someone asks to sit next to you on an empty plane
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Before flying home -- on Southwest Airlines, of course -- on Aug. 25, it had been 184 days since my last flight, on Royal Air Maroc. So as a longtime flyer and true aviation geek, I was excited for my flight from San Antonio International Airport (SAT) to Baltimore/Washington Thurgood Marshall International Airport (BWI).

Photo by Travel_with_me/Shutterstock)
(Photo by Travel_with_me/Shutterstock)

I checked in for my flight, depositing my two free bags with a lonely skycap and went through an eerily empty TSA checkpoint (I used PreCheck only because I wanted to keep my shoes on and my laptops in my backpack). Once past security, I went to the only coffee shop in Terminal A -- Merit, a local brand that's popular in San Antonio, Austin and Dallas (longtime concessions Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts are now closed).

Once at the gate, I was bombarded with announcements about wearing a mask onboard the flight. We also got the usual boarding announcement (albeit Southwest now boards passengers by A, B and C in groups of 10). We also got the news that our 143-seat Boeing 737-700 jet only had 32 of us boarding. Considering what the pandemic has done to airline flights, I wasn't surprised, but I was still happy to hear it.

Southwest, along with Delta and JetBlue, are blocking middle seats at least through the end of October. But with only 32 passengers, I was happy to know that it would allow for plenty of social distancing on my flight home to Baltimore. But then a very odd thing happened.

Related: 27 years in the biz: These are the 6 passenger types I hate getting stuck next to on a plane

I'm a big fan of aisle seats because I'm slightly claustrophobic, and I like sitting toward the front of the plane. With my Southwest A-List status, I'm pretty much guaranteed my seat of choice. I boarded and settled into my seat. After a few minutes, a woman stopped at my row. I expected her to take the empty seats opposite of me, but no.

The woman looked at me and asked, "May I sit in that window seat?" I seriously thought I heard her wrong while she was speaking through her mask. I said, "Pardon me?" She repeated her request to sit in the window seat in my row. I informed her that the plane was wide-open, so she could sit where she wanted. But to my surprise, she asked again if she could sit in the window seat -- next to me.

Related: The unwritten rules of flying in the middle seat

(Photo by Benét J. Wilson/The Points Guy

I have one of those faces where people think it's OK to ask me to switch seats -- especially from people who don't like their middle seat. I'm Facebook famous among my friends for recounting all the times I've been asked on multiple airlines for my seat. I'll switch for two reasons -- helping a family with small children or if the seat I'm switching to is also an aisle seat. Otherwise it's a hard no. But I digress.

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I gave her a hard no. Instead of moving on, she asked me why. I explained that I was social distancing, and that I was glad to be on a flight that allowed for this, especially considering that there were only 32 people onboard. She stood and looked at me for another 20 seconds or so, then thankfully moved on.

Related: As travel reopens, here’s what it’s like flying in the US right now

As much as I love to fly, I'll admit I was nervous about my first pandemic flight. I was prepared with extra masks, disinfectant wipes, hand sanitizers and my own in-flight snacks. The flight crew was very professional and the flight continued without any further incidents.

For the week ending Aug. 30, domestic air travel is down 67% year over year, according to trade group Airlines for America (A4A), with numbers slowly rising. I know there will come a time when I won't be able to say no, as passenger traffic slowly rises. It means that on my next flight -- whenever that may be -- I'll look at taking even more precautions, like wearing a face shield and bringing my own latex gloves, to ensure my safety as the pandemic rages on.

Related: Naomi Campbell’s preflight routine got a serious coronavirus upgrade

Featured image by (Photo by Benét J. Wilson/The Points Guy)

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5XGet 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights and prepaid hotels on amextravel.com
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  • Intro Offer
    The Points Guy Exclusive Offer: Earn 150,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $15,000 on eligible purchases with the Business Platinum Card® within the first 3 months of Card Membership.

    Earn 150,000 points
    120,000 points
  • Annual Fee

    $695
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Good, Excellent

Why We Chose It

It's hard to find a card that competes with the mile-long list of benefits that come with the Amex Business Platinum. While it's certainly not the card for the average consumer, a business owner with tons of expenses -- especially related to travel -- will find this card incredibly valuable. This card is similar to the consumer version that Amex offers, but with more business-oriented perks around statement credits and earning rates that are a better fit for business owners.

Pros

  • An up to $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee every four to five years
  • Up to $400 annual credit for eligible U.S. Dell purchases (enrollment required)
  • Gold status at Marriott and Hilton hotels (enrollment required)
  • Access to the Fine Hotels & Resorts program and Hotel Collection
  • Extended warranty protection
  • International Airline Program and Cruise Privileges Program

Cons

  • Steep annual fee
  • Difficulty meeting $15,000 welcome offer for smaller businesses
  • Limited high-bonus categories outside of travel
  • The Points Guy Exclusive Offer: Earn 150,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $15,000 on eligible purchases with the Business Platinum Card® within the first 3 months of Card Membership.
  • Get 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights and prepaid hotels on amextravel.com, and 1X points for each dollar you spend on eligible purchases.
  • Earn 1.5X points (that’s an extra half point per dollar) on eligible purchases at US construction material & hardware suppliers, electronic goods retailers and software & cloud system providers, and shipping providers, as well as on purchases of $5,000 or more everywhere else, on up to $2 million of these purchases per calendar year.
  • Unlock over $1,000 in annual statement credits on a curation of business purchases, including select purchases made with Dell Technologies, Indeed, Adobe, and U.S. wireless service providers.
  • $200 Airline Fee Credit: Get up to $200 in statement credits per calendar year for checked baggage fees, lounge day passes, and more at one selected airline.
  • $189 CLEAR® Credit: Use your Card and get up to $189 back per year on your CLEAR® membership. CLEAR® is available at more than 50 U.S. airports and stadiums.
  • The American Express Global Lounge Collection® can provide an escape at the airport. With more than 1,400 airport lounges across 140 countries and counting, you have more lounge location options than any other credit card on the market as of 9/2021.
  • $695 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.