Miss Manners: Polite request to adjust seat avoids plane kicking exchange

November 14, 2013

DEAR MISS MANNERS: Leg room on airplanes continues to get smaller, and, being tall, I find the seats already fairly uncomfortable. I upgrade into either exit rows or business class whenever possible, but sometimes they’re not available.

So how do I deal with the person who insists on reclining the seat fully?

Last night, the person in front of me proceeded to recline her seat into my legs. While I was trying not to, I did manage to kick her seat a fair number of times while I continued to adjust my legs in an effort to find some slightly more comfortable way to sit. It was downright painful for me (in addition to simply being tall, I’ve also had knee surgery).

At those points, she turned around and gave me dirty looks. I wanted to suggest that I wouldn’t be hitting her seat if she didn’t put it back, but bit my tongue. What’s a girl to do?

GENTLE READER: She’s to understand that other girls are also trying to find some comfort during their flight. As you well know, airplane seats have little range, so can you blame a girl for extending hers to its (pathetic) fullest?

Upon your first inadvertent kick, Miss Manners expects you to apologize profusely and explain your knee situation (tallness is not as sympathetic an excuse). Then ask politely if it might be possible for her to raise her seat a bit, or to change seats with you. Confronting the problem head on — or foot on, as the case may be — is a better solution than a kicking contest or even seething in silence.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: If my father is deceased, who is supposed to walk me down the aisle at my wedding?

GENTLE READER: Your mother, of course, as widows traditionally did for their daughters. Miss Manners finds it peculiar when people misunderstand the symbolism of this custom to the extent of believing that the qualification for giving a bride away is gender, rather than heading the household that reared her.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: My sister-in-law insists on placing her 8-year-old granddaughter on the phone without warning, sometimes even allowing her to make the initial phone call. We love her little granddaughter to pieces, and she is even our goddaughter.

The problem is that Sis sets little Angel up for a disappointment each time, with a request to do something together immediately without any planning. It always puts us on the spot, and most of the time we will drop what we are doing and comply.

This has been going on for several years, and lately has become a major inconvenience. She did this even before the child was talking plainly.

What is the proper etiquette, and how can it be communicated without hurting feelings? We think the adult should call first, make the request and have the answer first, before deciding to give the child the phone.

GENTLE READER: It is not your duty to drop everything and agree to every spontaneous invitation, even ones issued by an adorable 8-year-old.

“I’m afraid that now is not a good time, but have your grandmother call us back and we can set something up soon” is absolutely reasonable. If your sister-in-law then has to deal with a disappointed granddaughter, she has only herself to blame.

New Miss Manners columns are posted Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays on www.washingtonpost.com/advice. You can send questions to Miss Manners at her Web site, www.missmanners.com.

, by Judith Martin

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