As a frequent flyer, you begin to learn the ways of the airlines you fly with. You might even start to recognise some of the cabin crew, and I certainly recognise some of the aircraft, especially my old favourite A319 with the dodgy connection which causes the seat belt sign to flicker when taxiing. One of the things I have noticed about the particular short haul route I fly with BMI is that the business class section is usually pretty empty.  Usually there will be 1 or 2 people seated there at most, and often it’s empty, even when the rest of the flight is pretty full. On rare occasions, business class has actually been pretty full also, and those flights are the exception in my experience rather than the rule. I suspect it very much depends on the times of flights, and I deliberately choose my flights to be away from peak business time.

Anyway, something I noticed on my last flight a week and a half ago has been buzzing round my brain and won’t settle down, so I though a blog about it might quell my inner torment.


The story actually starts a few flights ago, when close to the end of boarding an elderly gentleman who clearly wasn’t that mobile, and walked with the aid of two walking sticks, hobbled slowly and carefully down the aisle between the seats. On reaching his seat somewhere toward the middle or rear of the plane, he was helped to get settled by the crew, and all was well. I just remember thinking, “look, there’s only 1 person in business, why not just say let the old timer sit up front and save him the hassle of walking halfway down the plane when it’s clearly difficult for him”. It then dawned on me that it was probably company policy that the cabin crew can’t do this in case it causes arguments (of the “how come he gets an ‘upgrade’ and I don’t) variety. I didn’t think too much more about it until a return flight to the UK in July.

Once again it was a fairly busy flight, and this time the last passengers to board seemed to be a family party with some elderly relatives in tow. In particular there was one elderly couple, one presumes them to be the grandparents, who had, if anything, more trouble walking than the chap on the earlier flight. In fact I recall the gentleman being delivered to the plane in a wheelchair. Again their seats were down toward the aft end of the cabin, and as this very frail couple struggled passed my seat, I again wondered why the cabin crew hadn’t suggested that this couple just take a couple of seats in the empty business class section. This time I really was caught in two minds as to whether I should say something, and it troubles me that I didn’t. I didn’t really want to put the cabin crew in an awkward position and make a scene right as they were finishing boardng and I also wondered again if it was company policy that prevented the cabin crew making a common sense judgement call. I left the plane without saying anything and less than a week later I was back at Heathrow waiting for another flight.

As we congregated at the gate, I ended up talking to a fellow passenger who was in uniform, and who surprisingly turned out to be cabin crew for a different airline. As an aside, it was interesting for me to hear the ‘other side’ of the short haul story, from the perspective of the crew. Anyway, during the conversation I found out that he was seated in row four, the row in front of me. Except that when we boarded, the crew clearly showed him a little ‘professional courtesy’ and he ended up sitting in the virtually empty business section.

I can probably stop writing here can’t I? Hopefully you are wondering how it’s ok to show a little professional courtesy to fellow cabin crew and let them sit up front, while showing a little common sense and initiative in allowing a couple of elderly, immobile passengers the same courtesy is somehow not ok.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t begrudge a fellow passenger a bit more space – on such a short flight that extra space probably doesn’t make much difference – certainly not enough to make me want to pay for it. The main thing I take out of this is that I wonder how it is we’ve managed to arrive at a society where making a simple gesture which would make someones life just a little more comfortable for an hour and half becomes something that companies and/or staff don’t feel able to do, for whatever reasons.

I can certainly have an educated guess as to why things are the way they are, but the reasons, whatever they are, don’t really matter. If something like giving an elderly person a better seat can’t be handled with a little common sense, we really should worry about the state of our society.