How To Survive A Horrible Seat Assignment

Tonight on the flight out to SF I found myself sitting in the last row in coach. My seat did not recline but of course the seat in front reclined all the way to my lap

And to make matters worse a husband and wife were occupying the other two seats of the row and the husband was quite large and sitting and sleeping in the middle seat.

I could not sit comfortably facing forward because the man to my right was taking over half of my seat

I could not use a laptop because one would literally not fit between my body and the seat back in front of me

So here’s what I did:

I turned my body to face the aisle, knees sticking into the aisle, and sometimes my legs were too

I put on headphones and turned on my ipod. I listened to relaxing music like sigur ros, thao, and bon iver. Gotta keep the heart rate low and a chilled out vibe

I put on a neck pillow and tried to sleep. I got some nodding off but no real sleep. People kept bumping into me and slamming the door to the rest rooms

I read quite a bit even though the reading light to my seat did not work

And I worked on my blackberry, a form factor optimized for the 4 sq ft work space. In fact I am writing this post on the plane on my blackberry

Every time the big guy leans on me, I gently push back towards his wife

And I spent a good amount of time hanging in the back with the flight attendants

I could have watched the movie, a cute funny film called Son Of Rambow. But I’d seen it in the theaters. Its good but not good enough for a second viewing

Mostly I tried to feel as small as a little kid and to relax and tune out my surroundings

It worked out pretty well.

I am passing this advice to all of you because I don’t plan to need it again. The next time this happens to me, I’m walking right back off the plane

This is no way to spend six hours. Anyway, I think the Obama adminstration is going to outlaw it in their review of gov’t interregation techniques

#Blogging On The Road

Comments (Archived):

  1. Julien

    How long will you be staying in SF? Enough time for a little pitch?

    1. fredwilson

      nopei got back to back meetings tomorrow and then a 4pm flight back to nycit’s board meeting week. i’ve got four of them this week i think.

  2. Joe Moreno

    Don’t be insulted by this comment – but I would have expected you to fly charter, NetJets, or at least first class.

    1. Ed

      I’m going to guess (haven’t read Fred’s travel philosophy), that Fred is lookingto save gas for the environment, and money for the team.Still, he should taken Howard’s advice 😉 heh.

    2. fredwilson

      that seems so wasteful on so many levels. a private jet isn’t for me. but i do try to fly up front, just blew it this time

  3. Geoff

    I once had that seat on a totally full Virgin flight back to London from NYC, after a few emails, once I recovered at home, I managed to wangle an upgrade on my next flight to the USA :-)Pleased to see that you are conserving cash by travelling economy!

  4. gregorylent

    be glad the fat guy did not have onions and curry for breakfast, hadn’t brushed his teeth, and wasn’t drinking beer on the plane … and that you were not on a ba 777 without any individual air nozzles .. and the flight was not ten hours london to madras .. … every inhalation is someone else’s exhalationone can only meditate in such situations ..

    1. fredwilson

      i don’t know how to meditate, as hard as my former partner Jerry has tried to get me to do it, but last night i think i finally figured it out

      1. Nate

        Mindfulness in Plain English is a good guide to getting started with meditation. Nothing magical about it. Put some pillows on the floor, sit comfortably, and focus on your breathing for 10 minutes or so. It’s physically easy, quieting the mind is the hard part.However on a flight from hell, I’d choose medication over meditation 😉

  5. Timothy Post

    Bose QuietComfort 3 headphones are a life saver in those situations. I was a bit sheepish, at first, due to the cost of them but after flying long haul with them a couple times per year they are now the first thing I grab when packing.Why did you not ask the flight attendant to “suggest” to the person in front of you to not to recline the seat back all the way? In such situations s/he should suck it up a bit too.

  6. Stuart Hall

    Thanks for the tip. Confirms that the Blackberry is great for content creation!

  7. Mark MacLeod

    Brutal. I had the exact same experience (minus the spousal affiliation) last time I went to SF. I feel (or felt) your pain!

  8. dave

    Last time this happened to me, I was coming home from Boston, and when I arrived in Calif, I had become invisible!!…From then-on, on flights longer than two hours, business class or better. Surely Union Square Ventures can afford to send you on your cross-country missions with dignity and visibility.

      1. fredwilson

        omg, that’s so funny. i needed that last night when i was in my “chair in the sky”i reblogged the video on fredwilson.vcthanks for that david

      2. kenberger

        That performance was REALLY well-done. Great perspective on how lucky we are re what tech has brought us.

      3. grahammudd

        that video is hilarious and spot on. thanks for sharing.

      4. fredwilson

        david, i reblogged this video on tumblr and so far it’s been reblogged 22x. thanks again for the link, it’s made quite a few people laugh today

    1. fredwilson

      dave, our policy is coach unless its an overnight flighti usually will use miles or come out of pocket for an upgrade but i got my signals crossed with our travel people this time and ended up at the back of the bus.check out the video in the next comment. it sort of puts the whole thing in perspective

      1. jaymeydad

        The bright side about your travel policy is that coach is probably a better environment to end up sitting next to an entrepreneur who might be working on the next big thing…

  9. Steven Kane

    how did this catch you by surprise?don’t tell me that you of all folks don’t do seat assignment way ahead of time (and check in up to 24 hrs before departure) via the web?

    1. fredwilson

      i plead guilty as charged. it’s my fault.

  10. sofiagk

    Feel your pain. I think the last seats should be taken out but especially in Europe – with loads of budget airlines and shorter flights I can’t see this happening.

  11. rdeichert

    Fred – sounds just like a red-eye flight I blogged about coming back from Vegas –…For me unfortunately all the seats reclined except for mine.The government should enact some kind of consumer protection that if your seat doesn’t behave as it’s supposed to (i.e. recline) you are entitled to some rebate. Just like getting bounced.

  12. alan shimel

    Fred – been there, done that and have the T-shirts and stiff necks to prove it. It is flights like those that make you grateful for the complimentary upgrades that frequent flyer miles get you. But it is beyond me why the flying public allows the airlines to treat us like cattle.

  13. Brian

    Actually I think I have to go with Joe here, isn’t it the opportunity cost high enough on cross country flights for you to make sure you don’t get stuck speaking jive in coach?

    1. Michael Shafrir

      I’m not sure why I remember this, but I seem to recall an old post on AVC where Fred said he specifically flies coach because it was how he flew growing up and it was one habit he couldn’t break…something like that.

      1. fredwilson

        Yup, I said thatBut I am working on breaking itThe gotham gal is pushing me hard on that oneShe¹s tired of me being tired and cranky when I get home from trips

  14. Gotham Gal

    try upgrading. no wonder you are under the weather. just adds to the misery. if you flew business, you wouldn’t be so miserable. get over it.

    1. fredwilson

      not only did i try upgrading (which was not possible), i thought i had a business class ticket

  15. fredwilson

    I was on unitedBut you’ve got me beat by an order of magnitudeGo watch this video

    1. markslater

      i did – class.i am one of those that continues to marvel at the concept of flight, the engineering and so onIf you ever head out to the mid east – you have to try one of the absurdly good airlines (quatar, etihad, emirates)…totally over the top

  16. booboobenny

    A little valium goes a long way.

  17. pedalpete

    Yesterday I took the red-eye to NYC from SFO and the small man in the seat next to me decided that while sleeping he owned the head-space of my seat! He felt quite comfortable with his ownership of my seat.The amazing thing to me is that while looking through flights, all the Virgin flights were full, and same the AA flights were almost full. Seemed to me a TON of people flying. Didn’t seem to be families. I admit that I am new to that route as almost all of my flying is international, being a canadian. Is flying within the US always like that? How can these companies be in financial difficulty if the planes are always full?

  18. nickdavis

    Thao is heart-rate-lowering music? She makes me get up and move!

  19. markslater

    Class!i can one better you. i fly to jakarta frequently these days, through london where i stop for a day, Abu Dhabi stop for a day and then on.the Abu-jakarta leg on Etihad is fondly referred to as the maid run. I usually fly business but over thanksgiving it was a last minute thing and the front was full.i got a middle seat in amongst 300 screaming and i mean screaming Indonesian women – it was like being in a noise violating bird cage – praying in the aisles – total chaos. 9 hours of this i tell you – red eye right over india and the equator (heavy turbulence all the way)Thanksfully the wonderful indonesian people don’t seem to Gouge like us westerners.your story had me chuckling this morning! what airline BTW?

  20. Michael F. Martin

    All the airlines are cutting capacity for 2009. Unfortunately, something like this scenario is going to get more common.I know that netted out, investors have lost money on airlines since they were invented. But at this point, the difference in quality of service between commercial and low-end private (XO Jet, NetJets) is so great, that there is plenty of money to be made by the team that gets this right. The ability to hedge against oil is there. The ability to handle the logistics of scheduling is there (engineers are more available). I bet some airline startup is going to make a fortune coming out of this market downturn.

  21. Betsy

    I’m sorry for your discomfort, but I must say the image of you contorting your lanky frame into the seat made me smile. It’s uncomfortable for short people, but I have no idea how you tall ones can handle it!

  22. jeffstern

    Video is spot on – it’s all about the attitude you have going in. I’ve been in the middle seat, back row to Hong Kong (i’m 6’3″). Not nearly an experience (in part due to excitement for first trip to Asia) as when I was hungover on an early morning flight from New Orleans and was on a plane full of Mary Kay Cosmetics reps leaving their annual convention – the smells and sounds and pink everywhere combined with my hangover made that 90-minute flight the worst of my life.

  23. GL

    ….”Every time the big guy leans on me, I gently push back towards his wife”Classic line. That was funny. Cheers

    1. MParekh

      Fred,The only additional gadget that I’ve found helps in these kinds of flights is the Amazon Kindle…but a portable LED back-light is essential since I almost always seem to find that only the reading light over my seat doesn’t work.

  24. ErikSchwartz

    Being short helps too.

  25. TimWalker

    Just curious, Fred, since I’m in the market for a new Blackberry: which model do you use?

    1. fredwilson

      i like the curve and will get the new curve (aka javelin) when it comes out even though it does not have 3g

      1. TimWalker

        Thanks, Fred — You’re about the eighth person to recommend the Curve — I’m going to get one this weekend. Cheers!

  26. Brad Inman

    Here is an idea: Count to 21,600. When I was a kid attending Catholic Church on Sunday, I would count to 3600, which is approximately an hour. Often I would get to 3400 or so and mass would be over, like getting out of prison early for good behavior.

    1. fredwilson

      i used to go to mass as a kid too. i never counted like that but i did learn some good time killing techniques, some of which i put to good use last night!

  27. fredwilson


  28. scottfromshanghai

    Fred, continuing the vein of trying to use comedy to make you feel better, you are lucky at least you didn’t travel Yorkshire Airlines… (I’m from there originally!)

  29. Litty

    I’m flying coach to India next week. If you or USV wants to “sponsor” my upgrade to the front of the plane I’ll blog/write/tweet/meet and overall be your man on the ground in Delhi for a few weeks…

    1. fredwilson

      That’s a great pitch. But I gotta get there myself!

      1. Litty

        Smart move because I’m going to blog/write/tweet/meet everyone i can while I’m in India anyways and share it with all who are interested!Here’s my first post —….I’ll think of your flight advice when i’m sitting in my crappy coach seat!

  30. chrisherbert

    What’s worse than sitting next to a baby or a large person on a plane?Having the person sitting next to you say that they get motion sickness…True story, on a trans-Atlantic flight

  31. Todd Savage

    Fred,I recall you blogging a while ago how you never fly upfront and out of principal of remembering where you came from, you would fly coach. I happen to be 6′ 5″, 220 pounds. My rule is that any flight over three hours I try to fly first class. I simply cannot fit in coach class. I actually feel like the ability to have quiet time where I can catch up on reading and work is SO valuable in this day and age, that it is a shame if I can’t even work on a flight because the quarters are so tight. So, anything over three hours I go first class.However, every time I book first class you are on my mind and make me feel SO guilty! I am self-made as well and take pride in never forgetting where I came from, but can you please tell me I am not a bad person for flying first class so I can get on with my traveling in comfort (at least, somewhat)?

    1. fredwilson

      I’m getting there myself todd. I hate doing it but I am picking up the cost of the upgrade more and more

      1. Todd Savage

        Guess you’re not going to free me of my guilt then? I guess I’d rather feel guilty and fly in comfort for 5 hours than feel not guilty and fly in pain! 😉

  32. PKafka

    I have that nightmare/fantasy about walking off the plane whenever I fly. I’m always scanning my fellow passengers for possible users of seatbelt-extenders. Then I obsess about not being seated next to them.Then again, on my last x-country flight I was someone’s nightmare – me and my were holding a 3-month old. (Who ended up being a great flier, but noone knew that at the time).

  33. Michael Lucca

    I think we have all been there at some time. Could have been worse though – you could have been in the middle seat.Have you ever weighed the value of a confirmed upgrade on two connecting flights versus the experience you had on the coach non-stop? 3 hours longer, but with comfortable seats, a reasonable workspace and better service. There should be a fromula that compares first class hours versus coach hours.

  34. Sanjay Raman

    Fred – you should check out this video on Howcast (disclosure: I’m a founder):

  35. ryancoleman

    You’ve got stronger willpower than I do fred… if I had been you, in that position I probably would have hedged my bets someone was headed west to pitch, stood up and loudly offered a term sheet to the first entrepreneur to trade seats with me ;)I did have an exit row turn into a window seat that wouldn’t recline, facing a bulk head (I’m 6’2″ so basically the bulk head was hell) that also ended turned out to be missing half an arm rest going from Zurich to Toronto… I used up all my flight karma/luck when it turned out there was one aisle seat still free in the entire plane though that I ran for as soon as the attendant pointed it out.