Some men, as our cover story illustrates, have an obsession with owning airplanes. I, on the other hand, have an obsession with getting a good seat on an airplane.

I am one of the people who, after selecting my seat when booking a flight on the Internet, revisits the site several times to see how the seating is going, quite often making strategic seat changes with the ultimate objective of having a seat within a row that has no one in the middle.

Southwest Airlines presents particular challenges. Because the airline doesn’t offer reserved seating there’s more strategy involved – including printing out my boarding pass exactly when the 24-hour time period to do so begins. That will at least allow earlier boarding. I have been known to sit by my computer staring at my watch waiting for the exact moment. The people without laptops, or seat gamesmanship ability, get the middle seats,
Still, even the best strategy won’t assure spacious flying. I was once on a Southwest flight from Baltimore to New Orleans. I had managed to secure a front row window seat. A young woman, perhaps in her late 20s, had the aisle seat. The middle seat was empty. I didn’t know the woman nor had I spoken to her, but both of us had the same thing in mind as the plane began to fill. Most incoming passengers headed toward the back. A few stopped and stared at the middle seat but then moved on. This went on, passenger after passenger; any one of whom could’ve plopped down in the middle. I felt powerless. Just when it seemed that all passengers were on board, there would be a spurt of late arrivals. They, too, eyed the middle seat, but then moved on.

Finally, there came that celebrated moment when the door was closed. The plane was totally full except for one seat – the one between the two of us. As the plane began to back up the girl in the aisle seat glanced my way and I flashed a thumbs up. She then spoke her first words to me, a sentence I will never forget: “No wonder no one wanted to sit next to you,” she said “you looked demented.”

At first I was surprised but then I laughed. Subconsciously by body language had probably been emitting “do not sit here” warnings. My face alone was likely a moving display of enough grimaces and frowns to keep anyone away. In a perverse sort of way, I felt proud of what the girl had told me. I may have looked demented, but I felt triumphant.

When the plane reached cruising altitude the flight attendants distributed a fine meal consisting of peanuts and a Coke. So as not to crowd my lap, I placed my drink on the empty middle seat’s fold-out tray. “We are beginning our descent,” the pilot later announced. “Too bad,” I thought. “I wish this flight would last a little longer.”

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