The man in the window seat

Man in window seat | Mary Lee writes
I was on my way to California on a Delta flight out of Memphis, probably 20 years ago. My seat was on the aisle, and the middle seat was empty. The window seat was occupied by a man who, when I greeted him, said he was from Mississippi. We exchanged pleasantries, and I then lost myself in a book.

The flight attendant came by to offer drinks. I told him I would like a Diet Coke, and all of a sudden, as the attendant asked, “and Sir, what would you like?” the man in the window seat absolutely exploded, telling the attendant in a thunderous and angry voice that he wouldn’t take anything from those “—damned black hands.” He also called him some of the grossest names I could imagine. The African-American gentleman responded by saying he was the server and would be happy to take care of his needs. The man just wouldn’t shut up, telling him he would wait until a white person served him. The steward smiled gently and moved on.

Then came lunch (which was served in those days, even in economy), and it was a repeat of the same horrifying dialogue. The man added that he was going to report the attendant to the airline. The attendant again responded with grace and moved on.

After lunch, when the cabin crew had a break, I went to the back service area and apologized to the attendant for the behavior, complimenting him on his handling of the incident. We both laughed a little at the fact the outburst had driven the other attendants away. The man had no food or drink on the four-hour flight, nor did he ever leave his seat.

I asked the attendant what I could do to help in case he was asked by his superiors to explain the incident. I told him I would write a letter on his behalf. The attendant wrote his name and the contact name and address of someone in the corporate office and handed it to me. I wrote as soon as I could get to pen and paper.

Never expecting to hear again from the gentleman, I received a postcard several weeks later from the attendant, picturing a city in Mexico and postmarked in Mexico. He expressed his appreciation to me for protecting his reputation.

I am sad to think how many opportunities I have missed over the years to get outside my comfort zone and speak out or act on behalf of a person who was treated in a demeaning way. The candidacy of Donald Trump has made me ask many questions. I had not thought about the time on the plane in years. However, I remember the attendant’s face and demeanor of quiet acceptance as if it were yesterday. Let’s remember we are all created as equals. What a boring world it would be if we were all alike. The man in the window seat is only an unpleasant accompaniment to a training experience.