business travelAh the glory of business travel. Of course, sometimes the travel to get to the big meeting can be harder than the big meeting itself. Flight delays, security lines, weather problems, and last minute changes causing us to have to completely rework our travel schedules. There’s always something to contend with that goes awry. In those times, we corporate-types do what we do best: we adapt, we figure it out, and we find a way to get to New York from Los Angeles on time for the big meeting despite three weather delays and being rerouted through Mexico City.

In the spirit of interesting business travel stories, I offer the following piece:

Recently, I needed to fly across the country. Without going into unnecessary background, suffice to say that on this particular business trip I was less than enthusiastic about my flight because I was confronted with the reality of having to have taken the dreaded middle seat. Whereas earlier in my career I might have been immaturely tempted to concoct some convenient excuse for why the trip therefore needed to be cancelled, I decided that I had reached a level of maturity that would allow me to more gracefully handle my middle seat assignment. Of course, this newly found maturity did not come without some attempts to put myself into a comfortable state of “middle seat denial” by theorizing about the likelihood of some potentially positive middle seat scenarios – as unlikely as they may have been. One never knows these days:

Maybe the other seats would be unoccupied. It had yet to occur on any flight I’d ever been on, but I’d heard business colleagues gloat about flights where they were able to lie down across entire rows of unoccupied seats. But given the airline industry these days, do they even let the planes take off anymore if that’s the case?

Well maybe it was at least plausible that one of the seats might be unoccupied.

Of course, I then reminded myself that the reason for me having had to have taken the middle seat in the first place was because the flight was fully booked. So in other words, I should have been elated just to have had a seat on the plane. Given that, I suspected that I had about as much chance of having an open seat next to me as I did of having one of the following less reality-grounded scenarios coming to fruition:

Maybe I would have the good fortune of sitting between two horse racing jockeys. They are usually small, and without a doubt I would be able to commandeer both arm rests, stretch out and maybe even get some work done. Or better yet, maybe I would serendipitously be on a flight with the cast of the next Hobbit movie. They’ve already made like 19 of those movies and seem to release a new one every year even though I think they all have the same plot. It wouldn’t be too terrible to sit in between Frodo Baggins and his other Hobbit sidekick whose name I couldn’t remember even though I had always thought that Sean Astin had done a nice job portraying him in the movies. Then I could even make up a story about how I was going to get to be an extra in the 20th Hobbit movie. That would be an excellent ice breaker at the big meeting tomorrow.

As if it was even possible, some of the other scenarios that fleeted through my mind were even more ridiculous. As a side note, did I proclaim earlier in this piece that I had reached some newly found maturity?

I walked towards my dreaded middle seat only to be confronted with reality. Not only were the two seats on each side of me occupied – and very surprisingly to me not by horse racing jockeys or Hobbits – but they were occupied by what had to have been the two largest men on the plane…or that I had ever personally encountered for that matter. In seat “D” we had a man who I could only surmise might have been an ex-professional wrestler or offensive lineman in the NFL. He had to have weighed in at 280 pounds and was probably about 6’ 6” tall. Not to be outdone, in seat “F” was a man I could have sworn I had seen on ESPN7 or some channel like that in one of those crazy Lumberjack competitions where they have to hoist and stack massive logs in a pile with no mechanical equipment. The man in seat “F” was extremely large, very tall, and had a really big beard that probably could have taken a seat on its own. And then there was me. Compared to these men, I felt like Pee Wee Herman, but I’m not exactly little myself at 6’1” and 200 pounds. I looked at the body parts from these two ginormous men lapping over into what was left of the middle seat as the three of us made eye contact with each other all at once. Strangely, we all had the same expression on our collective faces, as if to say: “You’ve got to be kidding me.” How had three big men all ended up in the same aisle next to each other? I, of course, being the cynic that I am, concluded that someone did this on purpose as part of a practical joke of some sort.

As I squished into my middle seat, I looked at the flight attendant with a despaired, “HELP ME” look wondering if she had been the engineer of this social experiment. I really wanted her to feel badly for me, the ex-wrestler/NFL lineman, and the lumberjack, but I’m not sure I detected any form of empathy on her face as she proceeded to turn around to help three little ladies with their luggage – all of whom had suspiciously ended up next to each other across from us. My face wrinkled noticeably as I observed one of them smiling as she stretched her arms and feet out like a cat – her legs not touching the plane floor. I was embarrassingly quite upset at that little elderly lady at that moment until I had the self-awareness to recognize that those emotions were not appropriate.

And so the flight ensued.

As it turned out, the two behemoths in seats “D” and “F” were nice enough guys who tried their best during the five hour flight to give me at least some room to sit without me having to purposely dislocate my shoulders or purchase WiFi on the flight so I could do an urgent google search and quickly learn some weird yoga moves. As it went, I was certainly not spryly bouncing off the flight hours later once we landed having gotten any work done whatsoever or feeling well rested before the full day meeting the next day. But as we all do, I worked through it and actually told this same middle seat story as my ice breaker for the meeting – somehow finding a loose connection to the topic of the meeting about being adaptable to change.

So is there an important business lesson to this short business travel story? Probably not. But at the very least, it is certainly a good reminder for all of us about how nice working virtually can be. The next time I find myself on a three hour conference call that I otherwise might complain about, I’ll remember this flight and smile my way through the entire call.

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