The paparazzi kept buzzing last week with controversy about an Iranian man refusing to sit next to a woman in the plane. This is not the only time such incidents have made headlines. The New York Times quotes that many flights from New York to Israel have been delayed over the last year. One particular instance last year took place when a few men from the Jewish community refused to sit next to women resulting in flight delay and confusion. Laura Heywood, 42 (traveling from San Diego to London via New York) had a similar experience when a man with the window seat in the same row asked if the couple would switch positions. Ms. Heywood may have refused to budge having felt offended by the idea that her sex made her an unacceptable seatmate! But there is more to it than flying together!
People flying around the globe will always clash with worlds that are different from their own. Who would expect to meet all similar people on travel journeys and flights? Similarities can be boring! But sometimes certain differences make it difficult for others to grasp seemingly ‘ordinary’ things in one world, to present itself as a rather odd/awkward situation for another person (owing to the cultural differences), just like in this case. And with incidents like flight delays people are expected to fret and struggle for a way out. Flight attendants are well-trained to pacify different view-points and to find mid-way solutions. But it may not always be easy! Well, flights cannot possibly have ethnic rulebooks for different communities that can be played alongside safety instructions! Flying and safety rules are used to keep passengers well-informed and it should be enough! Keeping the humor intact, it might be a great idea to actually have people from different ethnicities and differing opinions about people based on their perception according to religion, color, eating habits etc. to sit next to each other over a long flight.
Corporate Gurus do it all the time. They make you sit next to people you disagree with in a workplace during their training programs to help understand each other’s point of view. A long plane ride should be a classic case for similar discussions on differing viewpoints. If political correctness (PC) is to be used, people will never fly with anyone (after all) for they might find something wrong with the person seated next to them; it could be their attire, color, religion, sex, non-vegan habits and so on..
Flying is tough enough these days and we should not make flights tougher with such outlandish requests. In fact, it is a good idea to make people with different perspectives sit next to each other: they will learn the others perspective on a long flight. What do you think?
Sanjay Puri has been working on Indian-American issues and facilitating stronger US India relations through USINPAC (US India Political Action Committee and AUSIB (Alliance for US India Business), two bipartisan organizations that he chairs.