SARASOTA, FL – One traveler eschewed unwritten social mores while boarding a recent Southwest Airlines flight when he took the seat a fellow passenger was attempting to save for her family who’d not yet boarded. Untangling the mess required airport police.
Southwest Airlines is famous for bags flying free and for its open seating policy. Some claim it’s a “cattle call,” while others prefer the freedom of choosing their own spot on the plane at no additional cost.
Savvy Southwest flyers jockey for checkin positions and stake out key strategies for securing their seats. Popular tactics have included:
- Paying for one premium line/early boarding position and saving seats like a fifth grader on a school bus
- Laying belongings across a nearby seat
- Looking intensely and moving one’s head/neck to angle over others for a potential expected seatmate
- Appearing to look confused
- Appearing nervous or chatty
- Eating repulsive foods
- Listening to music loudly
- Avoiding making eye contact with potential seatmates
Most passengers avoid seats that appear to be occupied or observe the social mores that would just have them find another seat, particularly early in the boarding process when many options are available. But not Aaron Walken.
Seating Plan Gone Awry
Jeanette Taylor, 33, a coffee shop owner from Oklahoma City, OK purchased her Early Bird check-in and secured A16, the top position available after Southwest A-listers have had a chance to board. The Thursday morning flight would take her family (Husband Derek, daughter Stacey) to Fort Lauderdale.
She had spread her light green jacket, supporting her daughter’s high school track team, over the remaining two seats in row 1 which features more legroom, and is first off the plane upon landing.
Holding position A37, Aaron Walken boarded after several passengers regarded the jacket and moved on. Taylor’s face turned to confusion then horror as Walken placed his carry-on above her row. She instructed him that the space would be reserved for her family’s belongings at which point he smiled (according to Taylor) and sat down at 1C, the aisle seat in the same row.
She informed him that he was sitting on her jacket loudly trying to grab the attention of a nearby flight attendant. “I courteously got up from my seat, flipped the arm of her jacket over the middle seat, and sat back down,” Walken stated to police who greeted the aircraft.
According to reports, Taylor then began loudly speaking to Walken and anyone nearby that she had reserved the seat for her family, it was their only vacation, and she had a right to it because she had paid for Early Bird.
Walken had placed noise canceling earbuds in his ears and turned up the volume on an episode of Bridgerton in progress. Taylor then pressed her call button and tapped Walken on the arm to inform him of the issue.
Unperturbed he continued to watch the episode as flight attendants explained the policy to her and that the passenger was entitled to sit there. Unhappy with this answer, she contacted the police, who dispatched a unit to the jetbridge.
Taylor was escorted off the aircraft where her family was still in line to board. They were accommodated on another flight.
“Nobody wanted to sit next to me as boarding continued with the cops there gathering my side of the story so I got all Row 1 to myself. I can’t wait to sit next to someone who is “saving a seat” [Walken used exaggerated air quotes] and get a whole row to myself again.” As for the episode, “Best one yet.”