Once upon a time (around 2012 if I had to guess) I took what was my first real personal holiday in 7 years. As work had become my major focus I didn't spend much time travelling for personal reasons, but as it turned out to be a (valid) requirement for being in a long-term relationship it made sense to finally travel somewhere for a bit of rest and relaxation.
Flights have always been a challenge for me due to the lack of legroom. At 6ft7 (just over 200cm) a standard airline seat is not fun for me, or practical, or comfortable, or healthy. Booking the flights and being told that you can't reserve an extra-legroom/exit row seat and at best you can ask at the airport for a seat on the exit row isn't a fun prospect, but I figured if we get to the airport early they can see my height and all will be sorted.
Arriving early at the airport we were informed that there were no exit row seats available as they had already been reserved, and that I should have asked to reserve one while booking the flight. As you can imagine my confusion didn't do much to relieve the situation, but I figured it was OK as the flight would only be a few hours and the seats wouldn't be too tight (after all, I had undertaken dozens of flights at this point).
As I learnt that day, travelling on budget airlines is not the same as travelling on all of the work flights I had taken many years prior. It's somewhat difficult to describe how squashed I was in the seat I was assigned, so I will use a recent culture reference for your amusement: manspreading to the point of detaching my legs from my hips.
You might at this point question if I had asked the flight crew when boarding if they had a seat with more room (or if they could put in the cargo hold as that likely had more space), and you would be correct. Credit to the crew as they checked to see what could be sorted for us, possibly in part due to not being able to serve the champagne/chocolates I had purchased as a romantic surprise due to it impeding the weird yoga-style pose I was now trying to do to avoid DVT.
15 minutes after take-off we were greeted by a member of the flight crew who was happy to inform us that there were two exit row seats available that we could switch to if we wanted. One seat switch later and my legs were finally starting to feel great. Thinking that the holiday was back on track and there was a good chance of it going well from this point, we were subsequently greeted (somewhat unpleasantly) by a couple in their early 50's on the opposite side of the aisle, who were (to quote) disgusted with how we had been upgraded for free while they had paid for their seats.
After travelling for a few years you get used to irate people in different situations who like to complain/vent, and in truth you learn to ignore it/tune it out like you do with a crying baby as it's just another aspect of travel. I will admit though, in this instance I did get a little satisfaction out of hearing them add stress to their own holiday over something so trivial. Even after politely explaining that I had tried to book two of these seats and had no issues paying the flight crew if they wanted to charge me for the upgrade, they still weren't satisfied and demanded that we be returned to our original seats.
As most people with a shred of common sense (or decency to others) knows, insulting the flight crew and making demands isn't ever in your best interest. As their complaint was met with "it is the decision of the flight crew who is upgraded", another member (with impeccable timing) arrived with the bottle of champagne and chocolates I had ordered. Safe to say, I enjoyed every sip with a smile on my face :-)
The end of this tale? Of course not...
As one might expect, the flight back was also met with the same challenge. No exit-row seats available, no upgrades available, and another tight seat for me. This time however the levels of squashed were taken to a new level, with it being the rear-most row of the plane. I asked the same question to the flight crew when boarding and was informed they would see what they could do once the flight was in the air.
On the plane in question the rear-most seats have even less legroom than a standard seat (which in truth I didn't think was possible). My approach of dislocating my legs wasn't physically possible this time due to how cramped it was and I had to resort to the worst possible position, feet in the air with my knees resting against the seat in front. The row in front had a father and his young child, and prior to take-off we had an amusing conversation about how things looked a little tight and how in the event of a bumpy landing I shouldn't worry as I had nowhere to physically move to (it did make me laugh). When the child reclined their seat however, it was both painful and intriguing to see how close my knees could get to my face...
Another 15 minutes into the flight and a member of the flight crew came with the same great news; there were two exit row seats available and we could switch if we wanted. One joke later around how they might need a crowbar to pry me out of the seat and we had switched seats to where I could feel my toes again. No frustrated couple to our left this time, as in fact they were sat in the row directly in front. Once they had turned to look through the gap and realised it was us again the inevitable argument with the flight crew began. The conversation was short this time, to which I leave you with the final two sentences that were spoken loud enough for this section of the plane to hear.
Them: We will never fly this airline again, it's a disgrace!
Me: Interesting, this seems like an absolutely great airline to me ;)
Thomson Airways (now TUI), protecting my legs since 2012...