In the summer of ’96 on a trip from BOS to CHI, our flight had been canceled a few hours before scheduled take-off due to supposed mechanical problems. I later learned that AA often canceled this particular flight to condense passengers into other planes when their seats weren’t very full, and “mechanical issues” bought them an easy out with customers.
In the re-booking process, my assigned aisle seat turned into a middle-seat, and the originally scheduled noon departure became a late evening take-off. Being one of the first to board the plane and pretty tired, I tried sleeping during the remainder of the boarding process until being disturbed by someone lifting up the armrest between my seat and the empty aisle seat next to me. Despite the armrest having already been moved, I heard what sounded like, “mind if I move this?” Still a little groggy, it took a moment for me to register that the man who lifted the armrest did so because his ginormous frame wouldn’t otherwise fit into just one seat. As this behemoth began to wedge himself between the rows, my natural instinct was to immediately slide over and make room. I was now occupying no more than 2/3rds my own seat and even less of the air-space above it as my upper body shifted into the lap of the individual in the window seat next to me. This apparently wasn’t enough. As his body slammed into the seat, his exposed massive arm collapsed down onto my shoulder and immediately drenched the entire left side of my body from the jet-like water oozing from his skin as he perspired. My tired and cranky demeanor was now augmented by a cramped, sweaty and stinky environment.
As a flight attendant walked by, I grabbed her attention and knowing full well there was no easy way to have a private conversation about the problem, I simply blurted out that I needed a new seat immediately. She looked at me and said, “I really understand, but we have a completely full flight.” I spent the next 3 hours in one of the most uncomfortable positions I’ve ever experience
I have since logged hundreds of thousands of miles in air travel and never had an experience anywhere near this bad. The only tiny bit of satisfaction comes from the fact that American Airlines has never received any of my travel business during the last 13 years as a result.