Mary Killen

Your problems solved | 17 April 2004

Etiquette advice from The Spectator's Miss Manners

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Dear Mary...

Q. I recently went business-class, for the first time in my life, to New Zealand and back. On the second lap of the long return journey, from LA to London, I returned to my correct seat, one of two near a window, to find a couple in their sixties standing there. They said they had been incorrectly given seats away from each other and seemed to expect me, because I was travelling alone, to change to a seat in the centre. Since that would have had no window, I refused. I said I had never flown business-class before, I liked my seat and was looking forward to seeing the country around Las Vegas. The stewardess said I had a right to refuse and told the couple to sit in their designated seats for take-off, after which she would try to reposition them. The woman sat next to me. I had the impression that she was both wounded and amazed that I had refused to budge. To my dismay, ten minutes into the journey after take-off, an elderly lady with a stick was escorted into one of the centre seats which I had refused and the man beside her was placed next to me so that the couple could then sit together in superior side seats by a window. Mary, as a divorcee, am I alone in having a distaste for the automatic precedence that couples get in this type of situation? This couple were obviously retired; they probably spend all their time together. Was it so awful that they didn’t have adjacent seats for a journey of under ten hours? I would welcome your comments.

E.S., London W11

A. Your instinctive reaction was correct. Most readers would have sympathy for a mother and child separated on such a flight but would expect a couple in their sixties to be unbothered, if not actually pleased — especially at the thought that the mini-error might result in ‘compensation’. Indeed, the couple you mention were almost certainly exhibiting Bogus Distress Syndrome, theatrical over-reaction to a mini-problem in the hope of, in this case, milking the airline for a free flight, air miles or future upgrades. In refusing to move, you were doing them a favour.

Q. I have found the perfect remedy for driving off charity muggers when they waylay me. I just firmly say, ‘Not in the street, thank you,’ and walk on. They fall back astonished, while I can continue with a priggish satisfaction from both having seen them off and being polite. I think, perhaps, your readers may also find this Exocet helpful.

T.L.P., London NW2

A. Thank you for this useful tip. You cannot blame the charity muggers. The odd thing is that many under-thirties respond well to their street solicitations and happily sign up to have monthly contributions extracted from their bank accounts.

Q. Can you just remind me how to do a DIY temporary necklift?

A.W., London NW10

A. Thanks to my American correspondent, B.T., I am currently sampling ready-made neck-lift devices. Until I can recommend a brand, why not use a large-eyed tapestry needle to impregnate the pads of two strips of heavy duty Elastoplast with linking knicker elastic. Position the plasters a few inches apart at the base of the back of the neck and tighten. Tie in a bow. Conceal under big-buckle jewellery or your hair.