Initially, it was just awkward. This stranger’s butt was inches from my face. Undulating. Back and forth. I could hear the loose change in his front pocket clanking against itself. He was a large man, but not large enough to block my view of his hands as he dug furiously through an old Eddie Bauer backpack. He took another step back. His rear pockets inches from my face, my discomfort turned to curiosity. What treasure was hidden in the base of his ratty knapsack? With a final thrust, he stood up with the valuable prize in hand: headphones.
Then he shoved his backpack in the overhead compartment and proceeded to squeeze by me, crotch first, to claim his window seat. Needless to say, it wasn’t the best flight to New Mexico I’d ever been on.
I haven’t been troubled by too much travel in my young legal career, but it has increased dramatically these past few months. Previously, my rule of thumb, thanks to Bill Murray, was that there are two types of people in this world—those who love Neil Diamond, and those who don’t. I have now revised my rule of thumb: There are two types of people—those who can travel, and those who can’t.
As a young traveling lawyer, like me you may find your face uncomfortably close to the backside of an industrial lubricant sales rep from Albuquerque. You may find yourself asked for legal advice by a newly divorced middle-school teacher en route to visit her sister in Oklahoma City. You may find yourself within the ungodly flatulence cloud of a terrified accountant on his way to a company seminar in Texas.
Regardless of where you travel, I have a few tips:
- Preparation is key. Keep your earbuds in. At all times. Even during take-off and landing. The earbuds in your ears signal to even the most technologically inept that you cannot hear them. If someone tries to talk to you while your earbuds are in, I have two terrific responses. First, simply point to your ear, smile and shake your head from side to side. Second, pull out one earbud and say you are listening to a voicemail from your doctor with your test results. If the first strategy doesn’t work, the second one will. Your co-passenger won’t bother you again.
- Upgrade. Not to first class, but upgrade to whatever economy-plus seat is available. Get the aisle, not the window. You’re not an 8-year-old. You don’t need to see the pretty clouds. You need the closest access to the bathroom and the exit. You are on a plane to do a job, not on an adventure to a magical theme park.
- Be nice. No matter how bad the flight is. No matter how awful the passenger sitting next to you smells. No matter how loudly the baby cries. Kill the flight attendants with kindness. They are like court clerks—the gatekeepers of the plane—and they hold all the cards. Kindness is the sister of karma, and I’ll take all the karma I can get while flying in a tin can a few miles above ground.
Bonus tip: When traveling with a senior partner, book your own ticket. You don’t have to be second chair on an airplane, so get your own aisle seat. Besides, you are flying, too, so get your miles points! Finally, the last thing you want is for that butt in your face to belong to your boss (unless you’re into that kind of thing).
I may not know what I’m talking about, but I think you understand.
William Melater is a young associate attorney working at a firm focused on commercial litigation and transactional work. A self-described legal hunter and gatherer, Bill has accumulated a plethora of legal certificates and diplomas—all of which have been appropriately framed and hung behind his desk. He has a distaste for emails, suspenders, fake tans, paralegals who cry, sea urchins and attorneys who repeat the phrase “this is my bottom-line offer.” When irked, he blogs here as The Dis-Associate.
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