On long flights it’s often necessary to sleep. Unfortunately, sleep on an airplane isn’t the easiest thing to come by! A lot of people, myself included, turn to sleep aids—Tylenol PM, Ambien, and the like. But what’s the best thing to do when your seatmate is sleeping and you need to get out of your row?
Last week my mom flew home from Africa. She was sitting by the window, and the guy sitting by the aisle seemed nice enough. But about an hour into the flight he fell asleep and slept for the next eight hours. Good for him, right? Except that around hour four my mom needed to use the restroom. She waited patiently for him to wake up, but it never happened. He would stir a bit, and she would think, This is finally it! But no. He would settle and go right back to sleep. By the time he actually woke up she was about to burst. Turns out that he was able to sleep so well because he had taken an Ambien.
There are a couple of things that struck me about this scenario. First, I asked my mom if she had tried to wake him up. “No, I’m not that person,” she said. This made me stop and think. Apparently I am totally that person—I try to wait for the person next to me to wake up, but if I really need to go then I have no problem waking them. And if I’m sitting in the aisle, I fully expect to be woken up if the person next to me needs to use the lav. I don’t want to trap anyone and make them pee in their pants!
On my first trip to Manila I did my usual sleep routine—eye mask, Tylenol PM, white noise app with noise cancelling headphones. After a couple of hours I was awoken by seatmate because he needed to run to the restroom. Yes, it was disorienting to not be able to see, and be woken out of a sound sleep by a Japanese-accented male voice (hah) but I’ve always felt that is part of the deal with flying.
The second thing that struck me was wondering what was going through the guy’s head when he took that Ambien. Did he just assume that my mom would wake him if she needed out? Did he know that he would sleep like a log for eight hours? Did he just not care how his actions affected others? I would never take a sleep aid in public (which an airplane definitely is) without knowing how it affected me first. I’ve taken Ambien, and it put me to sleep pretty well but I had crazy dreams. I also had some hot flashes and woke up having taken off my PJ pants. Not something I want to happen on a plane! So no Ambien for me outside of my house.
Here are my recommendations. If you are sitting in the aisle and planning to sleep, give your seatmate an opportunity to get out one last time. Also, I would make it clear that if they need up while you’re sleeping it’s fine for them to wake you up. For those sitting by the window, try to get up when your seatmate gets up. If they are sleeping, only wake them if you really need to get out.
Readers, what do you think? Is it rude to wake up your seatmate while they’re sleeping because you need to go to the lav?
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