Some people enjoy flying, while others are ambivalent, and a large number are not fans. Even if you manage not to think about the fact that you are hurtling through the air 35,000 feet above the ground in a pressurized tube, the additional inconvenience of being crammed like sardines in a tin next to people you don’t know can be nerve-racking for people who suffer from anxiety.
If you are claustrophobic and have social anxiety, being stuck on a crowded full flight can be a complete nightmare. Such was the case for one unfortunate woman who found herself sitting next to the seat made from hell on a full flight. Savannah Phillips’ story is an example of a travelogue that makes a 3-day drive across the Mojave Desert look more appealing than finding yourself stuck next to a rude stranger on an hours-long flight.
1. Flying etiquette
Most of us learn the unspoken rules of engagement when interacting with strangers in public settings. When you get on an elevator, everyone faces the same direction, with the person exiting first closest to the door. Whoever gets to the building’s front door first should politely hold it open for anyone behind him. When sitting next to a stranger on a plane, it’s acceptable to make safe small talk or put in your earphones to indicate you don’t want to talk. However, being purposefully rude to your traveling companions is never acceptable on a flight.
Everyone dislikes being surrounded by strangers for long periods of time, so the socially acceptable thing to do is to mind your manners and be forgiving of your fellow travelers as much as possible to avoid making an uncomfortable trip even more uncomfortable.
2. Who is Savannah?
Savannah Phillips, described by her friends and family as a passionate people pleaser, is a typical woman like many you know. She’s a working mother who does her best, but she, like many women, has struggled with self-esteem and body image issues since childhood. Even when they follow the right diet and get the recommended amount of exercise, some women struggle to maintain a healthy body weight.
This isn’t always possible for a busy working woman like Savannah. Savannah’s weight is noticeable, despite the fact that she is not morbidly obese, and it is something she is very sensitive about.
3. Travel anxiety
Savannah suffers from crippling anxiety on occasion as a result of her low self-esteem and daily stress. Traveling alone is always stressful, and she has always struggled in social settings with strangers. This, of course, means that an hours-long flight with strangers will be extremely uncomfortable for her.
When she travels alone, she prefers to book a seat where she will not be sitting next to anyone. Unfortunately, that was not possible on this flight. The plane was completely full.
4. Anxiety makes it worse
Savannah’s social anxiety stems in large part from her childhood treatment. She, like many other women, was bombarded with images in the media of what a good and healthy woman looks like, thin and athletic, and that was most emphatically not her. Well-meaning friends and family, as well as complete strangers, would frequently offer “constructive criticism” about what she should do to lose weight, making her feel even more inadequate.
Furthermore, Americans, who frequently rank last in the world in terms of obesity, are not shy about body shaming through underhanded comments or looks that let a person know that their appearance is not acceptable. Savannah had been dealing with this for the majority of her life.
5. Flying anxiety
Savannah was slightly claustrophobic and suffered from social anxiety, so flying was extremely uncomfortable for her. She was the last to board what would become the flight from hell, already tense because she knew she’d have to sit next to strangers in a crammed plane rather than relax in her usual position of having a seat or two to herself.
She was no stranger to flying because her job required her to travel frequently, and she knew what conditions would be best for her to alleviate her anxiety while traveling. Unfortunately, none of those options were viable this time.
Claustrophobia is a common condition in people who suffer from anxiety. On overbooked flights, this is exacerbated by having to maneuver around people standing in aisle ways putting away luggage, climbing over people to get to your seat, and breathing recycled air, which can trick the mind into thinking there isn’t enough for everyone.
Savannah hopefully to ask the desk agent before boarding if anyone had failed to show up for their seat and if she could be moved to that space with more breathing room, but sadly, this was not possible. The plane was completely full.
7. Falling on deaf ears
Savannah attempted to appeal her situation to the supervisor, but while sympathetic, there was nothing she could do. Just because she had flying anxiety didn’t mean she could ask passengers to stay behind and free up seats on a sold-out flight.
Savannah knew she had to make a decision because she was afraid of being humiliated if her anxiety got the best of her. Get on the plane or stay on the ground. She chose to fly because she figured she’d rather be home than stuck in an airport terminal.
8. A long walk
Savannah’s anxiety level rose as she made her way down the ramp to her plane. The feeling that everyone is watching you, waiting for you to do something wrong, is one of the hallmarks of many types of anxiety. This was the feeling that seemed to surround her as she made her way to her seat on the plane.
Despite telling herself logically that it would only be a few hours and then she’d be home, it’s difficult to stop a panic attack once it’s begun when you’re still in the situation that’s causing anxiety. This may have made Savannah more sensitive than she would have been otherwise, because a panic attack causes you to look for danger and trouble.
9. Boarding time
Savannah was attempting to calm down her anxiety attack at this point by employing relaxation techniques such as deep breathing and mindfulness. She had discovered that such techniques had helped her in the past when she was experiencing travel anxiety.
Unfortunately, it did not appear to be working very well this time as she boarded the plane and began looking for her seat. When she finally found her own seat, she was overcome with claustrophobia as she navigated around the throngs of people trying to store their bags and find their own seats.
She groaned as she realized it was a window seat, and the aisle seat was already occupied by an elderly gentleman. He got up to allow her through, but made his irritation down with a loud sigh.
10. Rude Seatmate
Most people understand that you can’t choose who you sit next to when traveling alone, but most people are also pretty good at suppressing any annoyance they may feel if they end up with an incompatible seat mate. Apparently, this gentleman did not get the memo. As Savannah went to get her belongings stowed and buckled into her seat, he continued to sigh and express his displeasure at having to sit next to her, as something about her clearly bothered him. And, unlike most adults, he was going to express his annoyance through his body language and breathing.
11. Hostile body language
Savannah’s next-door neighbor shouldn’t have much to be irritated about; he was dressed rather garishly, and his loud sighs and fidgeting were probably bothering everyone else around him. He took out his phone and began typing something as Savannah tried to get comfortable in her seat and ignore the pressing crowd around her in the plane she would be stuck on for several hours.
She was starting to feel extremely uneasy, because the older man’s body language indicated that he did not want to be sitting next to her, and for someone with low self-esteem as well as anxiety issues, this was a bad combination.
12. Captain obvious
Meanwhile, the hostile seatmate was being quite vocal about whatever he was typing. In a crowded situation, most people try to hide their phone screens if they are typing something to someone they know. Not this guy. He increased the brightness and font size on his screen so that whatever he was writing on it could not be missed by anyone within five feet of him.
Of course, Savannah, who was sitting right next to him, was included. This was, naturally, his intention. In addition to ensuring that she could see his screen, he continued to mumble hateful words under his breath, clearly triggered by his annoyance. It was beginning to catch the attention of others.
13. No manners at all
Given that the old man was angling his phone at her and leaning into her personal space, Savannah did what most of us would do: she asked her seatmate if he needed assistance with anything, as it was obvious that he was trying to get her to look at his screen. Instead, he said no coldly but politely, that he was just trying to make his screen clearer, though Savannah was suspicious of his tone.
When someone acts one way and says another, most people notice right away. Savannah was no exception. Although she knew she should just put on her earphones and ignore the old man, she made the mistake of looking at his screen.
14. Passive aggressive champion
Most people who struggle with their weight are accustomed to being the target of cruel, often silent, jokes. High school behavior does not always stop after graduation, as grown adults are perfectly capable of giggling behind their hands as they look at someone they are mocking. Savannah, of course, was used to it. She just thought it was amazing that this old man, who was supposed to be a wise elder, was clearly trying to get her in on his private joke.
Despite the fact that she knew she should ignore him, look out the window, and possibly meditate all the way home, her anxiety was preventing her from doing so. When she read what was on the screen, she struggled to keep her tears at bay.
15. Immaturity at its finest
The cruel plan of the old man had apparently worked. She could clearly see what was on the screen. “Sitting next to a smelly fatty.” Almost instantly, she was transported back to the playground, where the mean kids used to do the same thing to her, whispering cruel names and pretending she wasn’t supposed to hear when they all knew she was and did hear it.
How could such a mature adult be so immature? It was incredible. Clearly, this man got a kick out of being a bully. Savannah, on the other hand, was already tense due to travel anxiety, which was undoubtedly exacerbated by his actions. If she had to sit next to a bully, it was going to be a long and miserable journey. And he probably wasn’t going to stop there.
16. Knight in shining armor steps in
The old man must have realized that his plan had worked. At the sight of Savannah’s slumped shoulders, he smiled cruelly at her barely contained tears. Without a doubt, the torment would have continued with additional “text messages,” but that was before someone else intervened, someone who had had enough after witnessing the entire exchange.
The elderly man was taken aback when he felt a tap on his shoulder. The man in the seat behind him demanded that the old man come talk to him outside of the seat, and he was clearly enraged. Savannah was so taken aback that she forgot she was supposed to be fighting back tears.
17. Chase to the rescue
Chase Irwin, who was always on the lookout, had been watching the exchange for some time. He had noticed the older man’s groaning, sighing, or mumbled insults. He’d seen what the man had written on his phone screen and angled it so Savannah, his seatmate, could see it.
Chase was taken aback by the rudeness. This was utterly unacceptable. Surprised that anyone but Savannah had noticed his bad behavior, the old man stood up and accompanied Chase to the back of the plane, where Chase informed him that they would be swapping seats and that he should not bother Savannah any further. Shocked that anyone would challenge him, the old man caved, as most bullies do when confronted by someone more powerful. The old man took Chase’s seat, and Chase sat beside Savannah.
18. Just a little kindness
Chase struck up a conversation with Savannah after noticing how upset she was by everything. In a matter of minutes, the two had become fast friends. She began to calm down and stop crying, and they both ignored the old man in the seat behind them. Savannah, who was still a little shy in social situations, struggled to thank Chase, but he understood.
They talked about work and their children, and a grateful Savannah later tried to find him on Facebook so she could repay him in some way after they landed. Unfortunately, she was not successful. Instead, she posted about the incident on her own Facebook, thanking him and expressing her gratitude for his kindness.
19. Not all heroes wear capes
Savannah stated the following in her Facebook message: “I am sharing this story of what happened to me today in hopes that the person who stuck up for me will somehow be recognized…”
She explained, “We sat on the runway waiting for the plane to take off for about ten minutes – I was unable to stop silently crying.” She went on to explain what had happened, demonstrating that sometimes ordinary everyday people can be heroes, no matter how small, simply by reaching out with kindness.
20. Standing up against bullying
Savannah’s Facebook post went on to describe how Chase confronted the old man on texting about her, how he refused to tolerate it, and how he ordered the man to switch seats to prevent any further bullying. This is significant because, as you can see, it never had to come to blows.
It only took one person to bravely stand their ground and show a bully that their behavior would not be tolerated. Bullying occurs only when a person believes they will not be challenged. Most bullies, however, are cowards, and when confronted with a stronger person, or more than one, they almost always back down.
21. Going viral
Savannah had no idea her post would go viral on a global scale, but it did. Perhaps her story spoke to everyone who has ever been shunned or excluded from a group for reasons they couldn’t control, such as their weight, gender, or skin color. Everyone can recall a time when they were bullied and the awful feelings that accompanied it.
We’ve all wished, in that moment, that someone would do what Chase did and intervene to put a stop to it. Savannah’s post demonstrated to the world how little effort it takes to put a stop to cruel behavior. Her intention was to reach out to Chase online to thank him for what he did, but many more people saw it and applauded him for his bravery.
22. Finding a friend
One of the many wonderful aspects of social media is how it connects everyone. Savannah’s story quickly went viral, and the connected world of social media began looking for Chase. It didn’t take long for amateur investigators to figure out that he worked at Dierks Bentley’s Whiskey Bar and Restaurant. And he had no idea he was now briefly famous.
23. Now the media knows
Mr. Irwin was less than pleased when News Channel 5 arrived at his workplace. He didn’t do it for fame or notoriety, he’d tell reporters. He was simply horrified to see the woman in front of him being treated so horribly. After the plane landed, his first thought was to speak with the old man. But then he decided to intervene right away, or Savannah would be subjected to hours of cruel treatment from the man sitting next to her.
24. Time to intervene
Chase stated that he had been aware of the old man’s demeanor almost from the start. He noticed that the man was rude to Savannah from the moment she approached their seats, and that he was quite obvious in his dislike for her, but it wasn’t until he read the obvious mean text on the man’s phone from behind the seat that Chase decided he’d had enough. Even if you are a bystander to the bullying, no one likes a bully.
25. Elaborating on the Story
Chase was able to fill in some details that Savannah had left out of her Facebook post. In addition to calling her a “smelly fatty,” the rude old man complained that she was taking up all of his personal space and even claimed that the way she smelled would make him vomit. Chase later told Inside Edition that he couldn’t believe what he was seeing: an elderly man is incredibly cruel to a woman, causing her to cry.
26. Digital documentation
Chase’s Inside Edition interview revealed new details about the story that Savannah was unaware of. Chase had taken out his phone and began secretly filming the old man next to her after observing his rude and cruel behavior. He shared the video on Snapchat, along with other videos of Savannah looking unhappy. So, in addition to confronting the man physically, Chase appeared to have condemned him for all to see.
27. The court of public opinion
Chase asked his followers what they thought he should do in the videos he posted on Snapchat during the event. Many of them agreed that he should intervene, which prompted him to act. Several people suggested that he wait until the end of the flight to avoid making a scene on the plane, but his own sense of morality and justice wouldn’t let him.
28. Don’t tolerate intolerance
Chase was interviewed by several media outlets, and he made it clear that bullying behavior should never be ignored. It is never acceptable to intentionally make someone feel bad about their body type, background, race, or any other aspect of their identity that they did not choose. Many people choose to ignore bullies or to let the behavior continue by simply observing and not intervening. Chase was not going to be able to do that.
29. Permission granted
The plane had already taken off by the time Chase decided to confront the old man about his behavior. Chase sought the approval of a flight attendant, whom he informed of his plans. She agreed that he could confront the main passenger as long as it remained peaceful. As a result, the entire plane witnessed someone doing the right thing. It was unquestionably a valuable lesson for everyone.
30. Age is not an excuse
The fact that the man was older was one of the factors that made this encounter so difficult for both Chase and Savannah. We are strongly encouraged in American society to respect our elders and show them deference, even if it is not deserved. When an elderly person behaves badly, the most common response is to gently try to appease them or ignore the behavior. They are almost never confronted, however. The fact that a younger, more confident man would challenge his rude behavior was most likely the biggest surprise of this older man’s life.
31. Calling him out
Chase stated that the old man appeared surprised when he tapped him on the shoulder and demanded to speak with him, firmly stating that they would switch seats. The old man probably thought Chase was showing respect for his elders by offering him a better seat, but Chase quickly made it clear that this was not the reason he wanted the old man to move. He wasn’t going to stand by and watch someone treat Savannah the way the old man had.
32. Tell it like it is
Chase chastised the man for his lack of empathy, and informed him that he had witnessed everything the man had done to Savannah. He told the rude passenger that it is never okay to hurt an innocent person for any reason and that he needed to grow a heart. He then stomped right past the old man and sat in his seat next to an awestruck Savannah, forcing the old man to take Chase’s previous seat.
33. Building back up
Chase encouraged Savannah not to internalize what the man old man had said, but to focus on the fact that she would be OK, that she was going home, as they continued to talk. It was incredible to witness something so heinous from someone who should have known better, but it just goes to show that age does not always bring wisdom.
Furthermore, anger in and of itself is not a bad thing; it is what we do with it that is. It is certainly not good if we allow it to rule us and drive us to bad behavior. But it can also make us courageous enough to stand up and do the right thing.
34. Now everybody knows
Savannah’s first post was shared 1300 times and received 7000 comments! Chase received a lot of praise, including from his boss, who said he was very proud of him for what he did. Despite his discomfort with the attention, Chase hoped that his actions would inspire others to stand up for those who are bullied but are unable to defend themselves.
35. Time to move beyond
Savannah later stated on her own social media that she regretted any snide remarks she made about the elderly man sitting next to her. She was moved by Chase’s example and resolved to move on from the incident by forgiving the old man whose name was never revealed. She admits that responding to ugly with ugly is not the best way to deal with bullying. Even if you are justified in your anger, it does not make you a better person. Set a good example.
36. Ships passing in the night
Savannah and Chase had no further interaction with the man and have no idea who he is. He claimed to be a comedian, but he was anything but. Chase and Savannah will most likely never meet again, but they have both changed each other’s lives for the better in the short time they have known each other.
This demonstrates how a few minutes in someone’s life can make a huge difference. The mean man, whoever he is, will most likely not want his identity to be known for shame. Chase’s social media posts only show the back of his head and not his entire face. While Savannah’s post was meant to reach out to and praise Chase, it also had the unintended consequence of shaming the bully.
This event served the purpose of demonstrating that ordinary people can be heroes, at least for one other person, if they are willing to stand up and speak up when they see injustice. Chase received the recognition he deserved, albeit inadvertently, and Savannah was able to educate others about the cruelty of body shaming and fat shaming.
Savannah is just one of many women who have faced discrimination because of their size. Overweight people are frequently treated differently in public, being forced to purchase two seats on planes to accommodate them and being treated with contempt.
38. What is bullying?
Bullying is defined as unwanted aggressive behavior directed at another person that demonstrates a real or perceived power imbalance. The bully uses his perceived social or physical superiority to harass, humiliate, or intimidate the victim.
Bullying is commonly thought to be a problem for children, but it can occur in adults as well. In this case, the elderly man saw himself as superior and more deserving than an overweight younger woman, and he used this to launch repeated emotional attacks on her.
39. Recognizing adult bullying
Bullying and harassment is about power and control. Acts that intentionally harm or humiliate another person are included. In the interaction, the bully has a disproportionate amount of power over the victim, leaving the victim powerless to stop the activity. The bully’s language frequently includes sexist, racist, homophobic, threatening, and humiliating remarks. As the old man did to Savannah, the bully can deliver attacks through gossip, sarcasm, and hurtful jokes.
40. How to step in
If you witness bullying, there are many ways to intervene, as Chase did, assuming it is safe to do so. Call the bully out on his behavior in public. Use humor to defuse the situation if necessary. Bring back up with you if you are able, knowing that there is safety in numbers.
Place yourself physically beside the victim to provide physical support, as Chase did. Check in with the victim privately to express your concern and disagreement with the bullying. If you are a victim, make eye contact with the bully, remove yourself from the situation if possible, and thoroughly document the event.
Bullying can have long-term negative consequences for both the victim and bystander.