Through a Glass Darkly for Dec. 5, 2012

Tales of greed, innocence and eventual justice endeared generations to Charles Dickens.

Though Dickens would not have recognized the setting, he would have appreciated the characters I watched on a recent airline flight.

The tale began with an angry woman and an amiable flight attendant; but, as with many Dickens novels, important new characters would enter along the way.

Like most Dickens stories the setting was one of packed humanity. With a sold-out, night flight almost fully boarded, a scowling woman with a red suitcase stepped into the plane.

Her scowl turned bitter when she didn’t have an aisle seat but one between aisle and window instead.

Bag in hand she fought her way upstream a couple of rows to a flight attendant to complain she had been promised the aisle.

The flight attendant, a friendly but powerless character, said she couldn’t change the seat, but said the woman had time to go back up the jet way to talk to the ticket agent.

Instead, the woman continued to complain as other passengers angled their bags past her.

Eventually our angry character went to her row and tried to shove her overstuffed bag into the overhead bin. Before the first of numerous tries, it was obvious it wouldn’t fit. The watching flight attendant said the red suitcase would have to be checked. The woman refused.

As passengers backed up, the flight attendant relented and said the woman could try to fit it into a first-class bin. An audience watched as the woman went into first-class and tried, unsuccessfully to force her bag into a compartment there.

A flight attendant found a garbage bag. The woman sat down in the aisle and unloaded clothing and other articles from her carryon until the flight attendant could shoehorn the suitcase and garbage bag into an overhead bin.

The audience lost interest until the scowling woman returned to the flight attendant to continue the complaint about her seat. The still smiling flight attendant called the ticket agent to the plane.

The audience grumbled.

The ticket agent explained that no aisle seats were available, but the woman continued to demand one.

Finally, the frustrated ticket agent asked if anyone would give up an aisle seat.

A pure soul directly from a Dickens story agreed and moved toward the middle seat. The audience sensed injustice, but the ticket agent had an idea. He checked first-class, then motioned the pure soul to one of the big seats, as a Dickens purveyor of justice would.

Passengers in the front of the plane broke into applause.

We got an encore. As the noble ticket agent started to leave, the still-dissatisfied woman, called him over.

I thought she was going to thank him for getting her the seat she had sought. Instead she berated him for not giving her the first-class seat.

Too bad Dickens can’t write an American tale and find a place for them all.