Ethics

For the week ending 2 April 2011 / 26 Adar II 5771

Saving a Place in Line

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
The Color of HeavenArtscroll

Question: A friend of mine is traveling on the same flight as me but will be arriving at the airport a little later. In order to avoid waiting for a long time in the rather lengthy check-in line he has asked me to hold a place for him in my line so that he can save time. Is it proper for me to cooperate with such a maneuver and for him to benefit from it?

Answer: The question of doing someone a favor at the expense of others has already been dealt with in the Talmud in issues ranging from collecting a debt to taking possession of an abandoned object. The general rule laid down by our Sages is that you cannot be a nice guy when it is chav le'acheirim, at the expense of others. Why should passengers who took the trouble, like yourself, to come early to the airport wait longer in line to accommodate your late arriving friend?

This issue is not limited to airline check-in lines. It extends to all sorts of situation, from queues in supermarket checkout lanes to lines in government offices. Another example is that of boarding a very crowded bus or train and saving a seat next to you for a friend arriving a little later and thus forcing an earlier arrival to remain standing throughout the ride.

One possible exception to this rule is a common situation where you are standing in line already and wish to leave for a few minutes to take care of some urgent personal matter and ask the party next to you to reserve your place in line. This seems to be fair because there is a general consensus among people waiting in line to allow for such an arrangement since it does not really affect them in any way. If there are people behind you in that line, it is a good idea to announce to them that you are only going out for a while so that they will not suspect you of being a late arrival whose place in line has been saved.

In conclusion, such situations should be handled by following the counsel of the Sage Hillel: "Don’t do to others what you would not want done to you."

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