I recently read an article about a mother and son who were kicked off of a Southwest flight because the child was unruly. What was most surprising to me wasn’t the crew’s decision to have the women ousted rather the reaction from people who read the article and posted comments. Most folks agreed with the crew but took it a step further and attacked the woman for allowing her two year old child to disturb others. Moreover, they expressed their disgust for passengers who show little if any consideration for the people around them. It got me thinking about all of the different times I’ve flown and the people I have encountered along my journeys some kind, some mean but all interesting.
My first flight was over thirteen years ago out of Dulles on British Airways. It had stormed all morning. The traffic jammed on the Toll Road leaving me with an anxious stomach and little time to get through the airport for my afternoon flight. I checked my bag and ran to the gate. Passengers were already boarding and my friend was restless waiting for me. “Finally,” she said. “I was getting worried.”
“Well, I’m here, so let’s go. Europe or bust!” I replied as my stomach turned.
We boarded our flight in very different states of minds. I was a nervous wreck and Em was calm. She was a seasoned traveler and wisely took Dramamine while waiting for me. As we settled into our seats, which were the middle two in a row of four, Em fell asleep. The rain continued and pelted the plane amplifying my anxiety. Forty five minutes later our flight ascended and the turbulence that followed turned my stomach against me for good.
No more than thirty minutes into the flight and I had filled up my barf bag and was searching for Em’s. She was fast asleep and unaware of my condition. The man next to me kindly offered up his bag. I smiled sheepishly and began to fill it. I wanted to crawl under the seat in embarrassment or at least get up and go to the restroom but the turbulence was so bad I couldn’t. The flight attendants weren’t even walking around. I just hunched over in my seat and cried. The kind man next to me rubbed my back and told me it would be okay. He was only a few years older than me and spoke with a British accent. And over the next five hours, he talked to me about home, travel, family and life and helped me get through my first flight.
The following Fall I moved to Charlotte and alternated driving and flying home. I also began to travel more with business, so flying became a common occurrence for me. It happened so often that I rarely got sick. Plus, the flights were short and didn’t allow much time for my stomach to attack. Closing my eyes and sleeping became my fail-proof remedy. One time though I sat next to a kid who had gas. It was the longest hour flight of my life. He didn’t say a word the entire time just smiled uncomfortably. If it wasn’t for the rancid stench coming from his direction, I would have felt sorry for the kid, who was about nine years old and travelling by himself. Instead, I did everything in my power not to look at him or utter a sound in his direction. I knew if I opened my mouth something embarrassing would come out. So, we both sat in silence.
In an attempt to drift away to another place, I closed my eyes. But the only thing in my mind was the scene from Tora! Tora! Tora! when the Japanese dropped bomb after bomb on Pearl Harbor. My eyes stayed open for the rest of the flight. My fail-proof remedy crashed and burned, and the short flight home was plenty of time for the boy’s stomach to declare war.
I eventually moved to Atlanta and flying became my only means of transportation home. There were planes of plenty in and out of Hartsfield-Jackson and they were always packed. I was flying back to Georgia from a long weekend with the family when a young blond woman asked if she could have my aisle seat. She said that her husband was sitting next to me and they were unable to get seats together. I agreed and asked where she was sitting. The woman pointed to a seat several rows back. I reached up to get my laptop out of the overhead as I was planning on using it in flight when she snapped, “Why do you need your bag? You’re just going over there. It’s not like anyone will take it.”
Several things ran through my head to say to her at that moment: I plan on using my laptop once we take off. I want to have my belongings near me during the flight. It’s none of your business. I’m giving you my damn seat, back off. I didn’t say any of them though. Instead I replied, “What does it matter?”
She barked back, “You don’t need your bag. You’re just going a few rows away.”
Why did this woman care so much about my bag? After all, she was getting what she wanted -- my seat. Did it really matter if I took a few extra minutes to remove my bag from the overhead? It wasn’t like we were taking off at that very moment.
My patience had faded and I regrettably retorted, “Do you want my seat or not?”
Her hands flew up in the air and she started yelling things I can’t recall. Her husband stood up and got involved. People were staring. I grabbed my bag and ran. I wasn’t ready for all that excitement. I just wanted to get home.
For the rest of the flight all I could think about was that woman and what happened. My stomach cramped from anxiety. I had sweat marks on my t-shirt. And I never opened my laptop bag.
Nowadays, I hardly ever fly. The few times that I do, I usually sleep or try keep to myself. When I do fly, I don’t want to be inconvenienced just as much as the next person but that is kind of par for the course. We can’t control what happens in the plane anymore than we can control the elements outside of it. You just have to go with the flow and hope the ride is full of sunshine and roses. Lots of sweet smelling roses.