Yesterday I flew home from Utah where my husband and I had just enjoyed a great weekend skiing together. He was on the direct flight back, but I was using miles, and what that got me was a connection through snowy Minneapolis. While I was disappointed we weren’t together, I am a consumate worry-wart who hates to fly. In my world, parents should avoid flying together at all costs. Determined to make the most of my trip. I had vowed to enjoy some alone time by watching some good movies and catching up on my book.
Testimonial to the fact that opposites attract, my husband does not share my views and loves to travel by air. He kindly walked me to my gate since my flight was leaving first, and knowing me like he does, he could sense I was getting nervous as they starting to announce boarding for “anyone needing some extra assistance.”
“We now invite all pieces of work to board…” he began in a lighthearted tone. I was not seeing the humor, gave him a smirk, then a kiss, before taking my place in line. As I stood there, watching him walk away, I double-checked my ticket, mentally confirming that I was in seat 12B, as in BOXED in. I scanned the crowd, wondering who would be on either side of me, optimistic that personal space and good hygiene were not too much to ask for from my seat mates.
Sometimes your prayers just aren’t answered. A relatively handsome and trim man was neatly belted into the window seat next to me. Everything about him was compact: small briefcase, tiny book, and a little Kindle. Thirty seconds later, I felt the plane settle two feet lower on the tarmac when the Michelin man packed himself into the aisle seat. Great. Lucky me was going to share the next two hours with John Candy’s long-lost-twin. I try to give people the benefit of the doubt and assume they are trying their best in life, but when his wide girth spilled over into my seat, I was unsympathetic. I gave him a minute to see if he might be willing to inhale and hold it in for the entire two-hour flight, but we clearly were not on the same page with that idea. I pursed my lips tightly, looked over at him sideways, uncomfortably mumbled “I’m sorry…”, and pulled the armrest down between us, forcing him to tuck back into himself. I had to use a significant amount of force to do this, and can’t say for sure that I did not pinch his billowy rolls in the process. His shoulders abruptly pulled way in so that he had to tuck his hands up in front of his chest because there was nowhere else for him to go. He sort of looked like an oversized dog with little paws hanging down, and for a moment I was concerned for his well-being. Would he be able to breathe in this contorted position? My evil self interrupted me, reminding me that it was not my problem that someone who needed one-and-a-half-seats had chosen to only purchase one. When the flight attendant pointed out the emergency exits, I felt it was sort of pointless for me to even look. If the plane went down, I would surely either be smothered or blocked in by this human barricade. We made it to Minneapolis, and after spending the better part of the flight nudging him every time he poured over the armrest into my seat, I looked forward to my journey to Boston, certain my day could only get better.
On the next flight, I had a window seat. If I ran an airline, everyone in the window seats would board the plane first. It amazes me that some people don’t get up to let you to your seat. Such was the case with the man and woman in my row. I felt like saying, “That’s fine. I’m happy to squish in to my seat. Just know that I am going to stick my entire ass in your face on the way by. It’s going to come within inches of you. The net/net is you are either going to love it or hate it, and I don’t really care which one of those it is.”
After working that out, I sat down and paid them the same respect by lowering the window because the glare was too bright for me. They both looked over at me like I needed to ask their permission first, and I felt like saying, “Window seat runs the shade. Luck of the draw, people.” Ten minutes later, I was swiftly raising it, as I realized with a tinge of panic that they were de-icing the plane. This sent me into worst-case-scenario mode, and I started craning my neck, surveying the situation outside.
Five minutes after that, the captain came on. “Folks, it’s a cold and icy day here, and we’re going to rev the engines really hard and try to get off the runway fast. I’m just letting you know so that nobody is alarmed.” Clearly, the message was directed at me, and my mental checklist of how life would continue on without me once the plane went down started playing through my mind. Everything from how badly my husband makes beds to what his new thirty-something girlfriend might look like to how my children would cope when they heard I had died in a fiery crash went through my head.
Once the captain started gunning the engines, I got the impression he thought we were on an aircraft carrier. I fully expected him to come over the speaker saying “Talk to me Goose…”, but no such luck. Before I could think twice, we were screaming down the runway, and I was digging my nails into the pleather armrest. On our way out, it was windy, and very bumpy, a dreadful elixir for those of us who hate to fly.
The man next to me took immediate notice, speaking briskly to me, the way an EMT might address someone in need of critical care. “You don’t like to fly, I can tell,” he said, looking directly at me, before continuing with, “We’re going to talk about other stuff. I’m going to distract you for a bit.” He was kind enough, trying to calm my visible anxiety as he encouraged me to think about something else. Despite his thoughtfulness, I really wasn’t interested in his unsolicited advice. I was feeling forlorn, as my hopes of a relaxed travel day were quickly unraveling. Once we leveled off, he kept going, telling me that his sister runs fear of flying classes, which is why he knows how to “help” people like me. He seemed proud to share some of her statistics, including the fact that pilots who are passengers on planes suffer more than anyone with fear of flying because they are not in control of the aircraft. How that was supposed to offer me any sort of reassurance is beyond me. I eventually gently cut him off so I could watch my movie. Needless to say, he spent the entire rest of the flight checking in, even though I had my headphones on and was no longer worried. He periodically tapped me on my shoulder to ask in a loud voice, “How are you doing?” or “Are you feeling okay now?” that I was starting to wonder if perhaps he had a touch of Alzheimer’s.
When we finally landed in Boston, he and the woman next to him politely told me they like to wait for everyone else to get off the plane because it’s just too confusing. After thanking the man for worrying about me, I tersely explained to both of them that I had to meet my husband so we could get home to our young children. I waited for them to both stand up, but when they did not, I had no choice but to repeat the ass-in-their-face move again. I lumbered over them both, grabbed my bag, and made a run for it.
So much for a relaxing day of travel. I’ve never felt happier to arrive home to three children who talked incessantly about what happened over the weekend, a huge stack of mail, twelve voice mails, and four loads of laundry to do.