Flying is a trip

Posted: July 22, 2011 in Life As I Know It, Travel
Tags: , , , , , ,

No, really. I don’t mean that to be as punny as it is, but it’s true. Flying is a trip. I think anyone who has done any amount of flying has had their fair share of fairly odd experiences. From the passenger sitting next to you who won’t stop talking to you, to the guy somewhere up front that keeps farting, to the kids who parents can’t seem to control in any way whatsoever. Recently the Ladyfriend and I traveled to Maine for vacation, and with some near-cross-country flights from Denver to Portland, we certainly gave ourselves plenty of opportunities to see some weird stuff.

I’ll start with the less entertaining story that occurred 2nd chronologically, but that’s just because it’s good to start with the lowest and work your way up to the highest.

1. We’re waiting in line at the gate in O’Hare for the gate agent (by the way, why are they called agents?) to call our seating area. We’re off to the side, just like everyone else with assigned seating in steerage, and while the United rep is repeating that he’d like to welcome aboard all platinum elite silver star alliance gold-plated business class noble barons a woman of about 60 simply saunters down the red carpet set aside for the air traveling royals and simply begins talking to him. Mid-sentence he pulls his microphone away from his face and says something to her, and includes a hand gesture that led me to conclude he asked her (though probably politely) to move the fuck way and stop talking while he’s trying to do his job. He speaks into the mic again, finishing his normal stuff, while she again tries to ask and he waves her off. She then retreats back with the rest of the commoners and begins to talk, loudly, to anyone who will listen. She laments how unbelievably rude he was, and she only had a simple question. This is the point at which anyone who has any travel experience immediately tries to look busy. Whether it’s with ones phone, a book, a conversation with someone else, music, or simply trying to figure out what kind of stain that is on the floor in the gate area, everyone knows that if you don’t look busy she’s going to talk your ear off for the next 15 minutes because she just got shut down, and now in front of a bunch of strangers she needs to feel validated because she’s afraid that getting shut down by a United Gate agent will make her look bad. She also feels that because this happened to her, she now has license to speak in what my mom would call “an outside voice” about her opinions on the matter which, because everyone saw her walk up and get shooed away, that same everyone must necessarily be dying to hear about. One poor sap behind us got caught; he probably made eye contact. Never. Make. Eye. Contact. Not with Chatty Kathy. She begins to inform him that our gate agent is terribly rude, and she just had a simple question, and that in Canada where she was from, people are MUCH friendlier. Then she reiterates that she only had a simple question, and he didn’t need to be so rude. Her question, apparently, was if the flight was in fact going to Denver. On the board above the gate it said Kansas City, which was a stopover for the flight, despite its continuing service to Denver. After she repeatedly coughed up the same three points about how rude he was, how she only had a simple question, and he only needed to give a yes or no answer, we finally started (collectively) walking through the gate and on to the jet bridge. Chatty Kathy was right behind us, and after she said something to the gate agent, probably trying to call him out for the perceived slight moments before, I crossed my fingers that it was done with. But no. We re-formed our line waiting to get on the plane, and she talked with the same gentleman for another several minutes about how rude the gate agent was, etc etc. I was A: frustrated with her inability to let it go B: blown away at her reluctance to have any sort of self-awareness of how rude it was to walk up and interrupt him in the first place C: tempted to ask her what she does for a living so I could ask her how she would feel if while she was on a conference call at the Douche Mill someone from the conference room simply talked over her asking her a question tertiary to whatever point she was trying to make.

When we sat down on the plane, just before I shut my ears off to read my book, I noticed that she was still talking. I hope the poor guy in line wasn’t sitting next to her. If he was, I’m sure he would’ve asked for a wing seat instead, it would’ve been quieter.

2. The Ladyfriend and I board the roller skate with wings in Portland, and our digging out our books to occupy ourselves for the roundabout 2 hour flight to Chicago. This delightfully snug ERJ happened to be of the vintage that had only 3 columns of seats. One single column along the port side of the plane, and two rows starboard. I know planes don’t use port and starboard, but I decided I fucking wanted to use those words and you will deal with it.

As we’re getting as comfortable as possible, a mom and her two children (ages were roughly 8-10) strolled in and took up seats in front of us. The boy was in the island of misfit passengers row, while mom and daughter occupied the seats directly in front of us. It was clear from the beginning that the little girl probably wasn’t ever going to be an astronaut because the space program as we know it will never exist again she was hurriedly breathing and talking in low whispers. While inaudible at that moment, I felt safe in my assumption that she’d rather eat glass than do any testing for Newton or Bernoulli. In a matter of seconds she went from sounding vaguely hyperventilatory to absolutely screaming. I don’t just mean yelling, I mean screaming at the top of her lungs about how she wanted to get off the plane. “Mommy, I can’t do this. I need to get off the plane.” Only, replace those periods with whatever punctuation mark is appropriate for pure, visceral and unbridled terror. The first thing that confused me was that the girl was clearly intelligent, she was putting together full and coherent sentences with enunciation that rivaled that of some grown adults, largely from the South. She actually said “I beg of you, all I need is to get off of this plane,” at one point — again, in a blood curdling style with decibel levels thrash metal bands would be jealous of. She just repeated over and over that she couldn’t do it, she couldn’t pull it together despite her mom recurring protestations (pleadings? beggings? reassurances?) that she could, and could fly just fine.

The flight attendant came by a couple times, and spoke quietly in the moms ear. My hope was that he was offering copious amounts of benadryl, sudafed and whiskey. Benadryl and sudafed as a choice for the kids, and whiskey for the rest of us. As the daughter got louder, the mom got a little louder too. But far from doing what my parents would have done — striking the fear of god into me as they threatened me with untold horrors (any time they did this I always imagined they would lock me in the basement for weeks. Why? Not sure. Just seemed appropriately awful) and gave me the look that only parents can give that says if I do not do what they are telling me to do I could potentially die.

Here, an aside. With full admission that I am not a parent, I have no real idea what it takes to be a parent, and have no experience in parenting whatsoever, I refuse to believe that “kids will be kids” in this kind of situation. If you, as a parent, are unable to exert those magical mommy/daddy powers and snap your kid into shape when it is absolutely necessary then you have not trained them properly. This is a point I will never concede. Even if I become a parent, if I lack that ability to snap my kid into shape when absolutely necessary, I will have failed an early test of parenting. Up until the age of 11 or so, my parents had this power over me, though rarely used it as far as I can remember. And when all else failed, a good smack across the face or the ass would’ve shut me up right quick.

Now, this is not to say the mom is a bad parent, I simply think she’s probably too nice to her kids. She was doing everything she could, being rational and logical and trying to reason with her daughter. She was in an unbelievably difficult situation and did the best she could, I have no doubt of that. But it was somewhere between the girl screaming “Somebody help me” because nobody did anything when she asked mommy to help her, and the girl screaming every time the plane jostled slightly that “oh god we’re taking off” despite the fact that we were still connected to the jet bridge, that the boy started to get in on the action. I had suddenly noticed he was holding his mom’s hand, probably for the entire time, and he started to tear up. He opened his mouth in a shaky but high-volume wail and let everyone know that he couldn’t breathe. He thumped his hand against his chest, announced he could kind of breathe again and then, oh, nope, can’t breathe again. The temptation of joining his sister in raucous wailing was simply too much for his young heart to resist. With “the calm one” now creating a two-part harmony of aerophobia the mom resorted to drastic measures: letting them know that if they didn’t fly, if they got off the plane like the girl wanted, they wouldn’t go home. According to the mom they lived 2k miles from home, and without flying she had no idea how they were getting home. The girl was fine with this, she stated once again that the only thing in the world she needed was to get off the jet. The boy however did some mental calculations and realized that he wanted to go home more than he wanted to get off the plane, and accepted his fate. He did this loudly with continued screaming.

Finally, amidst the cacophony the flight attendant returned and informed the mom that the three of them would follow the flight attendant to the front of the plane and they would be escorted off. This is the point at which I felt the most for the mom. The horrible situation had reached it’s even horrible-r yet inevitable terminus and they were being forced to reconcile the consequences of actually being kicked off the flight. While glad to be screaming-kid-free, I couldn’t help but feel awful for her. I began to wonder more and more about the family, though. Where was dad? If they were 2k miles from home, how did they get to Maine in the first place? Were they moving? What was she actually going to do to get everyone home? In all of this mess, once they had left the plane, people in the rear of the aircraft actually clapped for the flight attendant. They say the best birth control is other peoples kids, but when everyone clapped because an unimaginably frightened little girl was removed for the flight, I felt a little sick to my stomach.

My final confusion rested with just how on Earth she became so afraid. It wasn’t just a simple afraid to fly kind of situation. She was removed from logic and reason, and showed no sign whatsoever (other than a burgeoning 9 year old vocab, and a masterful command of complete sentences) that she was under the influence of reality, or had much control over herself. She exhibited such a visceral, purely reactionary state of being, that I couldn’t imagine what had caused her to be like that. It’s probably something awful, like their father was killed in an aircraft accident or something, but I really can’t fathom what set her so askew about air travel. Irrational fears are just that, I suppose. I hope they made it home. Safely. And quietly. Maybe on a train, those are nice.

Bonus 3rd Story: I was flying back from Kansas City (I think?) on a business trip when a flight attendant remarked on my red hair. He noted that scientists say that Red Heads are actually going extinct and will perish from the Earth in the future. This is, actually, completely false. Scientists don’t say that, and in fact scientists say the opposite. While recessive traits are just that, they cannot actually “die out.” The only way redheads would go extinct is if every single person carrying the recessive gene died, which wouldn’t happen outside of some major catastrophe, or if we were called from our bodies back to our home planet. (Actually we’re mutants, not aliens.) And regardless of YOUR hair color, you might be a carrier of the mutated gene in question, and if your spouse does as well, then you might create kids who have red hair. And while two brunettes might make one red head, he or she might make 6, and that doesn’t work so well for the extinction argument, does it?

Anyway I told him this general thesis while other passengers grew to hate me for talking science instead of sitting the fuck down like a normal passenger. He then proceeded to accept this premise, but advise me that just in case, I should sleep with a lot of people. Really. I’m not against that idea in concept, but at this point in my life I have little interest in that in practice. He didn’t care. So when he brought me water, he advised me (without any context for my seatmates) to remember to “sleep with a lot of people and make lots of kids.” Hilarious, yes, but fairly inappropriate. Not sure if he was sexually starved, a voyeur of some sorts, or simply really hoping that I’d sleep around and make a gaggle of ginger kids, but it was truly one of the most awkward experiences I’ve ever had. Especially when he said it again when I deplaned in Denver. Really bub? It mattered that much to you?

I can’t even imagine the Birds & The Bees talk with him. Especially if he had a red head.

  1. Natalie says:

    I love it. I have many of these too. Once, on a transatlantic I got stuck next to a guy about my age, clearly lacking friends of the female variety. We made a little small talk (I hate small talk) and then I put my headphones on thinking I’d fulfilled my social duty. Apparently to him small talk equaled romantic advances. To jump to the good part, after not too much time I found myself being tucked in (under the airplane blanket) by this complete stranger sitting next to me. Yup, literally reached across my body to tuck me in.

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