When I chose my seat on the first airplane in this story, I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
I was on the second leg of my trip, flying between Phoenix and Little Rock. Southwest Airlines allows you to choose your seat, which I like. When I got on, I chose a seat near the front of the plane and between two people around my age who seemed nice and ordinary. They were both pretty involved with their phones, so we didn’t talk a lot for a little bit.
As passengers continued to board the plane, I grew increasingly aware that the row behind us was occupied by some people who seemed a little…loud. I looked back and noticed that they were an older couple and their adult daughter. I was engaged in thinking about my trip, sending off a few last texts, peeking at the phones of the people next to me, and other preflight activities, so it didn’t completely register. Until the woman next to me let a giggle escape, and I tuned in to realize that the passengers behind me were loudly bickering. Either one person or the couple was hard of hearing–but they also did not seem to be enjoying themselves.
I quietly whispered to the woman next to me, “Note to self: When I become hard of hearing, I should remember to act NICER, because people can hear you.” She giggled again.
At some point during the boarding process, I also became increasingly aware of the travelers’ Subway sandwiches, because they smelled strongly of pickles and onions when they removed them from their bags. I exchanged worried glances with the man sitting next to me and the woman giggled again.
When we were about ready to depart, we had to wait because the people in the row behind us had an oxygen tank with them too, and there was some confusion about where they had to put it. There really was nothing wrong with this, but it just seemed to add to the general chaos and humor.
Finally they managed to situate the tank, which was no mean feat, and then the wife, occupying the middle seat asked, “Do you want to put your foot on my side?”
“Why?” challenged her husband.
“Because there’s more room.”
“Are you in charge of my feelings now?” he demanded.
It was terrible, but I was kind of shocked and my response to shock is usually…laughter. My seatmates and I got more and more uncomfortable and hysterical as it continued.
“I’m just glad I’m not with them,” the woman next to me said, gesturing toward the adult daughter with a sympathetic expression. She did not seem involved in the hostility.
My seatmates and I settled in with our various activities, periodically breaking for conversation. The flight was going smoothly.
Until the people behind us actually began to open the sandwiches to consume them, and it turned out that someone had ordered tuna fish. Bickering and the smell of pickles and fish wafted through the air.
During a period of turbulence, my seatmates and I started to talk about the flight, which turned to a discussion of airplane engineering and how, once we reached adulthood, we had all started to fear imminent death during turbulence. I mused that at least if we crashed, the end would be fast–if explosive–since we were sitting on top of that oxygen tank.
When we landed, another round of loud bickering started up, and we joked that it would be funny if, after we had made it safely through the turbulence and landing, we exploded because of the oxygen tank. We all giggled and wished each other farewell.
That was the first airplane.
I forgot to check in on my returning flight until 22 hours beforehand (rather than the allowed 24), which of course meant I wound up in the B boarding group. This of course guarantees the worst seat in the plane, with the spots on the wings or below in the cargo hold reserved for the C group. I resigned myself to sitting in the middle of the back row next to the toilet–especially bad because I get a bit claustrophobic on planes, and the further back I am, the worse I feel.
However, to my surprise, I found a seat relatively close to the front between two friendly-looking ladies. It wasn’t an aisle seat, but it was only about three rows back. I’ll take it!
So, I am a bit of a chatterer on an airplane. If you know me, this statement is kind of pointless to even bother to make, but for those of you who don’t know me, there you go. I often bond with my seatmates and we wind up talking about our children/jobs/opinions/long, drawn-out histories. I had wound up bonding with my seatmates en route partly because of the boisterous shouting and consuming of sandwiches, and partly just because I enjoy talking and had failed to download the project I was supposed to be working on. (I really like to think that I don’t annoy people who don’t want to talk, because I can take the hint and also read body language, but I guess I can’t be 100% sure.)
Either way, as soon as I sat between the two ladies, the one to my right turned to me to talk. The one on my other side joined in, and we were rapidly engaged in a three-person conversation about the sucky parts of traveling via airplanes. I thought they would think my experience from Phoenix to Little Rock was hi-larious, so launched in.
“On the way here, I was in front of these people, an older couple and their adult daughter, and it was clear that the couple couldn’t hear well, because they were yelling. But they weren’t…nice! And they had brought a tuna fish sandwich! And they had some sort of oxygen tank.”
This was when the woman in the middle seat in front of me turned around and said, “That was us.”
To my amazement and horror, on a flight several days later, heading through an entirely different airport hub, I was seated directly behind the same doggone trio. And the daughter heard me talking about them.
Unluckily, the oxygen tank did NOT choose that minute to explode.