Texted my friend Steff today. She had a ‘non-eventful’ flight . . .
I’m at a layover for a few hours. On my way to Hartford, Connecticut for a conference.
Where I live in Olympia, Washington, it’s currently 3 am. But, I am in the airport in Chicago, Illinois; thusly, in this reality, it’s 6 am. I didn’t allow for the time difference. I don’t know what brain cells were misfiring when I booked this flight!
I found it interesting that the public restrooms here also serve double duty as severe weather shelters.
At the closing of my flight, after a few hours, and approaching landing time, I got up to stretch. I’d been relocated from my comfy window seat, to a cramped seat in the back of the plane, a few rows up from the bathrooms.
Set in an aisle seat: bumped into continually.
At one point, when it was beverage time (cranberry juice), the drink cart got blocked right at my side. Right next to me! The middle-aged, blond attendant was frustrated, and made a grimace at the man kneeling down in the aisle stopping traffic. I smiled. She then looked at me and admitted, “Sorry, I can’t hide anything with my face.”
I reassured her that I was the same.
The guy across the way from me, he had wrapped his face in what looked to be a black t-shirt. He resembled the Invisible Man. It was creepy. The scented pillow, I brought from home to rest on, I realized, as my throat, eyes, and nostrils burned, was way-over-done in essential oil. I likely ought to have put a few drops on the pillow case, but I reckon I had added 20! Oops.
Where I sat, painfully twisted (and teary-eyed), the lady to my right was stunningly quiet and motionless. So much so that I was self-conscious every time I moved, which was A LOT, because I was so uncomfortable! My aching back!
I’d offered her cinnamon Trident gum, when I first sat down, and she kindly accepted. It was the least I could do, having had taken the once-empty seat next to her. I thought maybe, after the gum, she’d stay awake a bit. But she promptly fell asleep with gum in her mouth. An action that had me wondering if the wad of gum would slip down her throat.
I made sure to check she wasn’t using the bright book light above, before I attempted to turn it off, as it was dark as midnight inside the plane. I first pressed the wrong button, the service button . . .
“Accidentally pressed it, hon?” (Same blond attendant)
I then stared at the air vent and tried to push a button to get it to turn on. I was super hot. Hot-flashes hot. When I reached up the third time, I held my breath, and twist-o, I figured it out! Sigh. Then I noticed my neighbor to the right moved! She covered herself up. I likely made the once-statue-still neighbor cold.
By 1 am Pacific Standard Time, the whole of the airplane was exceptionally quiet and exceptionally asleep! There were only a handful of us awake. And not one person was snoring! I then wondered if sitting upright stops people from snoring. I concluded it did, as I rode the rough turbulence that went on and on for over 30 minutes. The bumpy sky did’t bother me though, as I’d already readied my kids that if I didn’t come back, to hold a seance.
I was tired, but too self-conscious and uncomfortable to rest for long. Each time I fell asleep, I was jolted awake by either 1) thinking I might snore and wake the whole of the plane up or by 2) my hand slipping down from beneath my chin, causing my entire head to wobble.
There was no place to lean into.
Approaching 2:30 am, I finally was able to stand, as the turbulence completely subsided. I made my way back four rows and mentioned to the two airline attendants that there was a lot of turbulence. Both smiled and nodded.
The blond attendant declared, “There was nothing usual about this flight!”
I am not surprised. When I am in synch with the universe, odd things manifest. Lately, my Honda CRV randomly turns to kilometers per hour, instead of miles per hour, right in the middle of drive time. Last week, the speedometer showed I was going over 90, so I slammed on the breaks, while everyone on the freeway wizzed by me or braked behind me. For a good 20 seconds, I seriously thought I was in an alternate universe where everyone was driving super fast!
A few weeks ago, I took special care to book a plane seat on this aforementioned flight, near the wing of the plane, even paid for an upgrade, (and always try to reserve the window seat).
After boarding, I settled well enough on the plane, by the window, above the wing, row 22. And a sweet lady, a bit older than me, and her husband, took the vacant seats next to me. She smiled. She smelled fine, and she wasn’t a strange man. All good! I settled in and leaned against the window and my scented pillow. I was ready to sleep! Heaven!
All was okay, for a few minutes, until I tried to return my seat to the upright position. I asked my new neighbor for help, but it was of no use. We couldn’t figure it out, and neither could the man behind me.
After the (same blond) airline attendant was notified, she basically kicked my seat with her hands. Then I was asked to hang tight, and that maintenance was on the way. By now, people are staring. This was a jam-packed plane, over 150 people, and we were ready to take off.
But we couldn’t, because of my seat!
The repair man arrives in his bright yellow vest, never a pretty sight, when you are about to take off in mid-air, to see repair folks!
He announced loudly, “You’ll need to stand up, push the button, while I push hard from behind.”
By now, half of the plane is watching ME! I wanted to duck, but I had to stand there, awkwardly trying to balance in this narrow space with my hand on the button.
The guy behind me said, “Just so you know, I had a lot less room in the last flight, so I don’t mind.” That was a relief, but made no difference.
Within minutes, my neighbors and I were all scrunched in the aisle, as the repair main tried his best, to no avail. My neighbor, standing next to me, said, “I hope you get to move to first class!”
Shortly after, I was banished to the back. But right before, a kind lady asked if I needed help, as she watched me struggle to lift my carryon out of its wedged position, while the whole of the plane observed.
While I was in the aisle, my nervousness took hold, and I bleated: “I’m a writer. At least this will make for a good story!”
Turns out, my would-have-been-flight-neighbor is a therapist in Chicago and most of her clients are autistic. She took a snap shot of my book, before I departed.
PAUSE… and Go… Next up
My next flight from Chicago to Connecticut arrived a bit late, 20- to 30-minutes, give or take. I was happily seated in my assigned, and paid for, plane seat, smack by the window, and nearby the wing. Something about watching the wing soothes me. I immediately fell asleep, with my pillow pressed up hard against the glass (or whatever airplane windows are made of). I was blissfully thankful not to be in the back in an aisle seat; indeed, a huge grin lifted my cheeks.
I awoke a few times, from random noises: children giggling, beverage time announcement, chiming of the captain’s announcement; but overall, ahhhh! Sweet relief!
Primarily because the seat next to be was EMPTY!
At the flight’s end, and having had a total of 2.5 hours of sleep all night/morning, I engaged in a little more smalltalk with the retired nurse sitting in the same row as me; I’d already learned, before conking out, that she had attended a bowling convention, had experienced two from-hell layovers at the airport, and was so glad to be almost home. We both agreed that the leg space United Airlines provides on the planes royally sucks!
The last tidbit she added? She works with autistic children and adults.
Next stop to find luggage.
Seems my luggage, unlike the rest of the 99.9% of the passengers’ cases, didn’t catch the same flight! Surprise!
Maybe something about that cute Seattle Space Needle address tag? Who knows.
Remarkably, though, I forgot to mention, at the Seattle airport security last night, they let me go through the mini-scanner, not the big one. That was so much better than last time when I had to be patted down and palms dusted because my underwire bra triggered the detectors. I was wearing a cross necklace, a ‘be kind’ necklace, and a t-shirt that said, Love and Autism. This is officially my forever outfit for going through airport security lines. I felt super important being overlooked like that.
Once landed (the second time), immediately, I received a text informing me to speak with baggage service representatives to locate my checked bag that arrived on an earlier flight. I wondered what I would have done if I’d decided to not download United’s phone app at the last minute. I pictured myself panicking, as I stared at the steel conveyer belt: empty!
It seemed odd that somehow my luggage made it there without me, and was now waiting behind some locked door. Anyhow . . . Wouldn’t you know it! I couldn’t find a singular baggage service representative. No one was in the locked, dark office. Onward to the information desk, where three, very friendly, retired seniors were volunteering.
“Go down a bit, until you see door 5. By door 5 is an elevator. Take the elevator to floor 2. They will have what you need.”
It seemed like some heroic quest.
I’m off to find my black suitcase . . .
Processing all of that, after little-to-no sleep, was excruciating on my brain. As I was rolling my singular, tiny blue suitcase, and new (chemical smelling) travel pillow, and backpack-type purse away, the lady of the three seniors (the other were two men), hollered, “We’re you on United?”
I turned back with a grin and nod, still inching forward.
She continued, “Then you’re in the same boat as that young girl in front of you.”
Okay, so there were two of us. Relief?
With elevator closing behind me, upstairs, at floor 2, I have no clue where to go. The Hartford airport is a mostly barren place: quiet, absence of bustling crowds . . . and employees. Most of the desks were vacant, except this one lady. She was a grump-monster. I showed her the text, after having had explained the situation three times, and half-heartedly pointing to the young girl behind me, with a meek, guilty: “Her, too.”
As if I needed proof.
Her response, was flat, with a why-are-you-bothering-me tone: “I guess now, I’m going to have to find someone who can help you.”
I mean the entire floor was pretty much a ghost town; I had a hard time mustering up empathy for the stress she was undergoing.
At this point I’m thinking I’m never flying United again.
Back down to floor 2, with the young girl smack beside me in the elevator, rambling on about the places she needs to be and the taxi she’s hired and the …
Down on the main floor, a retired couple are outside the dark, locked office.
I reassure them, “Help is on the way.”
And add, “But she sure wasn’t nice about it.”
One mumbles about why us. And I remark, “Maybe it’s like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory! And they just haven’t told us yet!”
A part of me truly was hopeful.
Someone shows up, opens door … no chocolate.
I prove I am who I say I am, and I finally have my luggage.
Back to information desk. “What’s the best way to get to downtown Hartford? Taxi, Shuttle, Lyft?” The elderly gent on the far left answers with a grandpa twinkle, “The bus is $1.75.”
What a bargain.
Bus is late by a good 15 minutes, which allowed a lot of time for me to wonder if I ever was getting to the hotel.
In the meanwhile, I realize my Lyft application no longer works. The screen freezes.
Needing companionship, or something to at least distract me from the last 10 hours, I try to engage with two strangers (who are also strangers to each other) by barging in, albeit politely, to their conversing. (I was on the same bench as them!) I didn’t get far.
“Oh, so a convention for history teachers?” I remarked.
They both scowled, hers a bit more pronounced than his, “History professors!” Bark.
And I’m back to staring at my Seattle Space Needle luggage tag.
On the bus, at long last, the bus driver says he’ll let me know when we get to the hotel. I try to take in a deep breath. Yes. Almost there. Another 20 minutes on the freeway, and done! I am picturing the bed and a Swiss cheese and mushroom veggie burger with sour cream, onions, tomato, ketchup, mustard, and…. Bus stops.
Driver motions me. I am oblivious, lost in thought about fries.
Professors, in unison, motion me.
I feel like I am in grade school.
I maneuver my cases down the narrow passageway to stand by the smiling driver: “Are we at the hotel?” Doe eyes, yawn, sigh.
“I am so sorry,” he responds. “That’s usually one of my stops, but I’m running late, so I don’t have time today.”
What the F?
“But see that bus down there. He is pointing to 6 buses in a row. You can catch that if you leave now.” He hands me a pass.
He was kind, enough: “Don’t rush. You’ll make it.”
Across a major intersection, with cases and purse in hand. Make it!
Only to find, not one, but two bus drivers don’t have a clue why the other driver would have sent me to them. They aren’t going there!
I toss the bus pass. Try to keep my suitcases from rolling down the hill, fan myself in the hot heat, download Lyft. And a driver with wavy locks and a thick beard is there in 50 seconds flat. And only $6.95 to drive two blocks.
As he drops me off at the hotel, last thing I find out: He works with autistics, too.
2 thoughts on “Why I Don’t Like Flying (or Traveling) . . .”
One of our superpowers, you know, is empathy. I feel like we dive into the human experience so deeply and intensely that we are more able to see and relate to what others are going through. If we notice LOL.
I just had a situation at work where I had to complain about something. “Please, God, don’t let me rant and get angry like the last seven times!” So I was calm and reasonable and brief, and then afterwards I heard about a principle that my boss probably knows backwards and forwards, that in the workplace you have to give three positive comments for every complaint, or the place becomes toxic.
Fortunately, in hindsight, I had several wonderful things that had happened I could tell him about, right in the midst of the situation I was complaining about. I realized that empathy can actually make me a positive force in the workplace. New insight, feels pretty cool.
And, full circle, I feel like this piece does a bit of the same. Any and everybody can relate to your article, and laugh. Good on ye!
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thank you…. I often ask God for guidance and His hand. I appreciate you sharing your experience. Empathy and beyond …. gifted intellect as cited in Living with Intensity book, (I contacted one of the authors!) often comes with a connection to the divine.