Tuesday, January 17, 2012

A Flight Story

I am not a social person when I fly.  I get to my seat, pull out my book, and aside from smiling and saying hello to the person next to me, I usually read until we land.  I know people who have made great connections while on airplanes - my uncle met my aunt on a flight - but I tend to err on the side of "I'm just here with my novel."  For the most part my plane travel has been relatively uneventful (unlike this girl's story) but here is why I am hesitant to chat with the person in row 23 seat B.

I do make exceptions.

At the end of my freshman year winter break I waited in line to board my flight at Logan Airport with the other college-aged kids who were wearing a combination of Red Sox, Michigan and Michigan State gear.  The girl standing behind me and I struck up a conversation as we took out our boarding passes.  She was also a freshman in college, though at a smaller school in the middle of Michigan.  She was fun and talkative, and when we got on the plane she switched seats so we could keep chatting during the flight.  I was excited - going to college was the first time I had to make all new friends since preschool, so the idea of meeting someone on an airplane was new! and fun! and proved that I was an interesting person capable of overcoming my shyness!

As the flight continued she made a few comments that caused me to raise my eyebrows and keep my mouth shut.  For one, she explained that she never slept on planes because her aunt told her that once you dozed off, the other passengers would steal your wallet out of your carry-on.  Fine - some people are extra cautious about these things.  I usually find that napping makes the flight go faster, but I suppose technically I'm putting my wallet at risk.  I could be seated next to an unscrupulous hooligan.

... or this guy.
Then she explained that if she and her boyfriend got married, she would absolutely change her last name because it's disrespectful to your husband not to.  Again, fine, people have a wide range of opinions on this and she can do what she wants.  However, I love my last name and have no intention of changing it.  At this point, I realized that this girl probably wouldn't like me very much if she got to know me better.  She made a few similar comments that made me glad when she decided to flip open a magazine. 

We had exchanged phone numbers - again, this was when making new friends was a huge accomplishment for me - and for a few months after the flight she would occasionally text me, "Hey, what's up?" as if we had known each other for years.  I was never sure what she expected me to respond.  "Not much, how have you been since those two hours we shared?  Been pickpocketed while traveling lately?"  I was fine when she gave up on me and the texts stopped.

Sure, most casual conversations with strangers on planes do not veer towards personal values.  I still felt odd switching from a lively, friendly conversation to nodding, smiling, and subtly opening my book within the course of one flight.  It makes sense to keep the conversation on favorite restaurants in Boston rather than politics, but it's not often that I find myself biting my tongue rather than saying, "Actually, I am friends with people who go out to parties and sometimes drink.  I still think they're good people."

I have had nice chats with my seatmates on other flights, and in the spirit of being brave and trying new things I am going to be friendlier on planes this year.  I may also learn to nap with one eye open - who knows, maybe that girl's aunt was right.

Have you met any interesting people on planes?
Have you had any great or terrible flights?
I'd love to hear your stories!


  1. my dad sat next to a guy on one trip who had the same name as him, married to a woman with the same name as my mother and one of their daughters had the same name as my sister... they became instant friends and have stayed friends...

    1. Yaniv, that is one of the best stories. I'm really glad to hear they've stayed friends.

  2. Hi Laura, thanks for the mention. For some reason, my flights do tend to be ridiculous (the vodka-soaked trip to Russia was another, and more recently a flight within Canada where I met a woman who just split with her boyfriend, which turned into a wine-filled therapy session of sorts and I then ran into her on the streets of Montreal). There's something to be said for connecting two people within the confines of a small space, but there's nothing worse than being stuck on a long haul with someone who isn't picking up your social cues to leave you alone :)

    1. I hadn't read about your flight to Russia! I'll have to look that up on your site. I laughed out loud at the story I linked to. I really enjoy your writing and I'm thrilled that you read my post! Thanks for checking it out!

  3. Hi Laura! I'm going to call you one of these days to say hi, I swear.

    I flew home to Michigan from DC for Thanksgiving this year, and had a nice chat with the girl sitting next to me. Well, it was nice for about 15 or 20 minutes, at which point I had very unsubtly taken out my book and opened it to the page I was on...and then she continued talking to me for the remainder of the hour and a half flight.

    Since then, I've flown to and from MI three times...and she has been on the same flight EVERY TIME. We haven't sat next to each other again (thank god) but we say hi, and it's weird. I even flew out of two different DC airports, on different airlines.

    1. Haha, oh no! That's wild that you keep running into her. Keep me updated - I'm curious to hear about your next flight to Michigan!