Features, Column

Living Large in Row 4: A Column for When You’re Flying High

I have always had a passion for air travel.

Actually, that’s dramatic—I did have passion for a boy because he dressed as Goose from Top Gun for like 10 minutes one Halloween, and I like going to the air show on occasion because they sell really good chocolate cake—but I guess you could say if I have to get from one place to another and it would take over three and a half hours to drive there, I would choose to fly.

And I’ve always liked to fly. When I was a kid I loved airports because they meant something exciting was around the corner. Just past baggage claim was a whole new world—another beginning, a refresh button. The airport, and airplanes, were whole systems that exist just to aid in physical (and metaphysical!) transitions. I wasn’t even a kid who would complain about a delayed flight because everyone knows “delay” is a synonym for “free meal voucher if you complain enough.”

But recently things have been a little rocky for me in the sky.

It all started when I was a senior in high school, flying out of San Antonio International Airport (it’s called international because it has one flight to Mexico) to tour colleges. Usually, I’m in the mood to chat up strangers in any situation, but this was not a good day for me. On this day, I just wanted some peace and quiet, and I thought I would get it as I approached my seat and saw that I would be sharing the row with a nice elderly couple.

They have themselves to talk to, I thought.

Maybe they turned their hearing aids off, I mused.

“Where are you headed to young lady?” the man said.

The small talk that ensued was, at best, the most painful conversation I’ve ever had in my life, throughout which the man aggressively asserted that there was no way I hadn’t graduated from college already, that I was lying to him, and that they didn’t make 17-year-olds like me in his day (GROSS!). His wife came to my rescue and told him to leave me alone and began trying to convince him that indeed I was not lying about something no person would ever lie about for fun.

The pilot has put the fasten seat belt sign on, please turn all large electronic devices off and put your mobile phones on airplane mode,” the stewardess said over the intercom.

“Yeah, put your banana on airplane mode,” the man spit into my ear.

“What?” I said, hoping he would retract his statement and explain why he decided it would be ok for him to convert that thought into speech.

“I said put your banana on airplane mode.”

I was confused and fearful, but made it through the flight. When we were about to deplane, the man turned to me, said, “I’m a psychoanalyst if you ever need one,” and disappeared down the twisting jetway. Three years later, the whole ordeal still wakes me up in a cold sweat on particularly lonely nights.

The next incident occurred on a trip to Spain. Our flight the previous day had been cancelled due to “safety concerns” and the airport was PACKED with people trying to get out of Europe because there was an air-strike in Paris (think: “airline employees refusing to work,” not “Paris is under attack”). I have never seen a more crowded, chaotic place, and I’ve ridden buses in Beijing.

The security guard gave us clearance to skip the line and signaled for our group to cut and go to him, but one particularly burly Spanish man was not having it. He would have been a star linebacker had he lived in a country that played football, not fútbol, and he refused to let us pass, blocking our way and screaming things like “it’s not fair” and “no.” I, being slick, got past him, but my friends weren’t so lucky. He took one of their suitcases hostage and boxed out another. Things were escalating quickly, tensions were high, testosterone was involved. This guy was in a rage with a face as red as a flamenco dancer’s skirt, twisting his body emphatically in a flamenco-esque motion. We all stared, gave him dirty looks, and said things like, “Can you chill?” He pivoted and pushed an uninvolved, innocent, old lady to the ground.

My body acted before my mind and I took a swing at the man who was twice my size and who’s athletic leg probably weighed more than my tapas-fueled self. After my tiny fist flew through the crowd to its target, I began disrespectfully shoving him back, yelling, “do you know what the f— you just did?” I don’t remember the exact details of what happened next—you know when you drink too much and your body starts preparing you for death by making your brain shut down? You know, when you blackout? Same situation here, I think, because I don’t remember much of what happened next until my mom grabbed me by my backpack straps and removed me from the situation. She happened to place me by his wife though, so I happened to start talking smack. Since he had already gotten his fill of pushing elderly women down for the day, the man rejoined her, looked me in the eyes, and raspily promised “te voy a matar.”  

I flew Boston to Austin to go home for Winter Break last year because, as you will recall, San Antonio International Airport is barely an airport and doesn’t have a direct flight to this cold, cold city. In the middle of the flight I had to go to the bathroom, so, as one does, I walked to the bathroom right by the cockpit (I was in the A group and this was a Southwest flight so I was living large in the fourth row). Whilst inside, I heard what sounded like the carcass of a large animal being repeatedly thrown against the wall, accompanied by indistinct yelling, grunting, and “Sir, please return to your seat.” I was scared so I decided to chill in the bathroom for a while, let things cool down, and hide from a potential murderer. With scenes from every 9/11 documentary and Snakes on Plane running together in my mind, I frantically searched for a weapon, thinking about how I could pull off a sneak attack. I waited a while and could still hear the sounds of struggle outside, but the bathroom was gross so I cracked open the door and it was slammed shut before I could see anything.

Now I was pissed—I felt like I was being shoved into a metaphorical locker—so I pushed open the door with a vengeance and walked out, only to be trapped up against the cockpit by a man and a struggling stewardess. The man had height and width and a water bottle in his hand. He looked like he had seen a ghost, and had been abducted by aliens in the near past, but he didn’t look quite like a murderer to me. His eyes were empty, and zombie like—his body flinging itself around. He was completely unresponsive to her questions, like he was sleep walking.  

“What’s going on here?” I asked.

No one replied to me, and while the situation sounded like it was out of control, it didn’t look THAT out of control, so I strolled back to my seat with no answer, and a lot of questions.

I’ll end this thing and sum up about 20 more stories by saying, don’t come fly with me—stick to Sinatra—and I look forward to seeing what fun my Spring Break travels bring me.


Featured Image by Nicole Chan / Graphics Editor

January 21, 2018