Don’t Be Goofy… The Breakdown of flight 848

I know, I know. It’s been months. I actually wrote a few blogs longhand but never got around to typing them up. I’ve been a woman in transition emotionally, working through some identity issues, and, not surprisingly, it is difficult to write when you’re not sure who you are exactly, much less what you want to say.

I’d love to tell you that my first endeavor at writing a blog since Spring is something substantial or meaningful, but alas, it’s just a story that was too long to put as a Facebook status, so it’s going here.  Also, I had to get this incident off of my chest.

Have you ever met someone who, within mere moments of your first encounter, invades both your personal and emotional space ?

Let me tell you about my seat mate on yesterday’s flight. She reminded me a lot of these old “Goofy How-To” videos…

You know, how Goofy is completely and totally self-absorbed and inconsiderate? That.
Yesterday my husband and I flew home from Hawaii. We were in the “extra legroom” seats, which in retrospect wasn’t worth the upgrade. We hadn’t purchased the seats for the legroom, we upgraded because the flight was full and we didn’t have assigned seats together. Both Jeff and I have short enough legs, so while the extra legroom was nice, it didn’t solve the real issue, which  is how narrow the seats and the aisles are.

Our plane had 3 seats on each side where it should have had two, and an aisle so narrow a stick figure would have to go down sideways. No wonder the airlines all got in trouble for only hiring thin flight attendants. No one with even half a curve can fit. It was merely practicality on their part.

Jeff was on the aisle and I was in the middle. Shortly after we sat down, a woman came up and gestured that she was in the window seat.

She seemed pleasant enough, although slightly flustered. She set her water bottle on the floor and then immediately knocked it over on to me with her foot.

We were in the early boarding group, and the boarding process on Alaska seems much slower than, say, Southwest, where there’s a cattle stampede, they tell everybody to sit down and shut up, and the next thing you know, the plane is taking off.

The woman, we’ll call her, uh, “Goofy” for the purpose of this story, got on her cell phone and called what sounded like either a shuttle service or a car rental office. She spoke with them for a bit and then turned to me.

“Can I ask you a question?”

“Sure.”

“Do you know what time in Seattle our plane is supposed to arrive?”

“I think about 9pm.”

“Okay, thank you,” she said, and then I realized, she was still on the phone because she was relaying that information to the person on the other end.

A few minutes later, she got my attention again.

“Can I ask you another question?”

“Sure.”

“Do you happen to know what our flight number is?”

“848.”

“Okay, thank you.”

“No problem.”

Then she began speaking again to the person on the phone.

As we started to back away from the gate, I put my headphones on for my takeoff ritual. I’m okay with flying, (unless there’s turbulence) once we hit the 10,000 foot level and the pilot dings the bell. Until then, I’m a bit of a wreck, with my fingernails puncturing the palm of my husband’s hand. Other than imbibing a double of something at the airport bar, I also jam a Sees butterscotch lollipop in my mouth and put on soothing music. I knew my ipod was low on battery, but unfortunately it was lower than i had realized, and cut out right in the middle of Donny Hathaway crooning and right in the middle of the tarmac.

I quickly switched to my phone, which only has a few random songs on it, most of which is Christmas music for some inexplicable  reason. I did manage to find a song I could live with until we were fully airborne.

Since I already had my phone in my hand, I started playing Candy Crush.

I felt a tap on my arm.

“Are we allowed to use phones on airplanes now?”

“You can use your phone as long as it’s on airplane mode. I use it to play games.”

The flight attendants came by three times. The first was to  rent movie players. Goofy waited until they had already passed us to nudge me to get the attendant’s attention so she could rent one.

They next came by for drink orders. She had her headphones in and didn’t hear the request, so I had to get her attention. She ordered red wine.

When they came by for trash, Jeff and I handed all of our trash over. Once they had passed by, Goofy THEN started pulling out her trash and handed it to me to give to the FA. Jeff had to once again get their attention.

A  little while later the flight attendants (FA) announced they were going to be serving food  for payment. They said the only hot meal  was the hula chicken bowl, or something like that.

Goofy pulled out her menu. she then tapped me on the arm.

“I need to use the bathroom. If they come by, tell them I want this,” and pointed to the  picture of the miso chicken.

Besides the fact that you cannot order hot food without paying for it, leaving me in the awkward position of either telling the FA what she wanted, and that they would have to collect from her later, or paying for it myself.

“Um, that’s actually on the flights TO Hawaii. FROM Hawaii the only hot meal is THIS,” i explained, pointing to the hula chicken bowl.

“Oh,” She frowned.

“They have the Beecher’s cheese platter, and then any of these snack packs.”

She looked for a minute and then said, “If they come before I’m back I want THIS,” pointing to the Mediterranean snack pack.

I didn’t bring up the “how am I supposed to deal with payment” part of the issue. Jeff got up into the aisle and let her pass.  When he sat down he said, “One more question and you should be getting paid for your services.”

Thankfully she got back before the cart reached us.

She did offer her snack olives to me which I thought was nice. Jeff and I continued to watch our movie.

As the cart came back around for trash,  once again, she waited until AFTER the FA had passed by to start digging around, and handed me her trash. I held it for a moment, bewildered, as I had no place to put it. She took it back from me, and then called out to the attendant who was passing by to see to another passenger.

When the next drink service came around, she ordered another wine, and then said, ” I don’t suppose I could have another piece of chocolate.”

The FA looked at her questioningly and said, “Pardon?”

Goofy said, ” Well I had a chocolate in my snack pack. I want another piece, but i don’t want to buy another snack pack.”

The attendant pulled out a drawer. “White chocolate or milk chocolate?”

“I just want chocolate. Regular chocolate.”

The FA said, “All we have is white. ” And tossed it on her tray.

A while later she got up to use the bathroom again. Jeff said, “The drink cart is coming. How much you want to bet she will come right after they pass by and then be annoyed that she doesn’t have a drink?”

She did manage to make it back, though, just in time.

When the third drink service reached us, she said, “Do you have any pineapple juice?”

The FA said, “No I’m sorry. We only have POG. Passion orange guava.”

“Do you have any herbal tea?”

“We have orange tea and black tea.”

“You don’t have any peppermint?”

“No, ma’am. Orange and black tea.”

Sigh.

“I guess I’ll have orange.”

She got her tea, pulled out the in-flight magazine and began reading. At this point, our movie had finished, and I was reading my Kindle. We were 4 hours in to a 5 hour and 15 minute flight.

I heard a sniffle.

“Hmm,” I thought to myself. “She must have a cold, that’s why she’s drinking tea.”

Sniff sniff.

I tried to ignore it, but the sniffles kept coming.

And then I heard what sounded like a cat’s mewl.

I glanced over.

She was curled up facing the wall and she was crying. Not a silent cry. Not a tear or two gently wiped away sort of cry. A body-shaking simpering whimpering cry.

I looked at Jeff who was listening to music with headphones. His eyes were closed. I nudged him. He looked at me questioningly.

“She’s crying,” I mouthed.

“What?”

“She’s crying,” I mouthed again, this time with more enunciation.

He pulled his earbud out and leaned in.

“She’s crying,” i whispered through gritted teeth.

He glanced over my head. “Why?”

I whispered in his ear. “I have no idea. One minute she was drinking her tea reading the magazine, the next she was shaking and crying.”

He shrugged his shoulders and put his ear bud back in.

That left me, who was pretending to read, but was really trying to determine what my responsibility was to this woman, to deal with it. Should I pretend I don’t notice to give her privacy? Should I ask her what’s wrong, knowing that question may drag me into spending the next hour of the flight trying to emotionally stabilize a complete stranger?

Before I had to make a decision, she blew her nose, faced forward, pulled up the sweatshirt that had been draped across her lap, folded it, placed it on the arm rest between us, and spread her entire self out like she was in a lazyboy. My eyes grew big as I felt her elbow not only breach my side of the armrest,but breach the side of my body, digging in hard.

I contorted away from it, pushing into Jeff, who was already nursing wounds from every person who had tried to maneuver down the aisle, not to mention the multiple times the cart had passed by. He pushed back a little.

I made eye contact with him and he removed his ear bud. “Her elbow is digging in to my side. ”

“Say something.”

“I can’t. She just stopped crying.”

“Push back.”

I grimaced at him and adjusted my position so that I was facing straight ahead. She leaned towards me, her elbow further in. I leaned forward, bent over, trying to pretend that it wasn’t the most unnatural position. I looked down at her feet, which were splayed  wide and also encroached far into my personal space.

My already smallish amount of empathy for whatever had led her to have an emotional breakdown began to dissipate rapidly.

The attendants announced that we would soon begin our initial descent and that it was time to prepare for landing, including tray tables, trash collection, seat backs, and tablet collection.

Goofy of course missed both the trash collection and the tablet collection, causing me to have to flag the FA down.

We heard the bell ding and felt the plane start to nose downward. At that exact moment, Goofy chose to lay her seat all the way back.

I gasped. The rule follower in me just about lost it.

After our plane landed, I had determined to pretend Goofy didn’t exist. I didn’t want to engage her in any way.

We exited the aircraft, and I sensed her behind me. We got to the inter-concourse train station and suddenly I realized she was standing right next to me.

When the train arrived, I followed Jeff in and faced him. I knew she had gotten on and was behind me.

We got to baggage claim, where there was some confusion about which carousel, and as I saw her coming towards me, I braced myself for her to ask for my assistance.

I may very well be a cold, heartless person, insensitive to the needs of an obviously troubled woman. This time, for some reason, I think I can live with that.

You see, I’m the kind of person who tends to take on responsibility for the problems of other people. I’m a fixer. My therapist has a more technical term for it, but that’s a whole other story. My point is that while my attitude and responses may put out a “whatever ” vibe, inside I’m a wreck, trying to solve the problem of someone I don’t even know. Those 5 plus hours with her actually took an emotional toll on me, and it’s kind of unfair to do that to a stranger. Perhaps she didn’t realize the effect she was having on me, but I got the sense from this one interaction with her, that there are probably many people in her life who feel exactly as I felt whenever she’s around.

We have a choice every day to be either a blessing or a curse to someone. I’ll admit, I was no blessing to her. She sure as heck was no blessing to me either, so we’re even, right?

My therapist is gonna have a field day with this.