The Joys of Airplane Travel

I feel like I’m teetering dangerously close to bad stand-up with this topic, but I’ve had some pretty interesting experiences on planes, I swear, so bear with me. They may be sadly devoid of gremlins and thus not up to a Shatnerian level of greatness, but I’ll do my best to be a worthy replacement. After all, my parents didn’t name me Russell Kirk Nickel for nothing.

I’m under the impression that everyone shares the fantasy of meeting a tall dark stranger on a plane, hitting it off over a mutual hatred of the shoddy in-flight entertainment and, thanks to the cramped seating that ensures levels of intimacy which would normally take months to develop, deciding to share a cab fare to the hotel (for the sake of economy, of course), and as long as you’re both staying in town for a couple of days, there’s really no reason to waste money on individual rooms when hotel beds are so sizable…and so lonely.

At least, I know I’ve been waiting for this to happen ever since that whole puberty fiasco. This unspoken desire that I assume is shared by every passenger adds an exciting and erotic undertone to all those forced conversations of uncanny politeness. The people who refuse to talk to me when I assail them with an unending barrage of friendly inquiries into their line of work, reading material of choice, and sex life aren’t actually trying to sleep or work; they’re using body language to convince me that they’re not particularly interested in getting a hotel with me. Most likely because they’re already spoken for. What else could it be?

But I don’t let failure after failure get me down. Every flight, I disregard my A-priority seating, wait until about half the passengers have boarded, then try to sit next to the person who looks most receptive to hours and hours of friendly conversation and a little flirting. College was a golden era for this, since every flight to or from Spring/Christmas/Thanksgiving break was packed with students.

The very first time I flew home from Stanford was at the end of admit weekend. I spent the whole weekend wandering campus and taking in life with a beautiful girl (with whom I was very honorable since my then girlfriend was waiting for me back in San Diego), and before I knew it, I was taking a flight home. And just by chance, aforementioned beautiful girl Emily was on the very same flight. So of course I sat with her…and her mother, who’d come along to keep her safe from predators like me. Having a girl you’ve just met’s mom sit a foot away from you makes hormone-driven dialogue a difficult endeavor, and age-specific innuendo becomes the better part of valor. I kept having to engage her mom in conversation to seem polite, and somehow the discussion shifted rather unfortunately to their belief in Catholicism, a topic that God in no way intended for in-flight banter. What followed was nigh on an hour of high-minded philosophizing that my half-semester of Dante could never have prepared me for. Attempting to atheistically deflect the good-natured religious prodding of a cute girl’s mother is like walking on eggshells (or water), and meeting the parent(s) after just 2 days made me feel like things were moving faster than locusts on plague day. Still, I must’ve been sufficiently charming and uncontrarian, because during the descent, Emily offered me her number.

Before I’d left for admit weekend, Klaus (the ex) had informed me that I’d better not come home with any cute girls’ phone numbers. But how could I turn down Emily (especially in front of her mother)? It would’ve been one thing if I’d simply input her into my phone, but this was a plane, and apparently turning on a free-with-a-two-year-contract piece of technology causes multi-million dollar flying contraptions to crash. So good, ol’ fashioned writing it was. I didn’t have anything to write on, so Emily solves this problem by retrieving a giant colorful pen from her purse and scrawling her digits across my entire arm, then decorates my guilt-limb with cutesy hearts and stars.

I got off the plane, bid her farewell, headed toward the baggage claim, and ran right into the girlfriend, who’d come to pick me up as a surprise. Yay! Well, at least I had fond memories of the flight to keep me happy throughout my stay in the dog house.

But wait! There’s more! Like that time the pilot made an announcement on the P.A. during our descent. Apparently someone had left one of those extremely useful and cost-effective Juicy Couture handbags in the bathroom, and when they’d gone back for it, it was gone!

Suddenly, the plane was abuzz with rumor, and the witch hunt was on.

No one would fess up, and the plane quickly became a cramped prison, but without the amenities. The pilot announced that no one would be allowed to leave until the purse was recovered, and once we landed, police would be brought on board to search our belongings. Chaos broke out. People erupted in anger, jumping up and yelling at anyone and everyone, and I huddled in the corner attempting to appear as unobtrusive as my massive girth and witty t-shirt would allow.

The shouts continued, the threats escalated, and the pilots promised ever-increasing retribution, from “we’ll turn this plane around and go straight back home” to “we’ll force you to eat a second in-flight meal.” Finally, from just a couple rows in front of me, the purse hurtles through the air, flung with the vigorous abandon only a criminal fearing his or her capture can achieve. In this case said criminal was a her, and the her was a 6-year-old girl. Everyone watched as the purse sailed over their heads, bounced off an elderly man’s shoulder, and came to rest in the aisle, the lone testament to the purloining atrocity that had occurred.

Or what about that time I sat next to the very professional looking Asian man? We made a bit of small talk but mostly kept to ourselves. Then halfway through the flight an old man collapses in the aisle literally right next to me. A woman starts screaming, and a flight attendant rushes to the situation, then shouts those classic words: “Is there a doctor on board?!”

The guy next to me is already leaping into action, checking the old man’s pulse, looking into his eyes, trying to rouse him to consciousness. I can’t believe I actually got to experience that scene from all the movies, and first-hand, too! Dr. Lin helped the guy regain consciousness, then helped him back to his seat and administered some friendly and charming advice along the lines of “no more collapsing!” As the old man stood, the plane erupted into cheers and applause, and the doctor waved graciously. “Just doing my job,” I think I heard him say before he proceeded to get all the ladies.

I’ve found myself on some flights even that soulless character from Up in the Air would’ve found interesting (including a four-hour flight during which this guy paced up and down the aisle the entire time like a crazy person, casting waves of anxiety over every other passenger), but the most important flight of all was the one on the way to Stanford’s admit weekend. A lot went down going to and from that place. You see, that was the day I met life-long friend, sexy hunk of man, singer extraordinaire, and best artist in the blogosphere, Sam Julian. I guess technically we’d met before since we were both captains of our rival high schools’ Improv teams, and thus had needed to organize our fair share of competitive Improv battles, but it was on this flight that we truly got to know each other. Sam’s mom (in classic mom fashion) had forced him to get to the airport 3 hours early, you know, just to be safe, which meant that he arrived at the same time I did. Nothing particularly interesting happened, other than my sitting next to someone who would end up changing my life. We’ve kept in touch ever since, and look where it’s gotten us.

So even if I’ve never managed to have that airplane fling, I did end up with that special someone who’s more about the long term, and even though he can’t quite fulfill all my wishes (try being female, Sam. Seriously), he can certainly draw them.

Do you guys have any good plane stories?


Filed under Stories

29 responses to “The Joys of Airplane Travel

  1. hahaha cartoons are awesome and so is the writing 🙂

  2. Stipdad

    One of your best, Russ and Sam! Like a good Sinatra song – a perfectly deserving man who can’t quite get the girl…..

  3. Really great work, as always! You two get better and better!

  4. Yay! Another post from the dynamic duo! What a relief, honestly… Loved it, and what a great line: “…meeting the parent(s) after just 2 days made me feel like things were moving faster than locusts on plague day.”

  5. Rae

    That’s funny because one of my worst fears is having the person sitting next to me try to make conversation. Whenever I fly with my husband, I make him sit in the middle as a buffer.

    I have two “good” plane stories – once before take-off the plane door fell off on the runway. Instead of putting us on a safe and sound plane, they just hooked it back up and we took off (I survived). Another time I was flying to Hawaii and they had some drawing where a person could win the Golden Coconut (which was basically filled with crap except for the 25,000 free miles). I whispered to my husband, “I’m going to win!” He laughed, but two seconds later they called my name. A little girl was the one who drew the name and was supposed to give me my coconut, but she wouldn’t hand it over. I had to pry it out of her fingers with everyone watching me with a semi-horrified look on their faces. The girl looked like she might cry. Maybe another person would have let her keep it, but that person wouldn’t be me.

  6. Aja

    Awesome, as always. I always just sit with my headphones in because I’m convinced anyone who sits next to me is crazy, and they usually are. When I flew home from California in June the man next to me had to call everyone he knew before he had to shut his phone off to complain about how he had to fly to Seattle because his friend was sick.

  7. sj

    Hee! Russ, I laughed SO HARD at the witch weighing the same as a duck. Awesome. I’m glad you guys are posting again.

  8. I feel like this story is riddled with inaccuracies

  9. I spent so much life time in the air it’s quite incredible I never really had anything exciting happening. Save the odd lost bag, a damaged buggy (which I am still strying to get my refund for, after more than a year!), a missed flight due to traffic (should have listened to my mom and gotten there 3 hours early) and one turn around after 20 minutes of flight due to “a light here that came on and we’d like to have a look at” (of course they couldn’t fix it and we had to get onto a replacement plane).

    So thanks for letting me parttake in your experiences. Always a delightful read!

  10. Reblogged this on mascaradays and commented:
    …a brilliant post with hilarity to reblog when I’m counting down to my own flight !

  11. My only hairline fantasy involves meeting a husky girl in a strange wig with burly blonde nap emerging from her cleavage. Oh wait! What? Sorry. My only airline fantasy involves the person with the seat next to mine stuck at security because their entire carry-on content was toothpaste or something.

    So I don’t really have any airplane stories. I’ve only flown three times since 9/11. Not because I’m afraid of terrorists. I’m afraid of passengers and they won’t let me carry mace on the planes anymore.

    When I was 12, the bus I was on stopped in Novato. A little old lady straight out of the Twilight Zone got on. “Oh sweetie, were you saving this seat for me?” was followed by nigh on an hour of ♪♫ There’s a joy joy joy joy down in my heart ♪♫ all the way the Transbay Terminal. I’m still traumatized. I decided that traveling is very much like diving. You should never travel alone, or when you’re bleeding.

  12. including a four-hour flight during which this guy paced up and down the aisle the entire time like a crazy person, casting waves of anxiety over every other passenger

    Eeeep I pace the aisle a lot because sitting down for a long period makes my back ache. Luckily, I don’t look threatening (or so I hope), being a petite Asian female.

    I have yet to sit beside a sexy stranger. I spot cuties on board all the time but they never end up sitting beside me. 😦

  13. Usually the females I end up sitting next to in flights are elderly ones who like to babble about stuff that I can’t seem to remember, while I’m trying to watch inflight movies.

  14. Hahahaha…this post is hilarious. Love it. Unfortunately I’ve never met anyone life changing on the hundreds of plane journeys I’ve had – but I can dream anyhow :D.

  15. Welcome back! missed your blog. And I actually did meet a tall, dark and handsome foreign stranger on a plane. But it turned more into a long-distance friendship than anything else. Nothing that even comes close to you and Sam!

  16. thecleaneatingchallenge

    Hey there! I’m not sure where to post this but I just nominated you for The Very Inspirational Blogger Award. Congrats! Your blog is awesome! Here is the link:

    And this is what you are supposed to do:

    Display the award logo somewhere on the blog.
    Link back to the blog of the person who nominated you.
    State 7 things about yourself.
    Nominate 15 other bloggers for the award and provide links to their blogs.
    Notify those bloggers that they have been nominated and of the award’s requirements.

    Thanks for writing a great blog!
    Jo 🙂

  17. Aww, this was nice. 🙂 “Sam and Russ: The Origin Story”.

    It’s gonna be a movie, clearly.

  18. On the way back from NYC in June, the accountant next to me kept picking his nose and flicking boogers in my direction. Kind of gross.

  19. Andy Laub

    Ok, ok, ok after much prompting from the voices in my head ( “Hush, Igor, chill Renaldo..”) I have agreed to spill the beans on at least one airplane story. Not the Lucille Ball, Dr. J or Ray Charles story, but the day football great Marcus Allen saved me from suffocation.

    I flew out of Las Vegas for years on business. The flights back home to America’s middle-class night club were often quite entertaining. All the middle aged folks dressing the way they thought you are supposed to look in Las Vegas and not the way they dressed in Akron, that is for sure. Visualize the tight and sexy styles from Wal mart, on large and not so sexy bodies from middle America. I was always impersonating a middle class business man in my rumpled suit and dog tired attitude. But enough of the context, on to the story.

    One Friday, many years ago, I boarded a Southwest flight in Ontario California back to Las Vegas. I had gotten the last seat on the flight, and this was back in the bad old days when we used assigned seating.

    I dashed on the plane late and found my assigned middle seat between two rather, uh, how do we say this delicately, large women. They were both in sour moods (go figure?!) because the airline did not automatically offer seatbelt extenders-they had to request them. These were big girls, to say the least. The serving cart could not pass our aisle, due to the girth of one of my soon to be gal pals.

    After we were all settled in; the flight would not start because some “celebrities” were late in arriving. Of course, the air conditioning couldn’t start for some reason until we were airborne, either. I probably looked like a sweaty, miserable Woody Allen, squeezed between the two largest contestants in “The Biggest Loser” show.

    The celebrities did board: huge, muscular guys. It was some of the members of the then Los Angeles Raider football team. I recognized none of them, but then, I was losing oxygen and sweat and my IQ points at a prodigous rate.

    Then a chiseled, aristocratic man, dressed like a diplomat walked on and sat about eight rows in front of us. It was Marcus Allen!

    Now my seat mates attitudes changed for the better. They even moved (sucked it up is a more apt description) a little and gave me an opportunity to breathe every minute or so.

    Once the plane got airborne I devised a plan to get out of and stay out the seat. I offered to get these ladies the autograph of the very sexy Marcus Allen. Oh, they were ecstatic! They started doing high fives over my head that broke my sunglasses. No problem. It’s not that bright in Las Vegas. If I can survive the flight with only crushed sunglasses, instead of a crushed lung, I would count it as a minor miracle and throw some offering coins into the fountains at Caesars Palace.

    It did take the whole trip to get the autographs-done correctly, thanks to Marcus Allen’s insistence on doing the signing for these large ladies correctly. What I mean is, once they expelled me from their collective grip of lard onto the aisle way, I had to make three trips up and back to see Mr. Allen, as they called him.

    He did ask to have them pointed out; when he looked back and waved at them it sounded like somebody just won the lottery. I felt the plane shudder.

    The first introductory visit with Mr. Allen, I didn’t know their names. (LaTrese and Chantrell). The second

  20. “including a four-hour flight during which this guy paced up and down the aisle the entire time like a crazy person, casting waves of anxiety over every other passenger”

    Why do I have a strange feeling that this is my dad… LOL

  21. Great story. I do have a couple of plane stories, once I’ve purged myself of my hotel ones I may attempt air travel!!

    Keep up the fun!

  22. guinifi

    what a fun read (^o^)

  23. nickybentley

    I actually just posted a blog about my plane experience with American Airlines. Such a joke!

  24. I’ve always fantasized about a summer romance that gets ignited in the airplane (or airport, the sooner the better) but so far have only managed to steal a smile from the steward. And I think that managed to happen only because he’s paid to do that. Ugh.
    Do visit sometime ^^

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