Stories from the window seat
I have been fortunate enough as have many other millennials to have had the ability to fly to foreign countries both far and away from this little island we live on. During many of the flights, I have been with family or friends, able to talk easily and feel comfortable using their shoulder as a head rest. However, I have occasionally had the delight or displeasure of sitting next to strangers. I have sat next to a rather large and boisterous American on my way to New York. I have cringed as a middle-aged woman began to break into song during a flight to Greece. And as recently as last week, a scaly woman with a Yorkshire accent sat behind me on a flight to Germany. Ane, my girlfriend complained “I smell cats and cigarettes.” Though, I will instead be telling the stories of some wonderful strangers I’ve had the pleasure to meet on my travels.
I’ve had many encounters in the sky but here I will be only reflecting on three. Maybe I will make more than one of these. The first time I sat next to a stranger on an airplane was back in 2006 during a family holiday to Florida. I had originally been sat next to my sister but my grandma decided it would be best if I sat next to a teenage boy not too many years older than myself at the time. I sat down next to a skinny boy who had his knees crushed against the seat in front. I introduced myself, his name was David and he was with his younger cousin, who’s name escapes me. David was 15 and enjoyed films and listening to a variety of rock music. As I was about to enter high school and worried about the transition I decided to ask David if I would be able to settle okay. He spoke at length about the great positives of going to secondary school and how the people I would meet would be those I would know for the rest of my life. And you know, he was right. I remember one thing he said “No one really likes change but variation is what makes everything interesting.” We spent several hours along with his cousin talking about our similar interests and what we wanted to do when we were much older. He wanted a job in graphic design and reassured me his guitar playing skills were by far the best I would have seen. After landing, I passed through security with my family and enjoyed my holiday. Back at Manchester airport two weeks later, I was collecting my suitcase from the carousel when I heard David shout from the other side of the room. We had a small conversation before I was dragged away to catch a taxi. I often wonder if he is doing well, I have a feeling he is.
On a flight from Los Angeles to Minneapolis, I sat next to an American gentleman who had been in LA for business, only for his wife to call to deliver the news that her waters had broken and thus, he had to catch the next flight home. I must state now that I have forgotten his name and had done by the end of the flight. He was average build, wore thick rectangular glasses and was wearing a smart shirt and tie. He had a beard and resembled Louis Theroux ever so slightly. He worked for a software company and was visiting the headquarters in Los Angeles for a meeting which he confidently told me was dull and repetitive. He had returned to his hotel that afternoon for lunch and received a call from his wife. He had of course found the next available flight and was hoping he could get there as soon as possible. He had proceeded to travel to California as his baby’s due date was established for three weeks later. He described to me his emotions and resembling a father already, showed me the baby scans and a picture of his wife. He had moved close to Minneapolis five years earlier from Chicago to be with his wife who had a secure job as a teacher if I remember rightly. As we approached our destination, I remember noticing his left leg bouncing up and down and of course he checked his watch at least a dozen times. We disembarked the plane, I shook his hand wished him the best of luck. He hoped my flight back to Boston was comfortable and he wished me well going back to the UK and off he ran to departures. I hope he made it in time for the birth, and if he didn’t he did his very best. After being next to him for 4 hours, I could tell he was going to be a good dad.
Another experience and my last written here, was on a flight back from Boston. In typical transatlantic fashion, flights to the UK depart late at night, arriving early in the morning. Tired, I sat down on a row where a woman in her early thirties had already unfurled her blanket. She was positioned next to the window seat and I was by the aisle, able to stretch my legs out. In between us, a free seat. We began chatting during the take-off, she was a nervous flier but experienced. She had her routine of listening to music and drinking water frequently to help distract herself from her fears. She had to fly to London four times a year to oversee the advertising and marketing policies of the American based company she worked for. Her name was Sarah and she lived in Newton, not too far from Boston. After learning about my circumstances, she asked if I had enjoyed my time at Bridgewater and my thoughts in general about Massachusetts and America. She told me I was silly because I loved Boston and said “try joining the traffic on your commute every morning, then you will change your mind.” After take-off, the stewards began handing out evening meals, Sarah gave me her complimentary wine and told me the story of how she had once taken advantage of the free drinks and had told a passenger to “sit down and shut the fuck up” in her strong Boston accent. This occurred after the man had verbally abused a member of the cabin crew because she had spilt some lager on his shoes. After eating, we both tried to get some sleep. Waking a few hours later as the morning sun shone through the small windows, we wished one another good morning and drank our morning coffee. We talked some more, her son and daughter both played soccer (I reminded her it is ‘football’, she didn’t change). She had studied a minor in history at college and her husband had done some archaeology with his grandad. After landing, we shook hands, wished each other well and as she walked towards departures, she turned and shouted “nice to meet you Tom!” I wonder now if she still must travel to the UK often and I hope she is still happy in her work and with her family.
How very curious it is that we often call our surroundings a ‘small world’ and yet the people you pass on the motorway, the people you share a train or bus with, the people you sit next to for hours on a plane, you will almost certainly never meet again. However, in just a couple of hours you can listen to their life story and remember them for the rest of your own lifetime. The world is full of connections and each encounter helps to develop our own personality and actions, no matter how large or small, each is significant and memorable if you choose to pay attention. Next time you’re travelling alone, try it, open up and you may just enjoy a memorable meeting.