His: When the Boeing 767’s wheels went up out of Austin, I, at 6’3”, was feeling blessed to have the aisle seat. Able to peep the old legs out in between the aggressive German flight attendants pushing the beverage carts, and the uncomfortable bathroom traffic looking ashamed coming and going, getting a quick stretch was crucial for me on this ten-hour flight. Yes this three-star airline was my vessel to a new land, a new chapter in life, and there I was, captaining her from row 34, seat D, ready to conquer anything. Or so I thought. I knew the aisle was great for my bad knee, but what I didn’t know, was a bomb, undetected by security, was cultivating right under my nose.
As we made our ascent, I read a little Thunderball and periodically looked up on the in-flight tracker to see our progress. Ten-thousand feet, fifteen-thousand feet, twenty-thousand feet we climbed.
Unbeknownst to me, a vortex of stink had begun to form, and I, in row 34, was downwind (leeward for all you sailors), a sitting duck.
Thirty-thousand feet. I remember we were almost out of Texas when the first bomb hit and shook me to my core, followed by a steady stream of foulness that would make a garbage man retch.
I told Ashley, and she vehemently denied smelling anything, and just when I was about to call her out for denying and supplying, the second wave came.
These were no ordinary farts. These were the farts of the world. Indian, German, French, American, Chinese. A barrage of different smells threw haymakers at my nostrils. Baby farts, old people “I can’t control it” farts, nervous lady farts, dog farts, sleeping farts. The smells, 33 accumulated rows of those awful smells, jettisoned without regard for the collateral damage they would cause, put me seconds away from finding a window and breaking through it for some fresh, 600 mph air. Finally, the attacks ceased, and I turned to seek solace from Ashley, who was safe from the stink bombs. Ashley was not okay. Ashley was fighting a battle of her own.
Hers: I was in the middle of the plane, in the middle aisle, in the middle seat. The seat nobody wants. On the left I had Tyler, taking up half of my seat and part of the aisle. (He “needed” to be in the aisle seat because of a bad knee…) On the other side of me, there was a small guy in his late 20’s. He had dusty brown hair styled in a grown-out bowl haircut, a wrinkly black shirt, and jumpy eyes. During the customary, “Hello, I am sitting by you” introduction, he reeked of alcohol. Being the subtle gal I am, I offered Tyler a piece of gum and then turned to Sleep Toucher (hereafter ST and explained below) with my minty treat. He accepted and I celebrated my secret victory by putting on headphones, listening to some classical music (what I used to study to in college) and starting a book.
Fast forward past our airplane food dinner (pasta, maybe cole slaw, and chocolate pudding) and a few (more) drinks for ST later, and I felt the Melatonin I had taken start to kick in. I am an incredibly light sleeper, so I put my travel pillow on the tray table in front of me, a blanket over my head, and turned on “Mountain Rain Sounds” to drown out the hum of the plane and the crying baby behind me. I had just gotten comfortable when I felt a touch on my right arm. Head up, blanket off. I looked over at ST. He was hunched over, fervently filling out a crossword puzzle. Oh, okay. He accidentally touched me. Back to almost sleep!
I cuddled up to my pillow and let the rain noises lull me to travel-inspired dreams. Hand on my back. “He must be trying to get comfortable,” I thought. I ignored it and kept my eyes closed. I slept for about an hour when all of a sudden, I felt someone holding the fingers on my exposed hand. Tyler? Nope! Sleep Toucher.
Appalled, I looked at Tyler for help. He said, “Do you smell that?” I had no idea what he was talking about, but apparently he hadn’t seen my seat neighbor’s actions. Maybe I was being groggily sensitive. Back to sleep.
At that point, ST must have finished his 6th small Jack Daniels of the plane ride because he had an empty stack of cups. Somehow the cups ended up on my tray, on my head. On. My. Head. I felt them through my blanket, pushed them off and, looked directly at him. At that point, he was so drunk that he spilled a cup of water on his lap and slurred something I couldn’t understand. I was not not dealing with him. I pulled the blanket tighter over my head and scooted as far left as possible, almost in Tyler’s seat. I breathed and put my head down one more time. Melatonin induced sleep overtook me and I drifted off in my airplane seat cocoon.
All of a sudden, there was a booming “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” Awake again! Tyler was leaning over me, pointing at something. ST sat wide-eyed and frozen, holding my phone and charger. He slowly dropped it and turned around to face his aisle. What just happened? Tyler and I stand up in unison and silently switch seats. I get up and go find a flight attendant, a little too late.
She offered to move him, but I said it was okay just as long as they stopped serving him. She completely agreed and I finally went back to my seat to sleep in peace. Tyler now had the middle.
His: Unbelievable. I watched this dude try to steal Ashley’s charger, connected to her phone and to the screen in front of HER seat. We had to switch. I sat down and watched him drunkenly and unsuccessfully navigate the touch screen, and then proceed to ask the flight attendants for anything they had, and asked them to bring it in a “Tall Cup” as he held his index finger about a foot above the other. Sleep Toucher didn’t have the chance with me, so he’s Tall Cup Guy.
So.. I was now in the center square of a tic-tac-toe game from hell. I didn’t want to sit by Tall Cup Guy, and I definitely didn’t want to babysit him while he spilled drink after drink because he forgot his tray table was down.
My father wrote the book on armrest etiquette, and over the years he’s given me tricks and tips to dominate the seat and put my elbows wherever the hell I want to. But I was no match for Tall Cup Guy. He wouldn’t quit. Every time I had him on the ropes he found a way to get back in the fight. A sober man would have conceded and leaned away when I had his forearm walking the skinny, gray plank, but Tall Cup Guy? No. There was no surrender in this man, so after several minutes and awkward elbow touching, I leaned left, defeated.
Two a.m. we were just south of Greenland, and I, recovering in Ashley’s seat, was safe and filling my lungs with less-contaminated fart air. It was finally time for some wonderful economy class airplane sleep.