I was preparing a laundry list of complaints as I sat in my seat – cattle-call boarding, obsequiously happy service staff, constant lateness, stress fractured planes and a passenger list consisting of those that should never be on a plane in the first place: junkies, babies, villains, students, embalmers, sports teams, the poor and frightened.
Naturally, my flight was late getting off the ground. Of course, there were several screaming children whose bald, sweaty heads looked like peeled potatoes with teeth. I sneezed and blew away all of my snack and thimble of drink.
At landing, the fuselage careened wildly from side to side as the wheels finally found purchase. The flight was continuing on after our stop in Baltimore, but not a soul stayed on the plane: they weren’t going to tempt fate twice.
But as in all moments where you contemplate your death, you must look for some light and joy in the darkness. I, as a proud villain of the poorhouse, began to see those small charms of this foul wingèd existence, the madness that makes this airline its glorious self.
Where else will the pilot use the intercom to remind all passengers that though many of us have doubtless flown many times, we had a first-timer in our midst, a virgin of the airways whose feet had never left the green firmament.
What surprised me, callous swine that I am, is how genuine and remarkable this woman’s first flying experience, taking place just across the aisle in the middle seat of all things, was: how she marveled at the ground slipping away beneath us, how she took every crewmember instruction to heart and applauded when the plane touched down at our destination.
Sitting in the very last row, I was also privy to the conversations of the flight attendants in the aft galley immediately behind me. Hearing them talk of taking on extra work to pay bills while swapping horror stories of nightmarish passengers, I forgot the puny peanut packs and scrunched leg room.
The whine of the engines, ready to fall off at a moment’s notice, did not entirely drown out the conversation of two people trying to do their job with a little bit of humility, good humor and grace.