Airplanes make people act funny. Maybe because we’re not naturally supposed to be suspended in the air like that. Maybe because without the right air cabin pressure, the carefully crafted complex machine designed to defy gravity, and the highly skilled operators of said machine, we wouldn’t last a second up there. Maybe we feel a little incredulous that this technology really exists. Or maybe it’s because we’re confined in a sky bus breathing the same stale air as the strangers surrounding us, with absolutely no control of our journey. Whatever it is, we’re not always ourselves when we’re flying.

I’m a model flyer. I arrive early, follow all the rules, and then instantly fall asleep. It’s not even the lull of the movement that does it for me, I can and will fall asleep just sitting on the tarmac.

The last time I flew solo, I was homeward bound following a work trip. I boarded, stowed my carryon backpack securely beneath the seat in front of me, and made sure my seatbelt was buckled and visible to the flight attendant as she passed. I clicked the button in the armrest to ensure that my seat was as upright as could be.

The aisle seat beside me sat empty long enough that I figured I would get my side of the row to myself. But just as the main door to the cabin was closing, a man with long blond hair and dirty cargo pants pushed his way aboard. He flung his camouflage duffle bag over his shoulder so roughly that it hit the man across the aisle in the head before shoving it violently into the overhead compartment. The other man rubbed his temple but said nothing. The latecomer plopped down heavily in the seat beside mine, claiming the skinny armrest as his own. I silently hoped he wouldn’t be a talker.

He sighed. I opened the novel I was reading and turned to the window. When I didn’t look back up, he sighed louder.

“Everything okay?” I asked finally.

“It’s just weird to be on this side of an aircraft.”

“Oh,” I replied. “Do you normally fly first class?”

“No, I’m a pilot. I’ve flown planes five times this size.”

“You’re a pilot?” I repeated. “Well, it must be nice to have the day off.”

“I don’t fly commercial. And I wouldn’t fly this dinky ass plane if they paid me.”

“Oh,” was my only response. I decided I’d feigned interest enough that it would be fine to turn back to my book.

“You know, I specifically chose this seat,” he went on without getting the hint. “Did you hear about the plane that went down a few towns over from here last week? Exact same model as this one. The propellor flew off and seriously disfigured people in the row ahead of ours.”

The bald man directly in front of me turned his head in concern but didn’t ask any questions. Neither did I. I’d never been afraid to fly, and I wanted to keep it that way. I shifted away from him and closed my eyes tight.

The turbulence awoke me. Or maybe it was the obnoxious voice yelling, “steady as she goes!!!!” from beside me. I blinked open my eyes and the seatbelt signs were on. The lights had dimmed as it had become nighttime as we soared through the sky. Sleet pelted the windows now. Over the PA the captain said, “cabin crew, prepare for landing.”

The unlikely pilot beside me yelled helpfully, “just land the fucking plane in one piece!”

We started to descend but then a few minutes later, I felt the aircraft pick up speed and start hurtling upwards again, tearing through the heavy clouds, leaving my stomach somewhere back near the ground.

“Did you hear about the plane that went down, a few towns over from here last week? Exact same model as this one. The propellor flew off and seriously disfigured people…” Echoed in my foggy still half-asleep head.

My neighbor didn’t seem to be concerned about that wreck anymore. Instead, he bellowed, “PUSSYYY!!”

I sank low into my seat hoping nobody thought the two of us were together.

“The current weather conditions are impacting visibility,” the captain explained over the loudspeaker. “We’re going to go around, attempt another landing, but if it’s not safe, we may have to head to Mackenzie Airport and land there.”

“No fucking way am I going to Mackenzie!!!” The guy beside me yelled out again. Then he turned to me to add only slightly more quietly, “that place is a madhouse!”

I’d never been afraid to fly. I never thought twice about it. I followed all the rules, took a nap, then arrived at my destination. Now all I could think was that I was about to die sitting next to this lunatic. I gripped the sides of my seat tight and closed my eyes listening to the soft ripple of hailstones outside the window.

About an eternity later, I felt the wheels hit the runway and the plane erupted with applause. The guy beside me just scoffed.

“So, you wanna grab a drink?” The heckler asked me before we’d even come to a full stop.

Airplanes sure do make people act funny.


12 thoughts on “The Turbulence

  1. I’ve been known to whip out my huge, over-the-ear, noise-canceling headphones for talkers the next seat over on a plane. It seems to be more effective than a book at saying “don’t talk to me”!


  2. My dad was a small plane flight instructor for many years. If this person’s attitude were any consideration, there is no way he is a licensed pilot of any kind. You were beyond gracious in dealing with him, and I’m glad that experience is behind you! (Personally, I’d have brought attention to the right person after the plane was landed and everyone was disembarked. He should be blacklisted from flying that airline ever again!)


  3. Oh, gosh! Honestly, whether that person was truly a pilot or not, he was certainly a nut-job. I don’t know about you, but if I were a pilot, I would be assured that, whoever is flying the plane, is more than competent to make sure we all make it to our destination in one piece. I love traveling and am used to plane rides, but I agree with you that there’s still the little part of my brain that feels uneasy being up in the air, without the ground to ground us in case something happens. Bon voyage!


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