Unforgettable People You've Met on a Plane

Unforgettable for all the wrong reasons , but a pair of Geordie (from Newcastle) evangelical christians who were former heroin addicts on a flight from Mexico city to London , it was hellish (pun intended :stuck_out_tongue: )

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She wouldn’t (couldn’t) stop crying. I was flying from Albuquerque, NM to Seattle, WA and was seated next to an older teenager girl. She seemed sweet and looked like a young Sarah Paulson with very tinder brown eyes. Her face was red from crying. From the moment she sat down to the time we left the plane she was surrounded in a deep cloak of sadness. It wasn’t normal “teen” stuff. It was the intense emotion of leaving someone she loved, or a place where she was happy or a time she would never be able to return. I asked if she was okay, but she just nodded her head no and looked at me through her tears. Then turned her head. About 20 minutes after take off, she put her hand on my right hand and held it as she just looked forward. We never spoke but help hands for a while. She slept the rest of the flight. I think she just needed a friendly stranger. But she never wanted to talk. Eventually she fell asleep. She had to be emotionally exhausted. When we stood up after landing, she hugged me and said, “Thanks.” Those were her only words during the entire flight. I have thought her often and hope that everything turned out okay.

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M______ C_______ who was a South American woman I met in the airport in the mid-80s when our flight was delayed by bad weather. I’d grabbed a soda and gone into the lounge and found an open seat at a table she was at and asked if she minded if I sat there and soon enough we started talking and she turned out to be smart and funny and charming and as the delay got longer as the weather got worse we got deeper into things and I was surprised (unfairly, I know, but still) to learn that a lovely young woman was in the business of streamlining operations for the meat-packing industry and so there went three hours and when we finally boarded we found we were sitting next to one another and the whole thing was delightful and kinda sexy and I got her info and we kept in touch for a short while but you know the way things go I lost the paper and we lost touch and decades go by and to this day I think about her from time to time because I think she was one of those doors you come across in life that make you wonder where you’d be if you opened it.

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I met a man on a flight from Lisbon to Vienna (he was going from one conference to another and I had a connecting flight on a vacation). We talked the entire flight, exchanged emails and continued talking until baggage claim. Two days later we met for coffe, and I joined him on his way to the CAT train, where he kissed me. We continued emailing, and after many daily emails, 2 trips each back and forth between NYC and Dublin, we got engaged a year after we met.

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I was travelling from a stopover in Iceland back home to Boston, just having spent a birthday week with one of my favourite people in Sweden. I was sad, as the ending of an adventure-filled week was setting in. A nice couple sat next to me, the woman in the middle seat. I noticed her, white knuckled and praying, already wishing the flight was already over just minutes after we had taken off. We hit some light turbulence an hour or so into the flight and she went into an almost panic attack, grabbing my hand. We sat that way for the rest of the flight, as she told me about their trip to Iceland and her son who lives in Boston and that she’s from Brazil, near where my sister-in-law grew up.

She kept asking if it was okay if she held my hand, that it was helping her get through the flight. Her husband was grateful. And so was I, in a way, as it helped me get out of my own head about leaving Sweden and Iceland going home and back to the real world the next day… I’m not sure whose flight was improved more, hers or mine.

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I was living in Louisville, Ky., working as a graphic designer at the newspaper, and flying home to visit family in Colorado. I was seated next to a Jean-Claude Van Damme look-alike who was a sportscaster for the Swiss National TV station, flying to Salt Lake City to cover the Olympics. He was very excited to see the Rockies on the last leg of his flight from DIA to SLC.

At one point, I told him that I thought we were getting close to Denver, and that he may be able to see the Rockies in the distance. But as we looked below us at the ground, it looked like eastern Colorado was covered with a glittering blanket of snow. I kept commenting things like “Wow! There must have been a huge snowstorm that covered everything so thoroughly! I can’t even see any trees!” Eastern Colorado is pretty barren, but usually you can see a few roads, at least. As we got closer and closer to the snow, I wondered why nobody else seemed nervous.

Eventually, it looked like we were about to crash-land right into this crystalline ground covering. I had this poor newscaster (and myself!) SO convinced that what we were looking at was, in fact, snow-covered ground, that we held hands and squeezed our eyes shut as the plane touched it. When we emerged on the bottom side of the smoothest cloud bank I have ever seen, we let go of each other’s hands, laughed hysterically, and enjoyed watching the brown farmland of eastern Colorado roll beneath the plane as we landed uneventfully.

I have never felt so stupid in my life.

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So I met this woman carla she and I had such a similar background we talked to the whole 3 hour flight. We stayed in contact and then we didn’t talk for a few years till I got engaged and I messaged her and she agreed to photograph my wedding. Before the wedding I flew out to Kansas where she lived so we could do my bridal photos and my engagement photos she became my best friend and she shot the wedding and my indian reception 7 months later. She is one of the most amazing women I have ever met and she gave me something o never expected and that was photos where she captured my beauty and showed me I was beautiful. I forever will treasure our relationship, photos, the part she played in my wedding (she was basically a family member by the time the wedding rolled around), she was involved in shooting the announcement of my pregnancy and she is just so amazing I will forever thank God for placing me in the seat next to her.

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En route to a Puerto Vallarata vacation, our young family was waiting at the South Bend airport when I recognized Muhammad Ali sitting down the way. [It was well known in the area that, for years “The Greatest” lived in relative seclusion on a riverfront farm in Buchanan, Mich. about 15 miles away.] My 5 yr old son was too shy, but my gregarious 3 yr old daughter accompanied me to meet the champ. We approached the entourage - his wife, Yolanda, three children and his longtime bodyguard and personal photographer - stopping at a respectful distance. Without hesitation, he stood and walked right to us, shaking hands and shakily asking my daughter for a high-five. It was a real thrill for me.
We board a tiny commuter plane for the 35 min. puddle-jump over Lake Michigan to the Mexico connection at Midway Airport. Ali & Co. then board and he and Yolanda sit behind my daughter and me. In flight, she keeps looking between the seats, laughing. Ali is playing peek-a-boo.
The next morning, the kids are watching TV in the bedroom when I hear my daughter yelling, “High-five! High-five!” In the bedroom, my daughter is jumping on the bed and Ali’s lighting the Olympic torch in Atlanta. He was front page news in all the papers, and we kept that picture on our fridge for probably 10 years. To this day, we refer to the The Greatest as High-Five.

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I love this story @ raymondlowey1! I’m going to move the comment over to the main discussion thread, here:

2002; just going back Stateside from Germany after meeting my now-husband’s family. He got stuck with some stupid visa thing. Vast amounts of stress, foreign language, tears on my part. I get to the gateway, they were just shutting the door. They booted out the man they had given my seat to (god, how embarrassing). I sat down, on the verge of tears from total stress.

The elderly man sitting next to me (in my boyfriend’s seat) asked me what was wrong. I told him. We chatted off-and-on for the 8 hr flight. He was from Sweden; my husband lived there and loves the country and mourns the fact he can’t practice his Swedish. He is an engineer; my husband studied at a big-time technical university that he had actually heard of. He had similar interests to my husband. He would have been the perfect person for my husband to sit next to.

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Flying from JFK to Berlin with just me and my then-4 yr old son. Got stuck in the middle two of four seats. When stewardess came by to ask about dinner orders, I had to order on one aisle and my son on the other. As the attendant came, she looked at the man on the aisle, my young son, and me and obviously assumed we were a family. “What would your son like to eat?” He asked my son what he wanted, gave a brief “is that ok?” look to me, and then simply ordered for my son and himself.
He apologized to me afterwards, saying he didn’t know how to respond in such a surprise. I assured him it was perfectly fine. It was so sweet that he did not want my son to feel rejected.
He didn’t chat with me or my son for the rest of the flight, just helped out with the dinner and went to sleep. It was kind and thoughtful to my son.

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On my way home from a summer school session abroad in Italy. The guy next to me was older but in handsome sorta way, and he asked me where I was traveling from. I was a little afraid it was flirting, but actually his wife and two kids were a few rows down, it was a family vacation because he wanted to show his family the world, and our conversation ended up being exchanging life advice. We were exact opposites, he was rich/ I was dirt poor (summer abroad was scholarship, and I could barely afford to eat while I was there haha) big family/ no family, older/younger. It was just nice getting to ask a stranger about whatever you wanted, knowing you’ll never speak again. I’m pretty sure he felt the same way. It was just a weirdly honest, frank conversation that wouldn’t have happened in any other situation. I hope he’s doing okay, I think about him a lot.

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I was returning home for the final time from studying abroad for a year at a college in Japan. The flight was almost full, but miraculously the seat next to me sat unoccupied. Right before the doors of the plane were to be closed, a young lady, ostensibly of high school age rushed into the plane, flustered and tense. She piled herself into the seat next to me, and for the next hour of the flight mimicked my every move. “Would you care for something to drink sir?” “may I have a coffee and a water please?” “and for you miss?” “coffee and water.” She seemingly gulped in air and spat out her words as though the faster she rid herself of them, the sooner her nervous energy would diminish, even if just slightly.

After the first meal service, I decided that maybe I should try to talk to her to see if that may help her calm down. Moments before I was going to turn and speak, she inhales sharply, turns to me suddenly, and as fast as she can says “where are you going?” I explained I was returning to Indianapolis, my home, after studying abroad. It turns out she was from South Korea, leaving home for the first time. She too was traveling for the purpose of studying abroad, though her journey was just beginning. She was to study at a small high school in rural Illinois, and to live with a host family whom she had never met.

We spent the remainder of the flight chatting, talking about the midwestern United States, and what she may expect from her time abroad. We shared headphones and listened to music, and became fast friends over our 13 hours together. It felt so good, at the conclusion of my formative experience to able to simply be there for someone apprehensive at the outset of their own adventure.

After hustling through customs I had to scramble off to catch my connection. It wasn’t until 15 years later that through the miracle of the internet we caught back up, her looking me up on a whim, sure I had forgotten who she was. We keep in touch, occasionally checking in and chatting about big-picture life concerns, enjoying the solace of sharing with someone who is completely removed from the banal concerns of our every day lives. We’ve shared art and music, one piece of which is her rendering of our formative experience together.

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Last June, on a six-hour flight from New York, I had the honor of sitting next to Deborah Greenberg, the widow of civil rights legend, Jack Greenberg, one of the attorneys who argued the landmark Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court case, and who would later represent Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. after his arrest in Alabama. We talked for a long time about the ailing state of our nation, and I asked her what Jack would have thought of our current president (Jack died right before 45 was sworn in), and how he’d feel about the fragile state of our democracy. She said, “Jack would’ve thought we’d bounce back”, and she flashed me a hopeful smile. Deborah, now in her eighties, and herself an accomplished civil rights attorney, was charming, perky and quick-witted. She downplayed her own accomplishments (even though she’s met a few presidents and argued before the Supreme Court), and lovingly reminisced about her husband’s decades-long work with the NAACP and revealed that he was only 27 years old when he had the honor of working with Thurgood Marshall on our nation’s most monumental civil rights case, which she simply referred to as “Brown”. So tonight, when you go to bed, just remember: we’re gonna bounce back. Because we’re a resilient nation, and there are still heroes out there ready to fight for equality and justice.

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Thank you for the great story and the hope!

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Five or six years ago, as I sat at an airport gate in New Hampshire, I noticed the woman sitting next to me was with a little boy who was getting ready to fly alone. She was his aunt, as it turned out, and she was accompanying him to board his flight at the gate- but he was returning home alone to Louisville after a summer in New England (our plane was making two stops- Baltimore, then Louisville). I began chatting with them at the gate, and offered to help him while on the plane if he needed it, since he would be flying by himself. She was very appreciative of that. As it turned out, he was the sweetest, most delightful, clever little boy. His name was Victor. He boarded first, but saved me a seat. (On Southwest there are no assigned seats.) So I sat next to Victor when I got on board and he told me it was his first time flying alone. He was so excited but also a little nervous and I explained to him the things that would happen when we took off and landed. Victor told me his mom died while traveling, which really struck me. So I didn’t want him to be scared about traveling. 30 minutes in to the flight, Victor was leaning on my shoulder and we were looking at pictures in the magazine together. He was so sweet and cute and I was sad to leave him when I got off the plane in Baltimore! Victor hugged me and made me write down his dad’s phone number so I could call and talk to the two of them sometime. I knew I probably wouldn’t actually call, but I wrote his dad a brief note just saying it was a pleasure to fly with his son, and signed my name. Who knows, maybe one day when I’m an 85 year old woman on a plane alone Victor will be randomly seated next to me and talk to me throughout the flight…

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Back in 1999, I flew to Ireland to do some studying and touring. I was a middle aged farm girl from the Sandhills of Nebraska., and this was my first time on ANY airplane. So traveling by jet over the Antlantic to a foreign country was almost overwhelmingly.
The young British man sitting next to me was friendly and struck up a conversation with me. I knew he was flying from the States, so I asked what he did while in the U.S. He said he and some mates went to Texas and worked on wheat harvesting crews that harvested fields of wheat for farmers, from Texas to North Dakota, then back down to Texas. I was very familiar with the harvest crews, traveling in long caravans of tractors, combines, trucks, and travel trailers going from wheat farm to wheat farm.
I asked him if his crew went through Nebraska. --Yes. What towns did he go through?–he could only remember a couple, Alliance, Hemingford and Chadron. I told him I was born in Chadron, and my dsughter lived in Alliance! We got to talking about it, and it tirned out he’d had drinks at a bar in Alliance(he knew the name)with her and some of her friends, and he told me some of their names
What are the odds ofsitting next to a Brit, in a jet, halfway across the Atlantic, who just happened to have shared drinks with your daughter in a small town in the middle of nowhere in Nebraska?

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I had to come in to Chicago for a conference that I was speaking in a panel for… because we got 10 inches of snow in my hometown there were a bunch of delayed flights and whatnot.

I end up jumping around to like three different flights in the Delta app as they are getting delayed and cancelled right and left. Finally get on a plane headed for Chicago, and this lady from Africa is sitting next to me. I know she’s from Africa, not because she’s like dressed all crazy or anything, but just the accent.

I figure this is the perfect time to try and put some of the skills I learned from a webinar I had attended recently to use, and just listen to her story and empathize and not try and talk so much. One of the things they said in the webinar that hit home to me was that you don’t have to witness to everybody, but it’s a victory just to talk to someone and get to know them and actually enjoy it, something I really need to work on as that doesn’t come naturally to me.

I end up chatting with her and she tells me she’s a musician coming from a show, so I’m talking with her about that for a while and just a nice lady in general.

So I asked her what her name was and it’s Angelique Kidjo, which doesn’t mean much to me at the time, but I guess she’s the jam over in Africa and has won three Grammys.

She was sitting coach with the rest of us peasants because of all the snow she had got bumped from a flight and took a coach seat when she normally flies first class haha.

So the even better part is that I get in my Uber at the airport and the guy’s name is Akeem and I can tell right away that he’s Nigerian so I tell him the story and he freaking flips out and loses it getting all excited and crap. He even scolded me because I didn’t get her autograph haha.

Anyways, interesting night, and I totally wouldn’t have had this story if I had done what I normally do and just put my earbuds in and bury my face in my phone. Was kind if cool to see how that whole thing developed…from this being the third flight I had hopped to, to deciding to help this lady with her coat, and turning out to be who it was, then being able to make a cab drivers day with the story and what not. Just felt like it all happened for a reason. I don’t know what reason that is, but it just felt very purposeful.

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Not a big deal for most people but I got to sit next to legendary Coach Lou Holts on a flight from NY to Orlando. We talked about how to motivate people, but the highlight was when I told him a story about my Mother-in-law who was struggling as she had just put her husband in long term care and was wrought with guilt (he had advanced Alzheimer’s). Coach pulled out his personal stationary and wrote a beautifull motivational letter to her. She was a huge collage sports fan. When I gave the letter to her she was delighted and framed it. She is now in long term care and has the framed letter in her room. Although she now has Alzheimer’s she knows what the letter is and treasures it.

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In the 1970’s I was just beginning my career in business and "public affairs"after working a short time for the government. I had to testify at a hearing in Washington, D.C. and had scheduled a number of speaking engagements back home in California. I was an inexperienced public speaker and very self-conscious. While in D.C. I bought a new book entitled “Speak Up With Confidence,” written by a legendary D.C. figure, Jack Valenti. Valenti had been an advisor and press secretary to LBJ in the tumultuous days following JFK’s assassination. But he was better known, later in his career, as the head of the Motion Picture Association of America…Hollywood’s lobbyist in Washington.

On a flight from Dulles Airport to LAX, I was upgraded to first class, and who walks onto the plane to take the sea right next to me but Jack Valenti. For the next four hours we (mostly he) talked about many subjects, including the book and my “anxiety” about public speaking. I arrived in L.A. thinking I should have paid him tuition. A very gracious, nice man. The bottom line: “Know your subject, and know it well.”

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