Hey @redcurls100, thanks for the great story! I’m going to move your comment to the main thread about people you’ve met on planes. Thanks again for posting!
In 2000, My father was flying on a red-eye from San Francisco to Philadelphia. My sister was in the hospital following a suicide attempt. Dad’s seatmate was a woman of 35 (my age at the time) who was very subdued and weepy. They were separated by an empty middle seat and did not speak during the flight. Neither one of them was able to sleep much either. When they landed, Dad turned to her and said, “You are obviously sad and I hope that your trip to Philadelphia brings you some comfort.” She replied that her brother had taken his own life the day before, and she was returning home to her family. Dad then opened up about his own reason for traveling, and they exchanged names. Her last name was familiar to Dad, because I went to high school and college with her cousin.
What my father didn’t remember was that I had also dated her brother briefly during the summer before my senior year. He was a very intense guy; we had a short-lived relationship and I never thought much about him as I grew up. I don’t remember if I ever met his sister during the summer that I dated him. Frankly, much of those years is lost to memory. However, she and I had many FB friends in common and her name kept popping up on my screen.
Ten years ago, I got up the courage to send her a private message on FB. We talked for two hours about her brother, my sister, and life in the aftermath of suicide. Although we have never met in person since then, we remain connected to this day more than 18 years later.
About 15 years ago I was returning from an assignment in Switzerland on the always marvelous Swiss Air, this time in first class as business had been sold out. It was my first only and only time in this special lap of luxury, where I found myself seated directly next to the only other person in First. I immediately offered to move across the aisle…after all, there was plenty of room. “Please don’t,” he said.
Looking directly at me he asked, “You don’t know who I am?” No, I admitted. ”Sepp Trütsch.” Still, nothing. “What a very Swiss name,” is the best I could offer. “I am the Swiss Johnny Carson and the fact that you haven’t recognized me is why I asked to share your company. It’s so rare that I can enjoy someone’s simple presence; people become stagestruck and awkward, as I can show you later.
In fact, I had noticed a pile of epaulets, one stacked atop the next, on the shoulders of his shirt. “They tear these off me. Really. Come, I’ll show you what I mean.” Herr Trütsch was acting as tour leader for a group of women going on a special trip to New York and we were about to enter Coach to visit them.
Fortunately, airplane etiquette decreed a modicum of restraint—no one tried to remove any epaulets—but the minute we he parted the curtain his adoring fans swarmed, swooped, and stampeded until we took our leave.
“See? What did I tell you? Now do you understand why it’s been such a pleasure to share your company?” Listening to his stories and having him listen with evident interest to mine was a once-in-a-lifetime finale to my first major European assignment.
It was my first solo flight and I had a window seat. A quick hop from Milwaukee to Detroit in a turbo-prop plane. It was 1966, so like everyone else on the plane, I was looking my best in a Summer shift and sweater, and my hair in a kerchief. As I looked through the items in the seat pocket, paying special attention to what my brother John called the “barf bag,” an older man slipped into the seat beside me.
He probably had lots of experience chatting up the girl seated next to him, because he soon had me telling him all about myself: how long I’d been in Wisconsin; why I was going to Michigan; who was meeting me; my dog’s name. He showed me how to make a drinking cup out of a sheet of paper. Then, as we were talking, I noticed him taking a tiny case out of his pocket, a little larger than a fountain pen. He pulled a small, flat, silver object from it. It was a Minox B, the classic spy camera you’ve seen in a hundred thrillers. “Smile,” he said.
The next week, I found a photograph of my eight-year-old self — eyes rolled back, mouth open in mid-sentence, kerchief askew on the airline seat back — waiting for me in my mailbox. I don’t remember giving him my address, but then, spies have ways of finding things out.
I can’t find the photo of me right now, so you’ll have to make due with the camera.
On our flight to the Virgin Islands for a family vacation, my mom sat next to a woman who lived on the island of St. Thomas. She was very kind and outgoing, and spent a good amount of time talking with my mom. As they were talking, the woman mentioned that she loved to cook and owned a bakery. When she asked my mom where we were staying, my mom told her about the family-run hotel we had discovered online. The woman told us that it was a nice place, and not too far from her bakery! Although we would be spending most of our time on the island of St. John, my mom promised we would visit her bakery during our last few days on St. Thomas.
After a lovely few days on St. John, we took a boat back to St. Thomas to spend a day or two on the island. Our last night there, we pulled up the address the woman had written down and walked around the neighborhood to find her bakery. Although we had walked through that area earlier, our path to the place took us down some residential side streets that we hadn’t been on before. When we got to the address, we found it to be a small house that fit in with the rest of the neighborhood. When we walked up to the door, we knocked and found the woman inside. She was so excited to see us! The place was her own home, but she ran a bakery out of her front room. On the wall were pictures of her family, and she pointed out her children that she had mentioned to my mom on the plane. I honestly can’t remember if we paid for it or if the woman insisted we take it for free, but she gave us one of her specialty “rainbow cakes” to take with us. Each layer was a different color, and it was delicious! It was such a nice experience, and I wish I remembered the woman’s name. I hope she’s doing well and still making delicious cakes!
Several years ago I was traveling to a location to teach. Among other things, as a paramedic, I instruct emergency medical dispatch courses to 9-1-1 dispatchers. I took my seat on the plane and began one of my favorite hobbies, people-watching. Looking at the remaining passengers boarding the plane. An impressive-looking gentleman came on board. Black fur hat, floor-length black robe, long grey beard, and a beautiful carved wood cross on a neck chain. As I thought how cool it would be if he sat next to me, he did. We smiled and said hello to each other. After he was settled in, I commented how beautiful the wooden cross was that he was wearing. That started our conversation which lasted most of the flight. I told him of my many years in emergency services and the places I had traveled. And I told him of my passion for documenting and photographing old historic cemeteries. He then told me the fascinating story of his life as a Russian Orthodox priest. He told me of his years in Russia as a young boy, always wanting to be a priest. He told me of his years of training and becoming a priest in his home town. After several years, he had advanced in the priesthood and was on his way to open a new church and become the parish priest in the city we were traveling to. During his years as a priest he had studied many languages including English, which was very good, but still with a wonderful Eastern European accent. The plane landed, we stood up, and he looked at the paramedic patch on my jacket and said “I felt a little safer with you on this flight.” I looked at him and the cross and said, “I felt safer on this flight because you were on it, too.”
My mom and I were hoping the flight from Paris to New York wasn’t going to be the horror show it looked like being–we were in a DC10 where the seats reclined into the laps of passengers behind you. Well, it was a horror show. The woman in front of me reclined onto my knees and kept flipping her hair up and over the seatback. Thankfully there was redemption by way of a young man who, after introductions between us, told us he was taking some vacation time away from working on a new thing called CERN. This was in 1990 and CERN was just making small headlines in a world where atom-smashing and particle creation was viewed as something to be feared. He was fascinating and informative, making little drawings in his notebook to show us how things would look and work. He made the flight tolerable and educational. Years later when CERN was finished being built and the first tests were transpiring, we wondered if our in-flight friend was still on the team. I wish I could remember his name!
What a beautiful photograph.
Circa 1992, I got a First Class upgrade from Memphis to San Francisco. I had the aisle, and this older country dude had the window. As soon as we were in the air, somebody got up and leaned over me, and said to the guy at the window: “Mr Perkins, may I have your autograph?”
After he got his autograph, I followed him back to his seat and asked who that was. He was shocked that I didn’t recognize Carl Perkins. Carl and I then had a great 3 hour discussion about Blue Suede Shoes, Sun Records, Elvis, throat cancer, growing up as a white sharecropper, and why he was headed to San Francisco. Magical!
on a very long flight from Los Angeles to Sydney Australia I spent a good part of it jogging in place talking with a man who was doing the same. It turned out we were both going on cruises to New Zealand but his was going to Auckland first and going counterclockwise around from the North Island to the South Island then to Tasmania and Sydney, ours was going to Hobart Tasmania first, then clockwise ending in Auckland. We were then going to spend a week in Hawaii visiting my brother. Imagine my surprise when we were going through customs in Honolulu to meet him again!
Years ago I was on a flight from Chicago to San Francisco. I was seated with the mother of a small family, he baby who sat on her lap and the smaller of her sons. the older boys were seated elsewhere with their dad. I ended up entertaining the small boy most of the flight, looking out the window and talking about what we were seeing, telling him stories and so on. He sat on my lap much of the time, allowing his mom to care for the baby. At the end of the flight she thanked me, I told her I had enjoyed his company, then she said " he never goes to strangers like that" I felt honored.
About a month after that, Jim sent me an email that said they received some flight coupons they received from American Airlines and wanted me to have them. They sent me $600 worth of flight coupons.
What did I do with these you may ask? I immediately got a flight to go visit them in Scotland. I left a Year later in the day mom passed and flew home on her birthday. The Scots and I are now very close friends and I will be taking a 2nd trip this year to see them again. My advice to people…take your earbuds out and have a conversation. You never know what amazing people can come into your life.
Such a wonderful story - loved it! <3 Hahaha, too bad this wasn’t like a rom-com or Korean drama - it would have been cute if you had ended up together or something!
I can’t compete with some of the wonderful stories you all have provided, perhaps because the subject specifically states “plane” and not other means of transport.
About 1978 while stationed at Fort Ord, California, I took Amtrak from Salinas, CA to Los Angeles and sat next to an older gentleman. He was a retired railroadman who had worked that line starting in the 1930s, retiring in the '60s.
I had the pleasure of listening to tales of travel on the rails from someone who had lived it - from transporting troops to sitting on a siding after the one (?) time that Japanese naval forces opened fire on the central California coast. And just as good, the changes in railroad technology that he had experienced.
As a retiree, he had free and unlimited travel on Amtrak. As a widower, he took advantage of the free travel.
To echo the voice above, take those ear buds out and take the opportunity to talk to someone. You never know when you might just have an experience that you can tell someone about in 40 years.
Hey, I’d take it as any mode of transportation - the stories still count.
After a week sailing around the Galapagos, we were returning to Quito. The plane was full, save for the seat beside me. A very flustered woman, maybe 60, boarded and sat there. Though we were on the equator and it was warm, she was dressed in a winter coat. She grabbed my magazine and started to fan herself furiously. She complained to me that she was hot, so I suggested that she remove the coat. She did and thanked me. The same thing happened again a minute later, first with her down vest, then sweatshirt, then long sleeved shirt… When we began to taxi, she put her feet up on her seat and got into a fetal position - then complained about how uncomfortable she was. I asked her name. Judith. I said, “Judith, why don’t you just put your feet on the floor? I can’t, it will make the plane too heavy.” I tried to talk calmly and be kind, as clearly she was terrified.
She told me that “that man” (gesturing a couple rows back) was going to hurt her and asked me to make him stop. They served lunch. She was apparently claustrophobic, as she removed another layer, a necklace, her rings, earrings and finally her teeth! ALL that, plus her wallet, passport and several bottles of meds wound up on MY lunch tray. She started shouting and crying. I called for the flight attendant; she called for a doctor. Two showed up, argued with each other about her situation, and both quit. The plane put down in Guayaquil and they asked all passengers to deplane - except for Judith. But, at the last minute, they asked me to stay on board to help. Two medics, officials from the local government, and from the US Consulate came on. Judith was motionless by now, until they tried to give her an injection to sedate her. She broke the needle when she jerked. By the end, she had removed more clothes and was carried off wearing just a one-piece swimsuit. I handed off Judith’s possessions to the men from the Consulate. The other passengers reboarded and we continued to Quito. I had been given minimal information about Judith’s fate.
The next week, in line at the airport to return to NY, I saw Judith. She was staring into space, but her eyes focused in… she rushed over, saying “thank you for helping me.” She was with a friend who had flown from Miami to accompany her home to New York. The friend spoke to me, explained a bit about Judith’s illness, and thanked me too. It was simultaneously heartbreaking and heartwarming. This was 23 years ago and I can picture it clearly. And I wonder what ever became of Judith.
I love this story. I mean, tough plane ride. But a good story.
Glad you were there to help her, even better was the closure you both got afterwards.
This story made me weepy. In a good way.