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.
My husband and I were on our way from Austin to New Orleans, where we planned to get married. There was bad weather in the area, and we had to land in San Antonio. Then they sent us to Houston. If we didn’t make it to New Orleans on Friday, we wouldn’t be able to get the marriage license in time to get married Saturday, which was Halloween. We decided to rent a car and drive from Houston. While we were sitting in the airport, I noticed 2 young ladies from England, who were on our flight, and also trying to get to New Orleans. We decided to ask them if they would like to share a rental car with us. They said yes, so we started driving, unfortunately right along with the storm. Eventually, we were tired, and the storm was pretty bad, so we stopped and shared a hotel room, got a few hours sleep, then had breakfast. We realized it was getting too late to make it all the way to NOLA and get our marriage license, so we stopped in Lafayette to get the paperwork. Then we drove the rest of the way to New Orleans. We kept in touch for the weekend by text and Facebook. I always hoped the 4 of us would meet again, but a few years ago, one of the girls passed away. I might actually get a chance to meet her mother in Scotland this fall. Every year on our anniversary, I think of the girls and message the surviving one, in memory of our shared adventure. <3
Oh Wow!! I’m writing from Aotearoa New Zealand and saw Angelique Kidjo in concert two weeks ago at Womad, a festival of world music, dance and experience. She was and is amazing. Lucky you!
That is wild! I love your story but I have so many questions!
I forget exactly where I was going, but it was a business trip and some relatively long flight. I do remember I was leaving from Charlotte Douglass International. I placed my bag in the overhead and didn’t even get seated yet before I heard “Well hello Mr. (my last name)”. I didn’t recognize the voice. I looked around not recognizing any faces but I did see a woman making eye contact. I had no idea she was and she knew that by my expression. “You don’t remember me do you?” she asked somewhat incredulously. At this point everybody in the immediate area including one flight attendant stopped what they were doing and started watching.
“Apologies, but no I don’t. How have we met?”
“You interviewed me for a job last year. I didn’t get it.” She stated (not quietly).
Oops… To be fair at this point I interviewed anywhere between 50 -80 people a year. I remembered some, but certainly not all. I did have the wisdom to know that information wouldn’t exactly be helpful though. At this point I was very aware of two things. All the eyes in the area were on us, and traffic was starting to back up behind me. I needed to extricate myself from this awkward sandwich in a hurry.
“Oh yeah!, for X position right? (In all actuality I still had no clue, but I had only interviewed for one position last year. whew…) Apologies again but I’m horrible with names what was yours again?” she gave it to me “Hey I know everybody is trying to get to their seats here, I’d love to catch up when we get to X airport, but I’m going to head on to my seat now, great to see you again!” Then I look down at my ticket and realize that I’m sitting right beside her.
“Actually it looks like we’ll doing that catching up all the way to X because I’ve got that aisle seat right there beside you”. Everybody around either groaned, gasped, or laughed.
Things were a little tense at first, but a couple of hours and a couple of drinks later (the flight attendant that overheard didn’t charge us for the first one lol) things loosened up and we actually had a great conversation for the most of the flight. Eventually we realized we had a couple of common friends, and acquaintances. So that gave us plenty to talk about.
As plane acquaintances go though she is certainly one I’ll never forget. Again…
My airplane story didn’t technically take place on the airplane, but on the bus ride from plane to terminal after I had landed in Lilongwe, Malawi. This was in 2003. I had barely heard of Malawi, and I had never heard of Lilongwe, its capital. I was there to make a connection on my way from Ethiopia to Zimbabwe, where I was going to write a story about that country’s famine. During the short bus ride from the plane to terminal, a young Malawian man in a flowered purple shirt struck up a conversation with me–I was the only white guy on bus, and clearly not Malawian. In the three minutes or so of the bus ride, I learned that he was a Pentecostal minister named Martin on his way back from a revival in Uganda, that he was a former insurance salesman, that he had never met someone Jewish before, and he was absolutely thrilled because we were both “sons of Abraham.”
Get to the terminal: Turns out that Air Zimbabwe hasn’t sent the plane, and there’s no way for me to get to Zimbabwe, so I am stuck in Malawi for a couple days till I can get a flight home. After some begging, customs officials granted me a short visa and let me into the terminal–where I find Martin waiting for me. He had seen my holdup and decided to stick around to help me. He said, “God has sent you to me for a reason, son of Abraham.” My atheist self thought: “Not really–Air Zimbabwe is just a bad airline.” Martin invited me to stay in his house instead of a hotel, and I said yes.
He brought me home to his wife and two-year-old son. His son cried every time he saw me, which Martin credited to the boy never having seen a white person before. Martin gave me his sandals to wear, and his bed to sleep in. He walked me around town the next day, and told me his life story. The child of an alcoholic mother, he had been selling insurance when he had a revelation that he should be a pastor. He had quit selling insurance just a few months earlier to start his own church. It was tough sledding. He had no building and only a handful of congregants. Martin was joyful, charismatic, generous, and funny. He lobbied and implored me to accept Jesus, telling me it was the “11th hour,” and I risked eternal damnation if I didn’t turn to Christ. After two days with Martin, I caught a flight back home. As we said goodbye, he told me once again, “God sent you to me for a reason.”
In the airport, I wrote a short article for Slate (see it here: In Which I Am Lost and Found and Saved) about my encounter with this kind, hospitable Pentecostal minister, and thought that was the end of it. Fast forward a few weeks: I began to receive phone calls from American Pentecostals who had seen my article and wanted to send money to Brother Martin in Malawi. I put them in touch with Martin. Then a leading American Pentecostal pastor reached out because he wanted to hold a revival with Martin in Malawi. Within a year, thanks to these new American connections, Martin had enough money to build his church, his congregation had multiplied thanks to the American revival, and he had his own TV show on Malawian television. He even worked with top officials in the George W. Bush administration, which sought to help faith-based social programs in the developing world. Last time he and I talked, he was one of the leading pastors in Malawi, as well as the campaign manager for the top presidential candidate. And all of it traced back, indirectly, to his kindness to me on that airport bus, to his welcoming the stranger in his midst. I doubted when he told me God sent me to him for a reason, but he was right.
I was lucky enough with my childhood with my parents brought us 3 children along to my father’s consulting position that took us to Barcelona, Spain for a summer in 1975. I was 9 years old, the youngest. Still have vivid memories of that summer in sunny, warm Spain.
On the return trip home on a 747, my seat took me a row away from my family and found myself with a older gentleman who looked down at me with his dark eyes and a warm smile. He was quiet until after we were in the air and asked me my name and where was I from. I was raised in Connecticut and this was my second trans-atlantic flight. He introduced himself, Terry Salavas, also known as Kojak, a TV detective in the early 70s, which I recognized. I enjoyed my conversation with him as we approached Hartford International Airport, he says the most adorable thing: “Who loves ya, baby?” With out the trademark Tootsie Roll.
@davidplotz, this is such an amazing story. I generally believe that things happen for a reason, and that it all works out. One of my favorite parables is a very old (centuries really) one about the Chinese farmer. After all, who really knows what’s good or bad? It’s all the same.
I’m almost always next to someone who either doesn’t want to chat or doesn’t speak English. But one time on a 12 hour flight I was seated next to an older man who was returning to his home in the US from Malaysia where he was born. He had spent a month there with his siblings and distant relatives, and I learned so much about a place I had never visited and what people’s daily lives were like. He was very glad to be returning home, and I got the sense that he had a stressful month away. He needed someone to talk to, and we talked for 6+ hours straight! He was so funny and entertaining and by the end of the flight I felt like I had a new best friend. We managed to talk about so many things and parts of our lives that it’s sometimes easier to share with a stranger. None of this sounds memorable, but at the end of the flight he got really serious and told me that I am like “a unicorn among the horses”, and I think it’s the best compliment that I have ever received.
I love that parable , have you heard Alan watt’s reading of it ? , I have to admit I’m not a big fan of new age guru’s but I find Watt’s readings to be really articulate
Sitting next to me on a flight one time was a quiet, unassuming man, but at the same time there was something about him that screamed of ‘accomplishment’. Talking to him casually I couldn’t help but be impressed with how erudite and intelligent he was, while at the same time he seemed completely void of ego. Only because it was a long flight and we had the chance to chat a lot did I manage to find out who he was.
He was Robert Curbeam, or I should say Astronaut Curbeam, the man who held the record for the most spacewalks during a single spaceflight. During the STS-116 mission, Astronaut Curbeam completed four spacewalks. He also remains one of America’s few Afro-American astronauts.
Mr. Curbeam earned a bachelor of science degree in aerospace engineering from the United States Naval Academy, a master of science degree in aeronautical engineering from the Naval Postgraduate School in 1990, and a master’s degree in astronautical engineering from the Naval Postgraduate School in 1991.
He is a member of the U.S. Naval Academy Alumni Association and the Association of Old Crows.
He was also named Fighter Wing One Radar Intercept Officer of the Year in 1989 and received the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School Best Developmental Thesis (DT-II) Award.
He is a hero in my book, and it was awe-inspiring for me to be able to chat with him for a few hours. And what made him so special is that he was more interested in hearing about me than in talking about himself.