The People You Meet on Planes
Last week, en route to Oahu on Hawaiian Airlines, I sat in the window seat on the “three side.” That meant two others blocked my route to the aisle. They turned out to be husband and wife, born and raised on Kauai, high school sweethearts and married for 27 years. He had recently lost 50 pounds, and they were heading to Sacramento for their son’s college graduation, a son whose future concerned them, because he was a bit of an introvert and, well, a “gamer.” The husband spoke with his arms and punctuated the end of each and every sentence with a laugh--a laugh that erupted over the drone of the airplane’s engines. He was mostly Hawaiian but pulled his fair complexion from a Chinese ancestor somewhere on his family tree. He laughed so loudly that the lady in front of us turned around to glare on three occasions. Not that the wife noticed. She was as happy as a clam in the aura of her husband’s energy--he wasn’t an introvert. Their son, they said, must have inherited his inward tendencies from the wife’s Japanese ancestry. Her parents sat across the aisle from us. After their grandson’s graduation, they would head to Vegas for a few days.
You know how I like to read on airplanes and come prepared with a magazine—for the few minutes during take-off and landing—and whatever book I’m reading at the time. These days, that means I’m toting a Kindle when I travel. Well, lately, I haven’t gotten much reading done.
After the Honolulu flight, I boarded another plane, sat in another window seat—for the picture-taking opportunities—and was joined by a woman from Oahu. Rotator cuff surgery made it difficult for her to stow the soft-sided cooler that she toted, so I stashed it in the overhead for her. She was headed to Seattle for a ceremony celebrating he son’s promotion in the Army. He’d returned from Afghanistan recently, underweight, after his base’s commissary had been blown up in a fight with “insurgents.” She’d spent his leave fattening him up on visits to his favorite Oahu eateries--L&L, Rainbow Drive-In, and Nico’s.
Earlier this week, en route home, I took my usual window seat. A man toting a big cowboy hat sat next to me. He didn’t cram a suitcase into the overhead compartment. He didn’t shove a bag under the seat in front of him. In his pocket, he carried a cell, a packet of Hall’s cough drops and a roll of wintergreen mints. “I travel light,” he said. Not even a book. He didn’t flip through Hana Hou, the in-flight magazine. He didn’t watch the movie. “I’m Portagee,” he said as if to explain. By the end of the flight I’d come to believe in the stereotype I’d always heard about the Portuguese and how they liked to talk. He told me about his commercial fishing adventures off Molokai and how he used to sell his catch to Mama’s Fish House in Paia on Maui. How he spent his youth on horseback roaming the hills of Haleakala—pre-national park days—hunting goats. How his granddaughter started riding when she was two. That he was returning to Maui after a couple decades on the mainland, where he’d moved to better his children’s education, and would be selling his auntie’s old plantation house, because after a lifetime of 16 surgeries, she’d finally died at the round age of 100. And when he didn’t talk, he dropped his head back against the seat, closed his eyes and snored. The man was never quiet.
In my lifetime of flying in commercial planes, I’ve sat next to an ex-con just released from a six-year prison stint that morning. I’ve debated the merits and aspirations of a good wife with a decorated Air Force pilot en route home after he’d delivered a Stealth Bomber to a new base. And on my last leg home from Seattle last week, I sat in seat 6A and waited to see who would join me. But the flight wasn’t full, and I had the row to myself. So, I finally opened my book.
How about you? What stories can you tell about some interesting seatmates and/or plane conversations you'd experienced during your travels?