The Unexpected Bumps of Flying


Published: April 15, 2010

After living in Manhattan for nearly two years, I’ve come to view most people as being innately selfish. It’s one of those things that I just don’t question anymore. That’s why one flight back to school after Easter break caught me by surprise.

After waiting over an hour in the security line at LAX, I barely caught my plane. It seemed every single person thought the rules had changed and that they could take a water bottle through to their gate. I made it to the plane only to realize there wasn’t any room left for my carry-on luggage, so the flight attendants asked if I would like to check it. No, I wouldn’t “like” to, but that’s the only option, isn’t it? The air conditioning was turned off in the plane as I tried to get to my seat, and people in the back were already asking for more throw up bags. Just great. After takeoff, the flight attendants came by and asked if we’d like water. I ask for peanuts. I’m shot down because apparently, as a result of our poor economy, free peanuts are no longer a staple of flying.

As I tried to blow off the stress that comes with the unexpected bumps of flying (self inflicted, of course, as I chose a school on the other side of the country), I put on my new and noiseproof headphones. Before my “In the Clouds” playlist even comes on, I felt a tap on my shoulder. The woman next to me taps her ear signaling me to take off my headphones. I take a deep breath and do so, even though this is the part I always fear. Flying is usually my alone time, and I am well aware that starting a conversation on a flight means you will be talking to a stranger for the entire time.

I’m surprised by what she says. “Are you okay, sweetie?” Usually, I’d be irritated with someone who is barely older than me calling me “sweetie,” but there is something different about her. She seems genuinely concerned. I tell her I’m fine and say that I don’t like to fly. This is a complete lie; I love to fly, but for some reason I think it will get me out of a conversation. No go. Instead she grabs my hand and tells me it will be okay and that I should focus on the things that are going right in my life. I give her a look that is meant to say, “Yeah okay, I’ll get right on that.” But she must take it as “nothing is going right,” because she then proceeds to tell me that everyone goes through phases and that, when I least expect it, things will pick up again and my heart won’t feel so heavy.

A woman on the other side of me, who had obviously been listening to our entire conversation, tells me that until that time I should borrow one of her magazines. I can tell she has just bought it, as she pulled it out of an airport shopping bag. Even though it’s the new issue of the magazine I wanted to buy earlier in the day but couldn’t afford, I tell her no thanks. The man in the next aisle has also been listening and why I’m surprised, I don’t know—it’s not like personal space exists on an airplane. He offers me his neck pillow, a sweet gesture, but I choose to stick with the usual stiff neck.

After the multiple kind gestures I start my music up again. Bob Marley’s “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright” comes on and I start thinking about how nicely I was just treated. People offered me their time, their care and their belongings, all to a girl who just wanted to ignore their kind gestures and be left alone.

In today’s society, where it often feels like the world is against you and nobody cares, it’s easy to completely miss such kind acts. So I decide to take off the headphones and give a little bit in return. I spent the next three and a half hours talking to some extraordinary people and accepting their offers. Let me tell you, it was a lovely change of pace.