Some air travel stories.

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Most of the planes flying in and out of Columbia, South Carolina, are very small. When you take them you have to “gate check” bags that would be carry ons on most commercial airplanes, because the overhead compartments can’t accommodate anything wider than four inches. I watched a man struggle unsuccessfully to jam his duffle bag into one of them a few weeks ago, on my way to this wonderful conference. I had my side of the aisle (two small seats) to myself, so I offered to put it under the seat in front of me, so that he and the woman he was traveling with, who he introduced as his wife, would have adequate foot space. We got to chatting, about weather and kids and sports and schools, and it turned out they lived in my neighborhood. Suddenly the man asked me what my name was. It startled me a little, but I told him. Then he asked me if I lived at my exact home address, and I about had a panic attack. He gave me a big smile, laid his hand on my arm, and said: “I’ve been your postal carrier for the last seven years.” He rattled off the names of my neighbors with great pride. Since then I’ve seen him in his truck while he was delivering the mail, and one day he left me a box of pecans picked from the tree in his back yard.

A few months before that, while I was flying to another conference, the man sitting next to me talked my freaking head off for the first couple of hours of the flight. I kept opening the book in my lap and breaking eye contact to see if he would take the hint, but no luck. Eventually he disclosed that he had not slept or eaten in about 48 hours. He was on the way to the funeral of his best friend. Who had been murdered. By a family member. I’m not going to blog any more of the details, but after landing I read about the case in the local newspapers, and it was awful. The man planned on going to meet with the family member, in jail, as soon as the plane landed, to see if he could make any sense out of what had happened. He told me that news of the tragedy had been broken to him over his cell phone, while he was in his car, on a highway. He’d had to pull over, because stricken with sadness, the rush of emotion made it impossible for him to continue driving. Eventually he gave up trying to compose himself, and got some friends to pick him up.

On the way to this fantastic conference, I met a man who talked very engagingly about how he and his adult son mentored teenage boys through a program set up by their church. He bragged very proudly about how many of the mentees had graduated from high school and then college against substantial odds. He said he only set out two rules for participants: 1. Be on time; and 2. Pull up your pants.

On yet another flight, a male passenger kept using his hand held communications mechanism long after the flight attendant had announced that all electronic devices had to be turned off. After repeating herself several times, she stood directly over him and stated loudly that the plane would not leave the gate until he turned off his Blackberry. He kept typing away. Finally she put her hand on his shoulder and gently asked whether this was the first time he’s flown on a plane, since he didn’t seem to understand protocol. “No, is this your first day as a stewardess?” he snarled in reply. The flight attendant walked to the front of the plane, and had a quick chat over the phone with the pilot. She emerged from the cockpit, reopened the door to the jetway, and escorted the big jerk right off the plane. He deployed a lot of cuss words to no avail, and when the pilot returned she was greeted with applause and cheers from the remaining passengers.

–Ann Bartow

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