Intimate Space with Strangers: How To Survive Air Travel

Posted by Tony on August 21, 2013

Here I am again, sitting way too close to two people I don’t know. It’d be one thing if this was a support group or a political rally. There, you’re expecting to engage with people who you don’t know, but might want to know. Or at a friend’s party. If there’s someone new sitting alone on a couch and you ask to join, you’ve found a new friend.

Not here. I’m sitting beside a frantic gear head—a young man who’s obviously brought along all of his trip technology, but distractedly keeps pulling his backpack up into his seat to find one more gadget, or switches from his laptop to his phone, or tablet, or… maybe that’s his watch? On the plus side, he doesn’t take up more than his allotted travel space, and he’s worn his enormous white headphones since he boarded the plane.

Lucky me, my other seat-mate is a behemoth body builder. Decent fellow, friendly, but thanks to his professional success, he’s taking up at least a third of my travel space. There’s no way to fold down the arm between us, so I’m trying to avoid leaning on a strange man’s thigh for the next 90 minutes. Also, there’s no way to sit back straight—I’d have to move to the right and invade the poor twitchy dude’s space. So, I’ve decided to try and rotate my shoulders and bend my spine to fit into the space. Travel-induced scoliosis.

But then the body builder and I start talking, and I learn that he travels almost every week. Originally from Baltimore, he went to school in North Carolina on a scholarship, and now lives in Greensboro. He has three daughters and a new son. We spent a good bit of time talking about raising daughters, laughing about girl drama and my recent attempts to teach my oldest daughter how to drive. He’s not there yet—his oldest is only eight. And then the captan comes on to tell us we’re making our initial decent into the airport, and it will soon be time to turn off all portable electronics.

And that’s when it dawned on me that the trip went by amazingly fast. My back is sore, so I can’t even imagine how the enormous fellow feels—he’s been smushed into his seat like a Twinkie in my daughter’s backpack—but all that will soon be over, and I’ve met another person for it. He’ll fit into my mind like the hundreds of other temporary air travel friends: A German grandmother who doesn’t speak english, a small business consultant who hates Obama, a young girl on her way to Europe for a 6-month student exchange… each like a 90-minute, interactive reality TV show. On these trips, I never turn on my iPhone. In the cramped and often unhappy world of airline travel, I’m happy for the distraction.