seeking the story in the ordinary


I’ve traveled a bit recently. I often make “plane friends” en route. You know—in-flight companions you bare your soul to and then never see again?

But maybe you don’t know. I’ve mentioned this phenomenon to more than a few people lately only to be met with blank stares.

Here’s how it tends to go down.

You settle in next to each other in your assigned seats. Steal a quick glance. Take in what they’re reading. Make a couple snap judgments.

You instinctively want to keep to yourself. Read your book in peace. Not engage. That tends to be our default, after all. How often do we really let people in? Take the time to make anything more than small talk? We’re usually so talked out from the rest of our lives on the ground that we view travel as a brief respite, a way to relax or escape, which usually involves…silence.

So you start off that way. Shortly after takeoff, you nap together. In a state of semi-consciousness, you try not to “head bob” into their personal space.

You come to in time for the complimentary beverage service, when the flight attendant inevitably knocks your knee as she passes. Something about your beverage choice incites a quick exchange with your neighbor. It’s the first time you get a good look at their face. You’re torn between wanting to bury your head back in your book and not seeming impolite.

What’s bringing you to Cincinnati?

You give yourself over to it. Soon you’re deep in conversation about your families, hometowns, professional goals, travel histories. You realize you have more in common than just your destination. Plane friends always do fascinating, glamorous things. Like design movie posters or perform at NBA halftime shows. You feel like you’re in the presence of greatness. It dawns on you that everyone has a story to tell.

You’re sitting much closer to each other than is customary. You’re stuck. But somehow you no longer mind. You share the stale airplane air–and each other’s confidences. Up here, conversation seems safer, freer–as if the rules that typically govern social interaction are suspended when above the clouds.

You touch down. You deplane, walking in tandem. No longer strangers, but not quite friends. You say you hope your paths will cross again sometime. You know they probably won’t.

Have you ever made a plane friend?


One thought on “Plane Friends

  1. arilucas says:

    Made a plane friend last night from SFO-LAX. Don’t know her name, but she played peek-a-boo, sang songs (off-key, but that didn’t seem to bother her or G), and turned the emergency evacuation card into a picture book in an effort to entertain my overtired son. It was a great relief to this overtired dad.

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