The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Monday, November 24, 2008

On the way home from Portland

On the plane flying home from Portland, I sat next to a guy with salt-and-pepper short hair who evidently was off his meds. At one point he complained about my arm on the armrest between us, and I moved it away trying to give him room. I noticed that if I sat in the middle of my seat, he would puff up his shoulders and flex his arm muscles against me. Perhaps trying to intimidate? I put up with it for most of the flight, while he listened to music on his headphones, tapping his feet strongly, pushing against my foot. Hmmm. Finally, he turned to me angrily and said "stop crowding me." Amused, I said "please arm isn't even on the arm rest. You're taking up more room."

"Good." He replied. "And stay over there."

My goodness. "No," I said. "I don't think I will."

"I don't want to be touching you."

"Then don't."

"Don't piss me off," he said.

"That's not my decision," I replied. "Whether or not you get pissed off is up to you."

"I'll call the attendant," he said.

"Please do," I replied, trying not to act as if my adrenaline was spiking. The rest of the flight, I had the distinct feeling that he was fantasizing about driving my nose-bone into my brain, and as I read my Kindle, kept one hand on my chin, near my center-line, wondering if I was about to end up in the newspapers. Remembered that story about the guy stabbing his seat-mate on the Greyhound bus as the passengers screamed and fled. The rest of the flight concluded without incident, but I remained in my seat (I was next to the window) and gave him a chance to get off first.

My sense is, in retrospect, that he had some kind of mental disorder. Guy needs to buy two seats from now on.


Aside from that, I had a wonderful Orycon. Saw lots of friends, and had a number of excellent conversations, including my first real public discussion about the "101" program. The music at their dance seriously sucked, but I guess that's normal now at conventions: declining to play anything that has ever appeared on a radio, with the possible exception of "Love Shack" (which is actually great fun to dance to.) Maybe I'm just getting old.



What is your worst airplane travel story?


Marty S said...

My worst airplane experience wasn't anything like yours, but it was scary. I was flying into Battle Creek Michigan on a six-seater, and separated from the pilot only by a curtain. I hear the pilot ask the traffic controller to move him up because we are running low on gas and the traffic controller says no can do. I was really nervous until we landed.

Josh Jasper said...

Worst I ever had to deal with was turbulence so horrible it had people screaming and things falling over.

steve-vh said...

On a flight from Chicago to Hong Kong, that's a 14.5hr flight in seats surrounded by kicking kids.
Several announcements are made asking for a Dr. on board, preferrably Psychiatric. Eventually the Pilot comes on to bring us up to speed that there was an altercation between two brothers and the one with issues had to be physically restrained. FAA requires diverting to the nearest airport while they and their luggage (once located) are removed. So we spent two hours looking out at Anchorage on the runway. Flight eventually became 18.5hrs and we missed our connection to Manila, had to wait for a reschedule and so our ride with directions to the Hotel (and tickets in the morning) was long gone as we had no way to contact them. Pretty stressful.
Makes for a great adventure story though.

Anonymous said...

Ever see the opening sequence of Forsyth's Dogs of War with Christopher Walken? Had one of those where just GETTING to the C-130 was a white knuckle experience, let alone traveling down a bracketed runway with ping and zing sound-effects from the fuselage.

Unknown said...

My worst flight was just an eight hour or so delay at take off, while some of my fellow passengers got drunk at a nearby bar, then aggressively upset at the delay, then had to be taken away by airline security. Someone in my family, though, back in the days of the Iron Curtain, was on a flight from Italy to Cameroon with a stop in Bulgaria, where all the passengers got taken off the plane and held in Bulgaria for a while. That has to count as the worst airline experience in my family.

Ronn said...

Mine isn't a plane story, but it is part of the continuum. I rode the bus from Atlanta to upstate New York the same day that the kid got himself half eaten. I'm not sure how many buses ahead of me it was, but the line was the same one I was on. It passed through all the same cities that I did. Once I got to my fathers place, I seriously considered relocating...

Never travel Grayhound if you can help it. It is the WORST possible way to get anywhere. Rude employees, bus terminals that would scare a lifetime soldier and a gruelling travel schedule that tends to kill anything resembling a normal sleep cycle.

Anonymous said...

Worst story? After a very long day at a conference, evening flight, I was in the window seat and woke up with a start. I realized that instead of slumping against the window like normal I'd ended up on the shoulder of the lady in the middle seat - who was college age and very attractive. I was mortified, apologized, and tried to scrunch as far from her as I could for the rest of the flight. It got worse though - there was a layover and she was in line for my next flight. I saw her go up to an attendant and point me out, I assume to say she wanted to make sure she didn't sit next to me. Embarassing.

Travis said...


It was good to meet you on Sunday at the 101 presentation and thanks for taking the time afterwards to talk with me.

As for travel, I have a tendency to sleep most of the way through flights (I sometimes stay up all night before to ensure a proper level of tiredness- I also workout through most of the layovers which generates lots of looks but never,so far, any problems) and like 'anonymous' had a bad experience waking up.

In my case I went the other way and my face was plastered up against the window so that when I woke up I saw nothing but a 30,000 foot drop! Wouldn't have been so bad except I was still in that state where I barely knew who I was much less where I was.

One of my favorite 'bad flight' stories, not my own,involves my Jr. High English teacher. In her case a federal prisoner got a gun away from one of the Marshals and hijacked the plane! Had them fly to Cuba; the passengers were treated well by the Cuban government but ended up being flown to Europe to be returned due to the lack of diplomatic relations.

Incidentally, the Cubans didn't want the prisoner either, I guess he got beat up a bit, thrown in a Cuban jail and, eventually, extradited to some third country who then sent him back to the States.

Anonymous said...

No room for langhkas in that situation, but I'm guessing the principles in the jurus would have hepled you defend yourself just fine if necessary?

Ethereal Highway said...

My worst flight was very severe turbulance which caused me to have an anxiety attack. The attendants were bringing me doubles and old ladies were offering me tranquilizers. I was so glad to land. I almost couldn't make myself get on the connecting flight. It was awful.

Unknown said...

Haha, oh bad flight stories. Like a bad day working on an ambulance I find the stories timeless and wrongly amusing. When I was younger and scarf-less I flew 4 or 5 times a year to spend time with my dad in Cali. There was a time when I swear every flight involved me sitting window (as I always requested) next to a plastered drunk who was either petrified of flying, leaning over my lap to see out the window or obnoxiously conversing with someone a seat behind us. It was hilarious bad timing.
Worst flight ever was as a Muslim who wears a scarf. I am too nice to wear it to the airport so I go incognito hijabi style with hats, hoodies, beanies and neckerchiefs. I flew next to a guy who spent the entire flight talking sh*t about Muslims and a dude who looked like an Arab to him (a Sikh laughably). Knowing that you can't argue with stupid I kept my mouth shut, pretended to listen intently to my ipod and pretended to sleep. I would normally really BE sleeping but I didn't trust this hater as far as I could throw his stuff and yell "don't touch me like that!" Which is exactly what I would have done had he figured out my identity at the time. He didn't recognize me as we collected our bags as I was wearing a scarf again. What a dope.
Your scenario wins... meth heads and people off their meds have the kind of energy that is really unsettling. I'd rather have a hater or a drunk I guess. Maybe I should buy 2 seats :)
Sorry we missed you in PDX. Maybe next visit.

Steve Perry said...

Flew into New Orleans, then Baton Rouge during the onset of a hurricane once. Had an old Navy guy in the window seat, I was on the aisle, and the guy between us had never flown before. He was leaving hand prints in the arm rests he was so scared.

Navy guy gave him a Valium when it looked as if he was about to go ballistic.

Navy guy and I passed the time telling flight horror stories as the place would suddenly shift a hundred meters up or down or to the left. Took us three passes at the runway to land, and we had to because the fuel was that low.

Flew from L.A. to New Orleans once, on a Christmas day. Go to Nola, it was storming so bad we had to fly to the next clear port, which was Atlanta. Landed there, something went blop! in the jet, so they loaded us into a new plane that was so cold they issued everybody blankets.

Got back to New Orleans and it was still raining, so we flew figure-eights for an hour until it slacked off enough to see the runway.

What they pay the pilots for is not flying, but landing and taking off ...

Wound up being an eleven-hour flight instead of five hours, and when we finally touched down, we all cheered.

Marty S said...

In addition to some horrible flights I have also had some interesting flying experiences. One time I was taking the New York to Boston shuttle and found my seat occupied. By Sam Donaldson! He was supposed to be on the Washington shuttle to cover an event and had boarded the Boston shuttle instead. In another case, I was flying back to New York from Huston during the Iranian hostage crisis and about a third of the plane was Iranian students being deported and sky marshals.

Ximena Cearley said...

Hey, Rob and I tango to that music! It was good to see you at Orycon. Maybe we'll catch up with you again soon.

My worst flight I think was the one with an 11-hour layover in Lima. Ot it could have been the one I got stuck on standby in Brussels due to inclement weather. Both times we were broke.

Anonymous said...

Flying back home from Sydney to LAX -- it was night and a long flight and I don't sleep on planes and I couldn't anyway because the guy sitting next to me (I was in the middle seat) was so anxious he was almost turning somersalts in his seat the entire time. Normally I have handsewing to do to pass the time but it was too tight (very full plane) so I just read. Come LAX I was about two days without sleep and unfortunately had made the bad choice of wearing all black that day. I looked like a strungout junkie. Customs took one look at me and called me over for a thorough baggage search. A long long time later I was finally on my way to my almost missed connecting flight home to Seattle. I think once home I slept for 24 hours, LOL


Steve Perry said...

Viz the encounter: You are a better man than I. I expect I would have be prone to offer one of my favorite comebacks -- "Excuse me, is your health insurance all paid up? Good. Because if you don't get out of my face, you are gonna need it."

A big, wide-eyed smile goes with this.

That way, witnesses will say, "I don't know what happened. The black gjy next to the window was smiling and all of a sudden ..."

Walking away is a better option, of course, but when you can't leave, the strategy and tactics are apt to be different.

Your response was smarter. And in the cosmic scheme of things more in tune with the flow you try to achieve. Me, I'm getting cranky in my old age. And the line from Desiderata about being a child of the universe and having a right to be here resonates ...