I suffer from a condition that strikes a few times a year. Symptoms range from stress-eating suspiciously packaged microwaveable dinners to hearing the echoes of anguished screams in purgatory to observing time lose all meaning. It’s called Flying While Not Rich.
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with Flying While Not Rich, you may be entitled to pretty much nothing because Flying While Not Rich is a universal slice of human suffering. Complaining about the experience has been done to death—sympathetic but utterly pedestrian.
Good thing I’m not above the above. Or so I thought.
I’m still in school, so I don’t fly often. Occasionally I’ll have domestic flights that aren’t more than a couple hours, and once a year, to visit Taiwan over break, I fly internationally with trip times at least fifteen hours. The latter’s what typically breaks my spirits.
This time, though, I couldn’t seem to bring myself to even be annoyed, let alone complain as planned. I couldn’t understand why. There was no shortage of less-than-ideal circumstances (I’ve certainly griped over less). We were flying United Airlines on Christmas Day. We had a pointless connecting flight. Said connecting flight was delayed. We were in Row 72, the backmost seats of the plane. The bathroom was right across from us. I brought work to do on the plane, as usual, and managed to surprise myself by not doing any of it, as usual. (Kind of like how every time I get the falafel in the school dining hall as though I’m expecting it to somehow not to be awful for once.)
I thought I’d be more disgruntled with Flying While Not Rich—at least to the extent I usually am—but the closest I really got to being put off was when I tried watching Ice Age 3 only to find myself unable to make it through the first half hour.
Me: This is horrible.
Mom: The movie?
Me: Well, yeah, but I was referring to me not being young and carefree enough to enjoy watching that squirrel chase after his acorn and never attain it save for some fleeting, unsatisfactory scene before his dream gets inevitably and violently torn from him.
Me: Because now it’s actually relevant, you know?
Mom: I can’t hear you over that screaming baby.
Oh yeah, there were three of those in our immediate vicinity, too. Screamers, I mean. One of them was a toddler, and she was in the seat right in front of me. The kid was pretty cute—big dark eyes, plump cheeks lifted in a wide grin. I recall these features with such clarity not because I’m particularly observant but because she was watching me practically the entire flight.
She’d turn around in her seat and peek around it at me. It was like she didn’t think I could see her until I made eye contact, upon which she’d squeal and sit back down before peeking over her chair seconds later.
So it was cute at first, but being observed by a child is actually an extremely disconcerting experience. I began to stop meeting her gaze so she’d think I couldn’t see her, and then I thought “am I really letting myself be intimidated by a baby?” upon which I made pointed eye contact and then actually became intimidated by a baby. There was just something about gazing into those eyes that filled me with a vague and oddly inexplicable sense of shame.
A couple of hours in, I slowly raised my right hand, sustaining eye contact, and suddenly stretched out my fingers. The kid was shocked into silence. She slowly faced forward and didn’t turn back around.
The rest of the flight, I couldn’t stop thinking about what message I’d unwittingly sent.
Possible translations of showing her my palm
- I respect you, small human, but if you don’t stop antagonizing me I’ll throw this roll of bread in your face because so help me, I have nothing to lose.
What had I relayed in her language to reach this silent understanding, I wondered.
And then, as if on cue, she started screaming (in joy? Terror?), which in turn set off the other two like a pack of howling wolves. The chorus of shrieks crescendoed in the small cabin. I slid a couple inches down my seat.
You win some, you lose some, I guess.
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Another post about air travel: in plain sight, in plane flight
Last week’s post: How I Wasted 2017: Blog Highlight Reel