“Now boarding … Group C … at Gate 19,” the agent announced over the loudspeakers. There were only a handful of poor slobs like me left in the line. The 737 was pretty packed, and since Southwest operates on a first-come-first-served basis, we were in for a real treat.
Only a few of the dreaded middle seats remained. The lucky passengers who snagged the isle and window seats looked up at us clutching our gigantic carry-ons, as if to say, “Don’t even think about squeezing in here between us.”
So I lumbered on, until I got to the back of the plane and had to take the last space left, which was between a heavyset man against the window, and a little old lady on the isle. I gestured with my hand to the middle seat, and their facial expressions replied, “Oh, terrific. Thanks for ruining my trip.”
Somehow, I wedged into my seat without banging the old lady in the head with my carry-on. I kicked it three times to jam it under the seat in front of me, and tried to settle in for the two-hour flight to Dayton.
The man beside me was politely trying to be small, with his arms clasped unnaturally on top of his tensed round belly, and his thick knees hitched in tight. However, he was a human radiator, emanating a steady stream of sweltering breath, body heat, and general male exhaust. I reached up to the tiny air valve, otherwise known as the spewer of contagion, but it was already all the way open.
Southwest Airlines’ employees are known for their jokes, and I could hear people in the rows ahead laughing at something the flight attendant said during her “just in case we plummet to our death” spiel.
My stomach took a few nauseating dips during the bumpy take off which is to be expected, but the turbulence continued. The soggy airport tuna wrap I’d gobbled back at the gate inched it’s way back up my esophagus, as the Captain quipped, “Whoever that is shaking the plane … stop it!”
As a child, I was prone to motion sickness. Any drive of more than 20 minutes had to include a stop on the side of the road so Lisa could “toss her cookies.” One time, when I went with my father to Pittsburgh, I did just that. I’d eaten a fistful of Nutter Butter Cookies before getting into my father’s Buick, and somewhere along Route 286, they came back up. Problem was, the Buick door was so huge, my father had to run around to help me open it, and didn’t make it in time. Those old Buicks had a million nooks and crannies in their naugahyde dashboards. After that, we couldn’t use the car’s heat or air conditioning without being blasted with an odoriferous reminder of that day.
The turbulence was so bad, the pilot ordered the flight attendants to stay in their seats, and as a result, there would be no beverage service and no bathroom breaks. An every-man-for-himself mentality set in, and the guy beside me released his tensed muscles, allowing his full girth to invade my already confined space. The little old lady was so still, I worried that she might’ve died. But I realized that she’d been reading the same Spinal Surgery ad in the airline magazine for the last hour, and knew she must’ve fallen asleep.
Jealous, I prayed for sleep to deliver me from this putrid purgatory. Sometime during the second hour, my motion sickness degraded into a fitful, panting fever. As the plane began it’s rocky descent toward Ohio, I used my last ounce of sanity to grope for the airsickness bag.
Despite my delirium, I wondered, am I being rude? Shouldn’t I warn my seat mates that I’m about to become an erupting tuna salad volcano? Would Emily Post tell me to put a napkin on my lap first? Is there any etiquette to upchucking?
Panicked by the impending crisis of protocol and puke, I lowered my mouth to the little white bag and prayed for guidance …
The plane wheels squealed as they bumped the runway. “Welcome to Dayton,” our pilot joked, “home of … stuff.” Everyone laughed, and I managed a weak smile too, relieved that my mind and my manners were finally on solid ground.