airplane sunset

The Ugliness of Air Travel, or Travel is Fun!

As of yesterday, I have had to run through four airports in order to catch a connecting flight, two times barefoot and all four times on the way home. The first time it happened was in London at Heathrow back in 2007. I had been away from my family for more than a week, and my first flight out of Frankfurt left late. I was alone, having left my friend and her family at the hotel because they were going on to Austria without me. I can’t remember how much time I had when my plane arrived at Heathrow, but I do remember how frustrating it was to have to go back through security and customs before trying to find my way to the terminal in that massive airport. I had summer sandals on that day that would not allow me to move with any sort of speed, so I ripped them off at the earliest possible moment and sprinted past all of the people, shops and restaurants on my way to the gate. I vividly remember panic rising in my body: the thought of missing my connection and getting stuck alone in a strange place all the way across the Atlantic PLUS not getting home to my family when I was supposed to was almost too much to bear. As I ran towards my gate in the homestretch I remember them announcing the final boarding call and somehow, I picked up my speed. It was exactly like that scene in “Love, Actually” when young Sam ran through Heathrow to catch Joanna before she boarded her plane to the States, but much more anxiety-ridden and panicky. Luckily, I made it. I was literally the last passenger to board and tears welled up in my eyes as I stepped from the jet bridge onto the plane. I didn’t even care that somebody had taken my seat in order to sit next to their loved one; I plopped down into the empty seat nearby and heaved a sigh of relief. (They did offer to move back, by the way.)

Next was McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, when Jim and I were on our way home from New Mexico. Again I was wearing inappropriate-for-running shoes so I ripped them off. Yes, I ran through the Las Vegas airport with no foot protection and yes, everyone to whom I told the story asked me if I went to get checked for communicable diseases in the following days. (I didn’t.) We made that flight.

After that it was Charlotte Douglas International Airport. I was with Jim again, on our way home from Key West. At that time the airport was under massive construction and we were delayed on the tarmac after landing. We were panicking about making the connection and already had a rental car pulled up on Jim’s phone just in case because, while we didn’t want to drive the four and a half hours home that night, we also didn’t want to get stuck. Because the construction was delaying planes on an equal-opportunity basis, we found out after our long sprint to the gate that our connection hadn’t even arrived yet and while we nearly passed out from the not breathing as we waited, we made that flight.

My most recent “adventure” was yesterday, in Houston. After an amazing weekend in Las Vegas, my flight to George Bush Intercontinental Airport was not only arriving on time, but nearly ten minutes early. I was thrilled for a couple of reasons:

  1. Originally I was supposed to fly through O’Hare with a 35-minute layover, which is very tight, and my connection would have been the final flight to Knoxville for the day. Over the weekend United sent an email saying that due to expected poor weather up north, they would change my flights with no fees, and that’s what we did.
  2. Changing my flights so I flew through Houston gave me a seat in row 39–literally the furthest-back seat on the plane: Hi, everyone waiting for the bathroom!–but also a one hour and ten minute layover, which would allow me to grab some dinner and leisurely make my way to my connection.

The extra ten minutes was a bonus, and as we pulled up to the gate I started to gather up my things so I could casually get on my way (after every single other passenger did, that is).

Then the pilot announced that the jet bridge was broken, and they were going to fix it so there would be a slight delay. In the meantime, the three people sitting in the row ahead of me all got up to stand in the aisle, because they had been squeezed together for two hours and needed air (so I heard). The twenty-something woman and her brother or boyfriend (not sure but probably boyfriend since she was grinding on him at one point, *shrug*) and her mother started horsing around in the aisle, not having any regard for the people around them. It was getting very tense around them, or maybe that was just my own vibe. The delay went on and on, I became more and more stressed about possibly having to make another airport run, and the trio who had terrible manners and may have also still been drunk (they were coming from Las Vegas, after all) got louder and more annoying. Then it happened.

The younger woman was leaning to the side and had the top of the seat in front of me in her armpit, elbow hanging over in front of my TV screen. The angle at which she was leaning caused her long, strawberry blonde hair to hang just a couple of inches in front of my face.

Normally I can wait it out, say nothing, and chalk it up to some douchebag not knowing how to act in public. But her hair was in my face, I was also warm, and I was getting more stressed by the minute over the delay. This time I decided to act.

I tapped her arm. “Excuse me, would you mind standing up, please, so your hair isn’t hanging in my face? Thank you!” (Read that in the nicest Melisa voice possible: I promise that’s how it was delivered. I was even smiling.)

She stood up and declared, “Some people love that.”

Her defiant tone caused a rage volcano to erupt inside my body. As I desperately thought of some kind of clapback I could provide that would be biting but not horrible enough to get myself into trouble, the image of me yanking her hair as hard as I could towards the floor so she would come crashing down after it flashed in my brain so quickly I actually thought for a second I was going to do it!

I didn’t. (Shew!)

Instead, I just sat there and angrily seethed, trying to burn a hole in the back of her head with my laser beam eyes until the jet bridge was finally fixed. I got off the plane and ran as fast as my feet could carry me (I wore gym shoes this time!!) to my connection, which I made with just a minute to spare.

My question: what is wrong with people?? This world is crazy right now; I get that. Why do so many people have such a hard time being kind? All she had to do was stand up: I didn’t even need an apology for her invasion into my personal space, although that would have been lovely. People seem to enjoy being combative these days and it’s so worrisome to me. Luckily, it makes me want to step up my own kindness game. The problem is, I’m ALREADY kind. How do we reach the people who aren’t? It’s a question for the ages.

All I know is, I’m longing for the days when everybody was a little nicer. I hope we can move the pendulum back in that direction.

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The good old days of air travel: dress-up clothes, manners, spacious seats, and plenty of leg room! Photo credit:


  • Erica C

    You are simply too kind. I would have totally coughed all over her hair, possibly “accidentally” tugged on it…and if all that didn’t work I likely would have set it on fire. JK about the fire thing – but maybe my gum would have gotten a little tangled in there. I know this doesn’t answer your question – because you can’t reach the unkind and entitled youth of today.