The Friendly Skies

Airplane Aisle

The flight felt brutally long. Unlike the last time I flew overseas, when Continental Airlines had been kind to stock their planes with in-flight time-wasters such as movies, video games, and friendly flight attendants, their codeshare partner Northwest Airlines had skimped on such amenities, ensuring that they would continue living up to the nickname of “Northworst“.

Normally I sleep on international flights.  But this being a flight of firsts for me — first westbound overseas trip and most timezones jumped at once (ten, including a penetration across the international date line) — I was too unsettled to doze away the hours.  I had nearly completed one of the two novels I had brought for my entire two week vacation and there were still hours to go before we land. I began to worry how I’d kill time when I was on terra firma, as finding things to read in English is not a trivial task where I was heading. I worried even more about my return flight in two weeks, as I would once again be blessed to fly the same airline.  With my current and future flights, a full 24 hours of my life will have been wasted flying such unfriendly skies. Despite my upcoming destination, I craved entertainment now lest I die of boredom. Sitting in my aisle seat, I returned to my book and tried not to think about the endless amount of flight time remaining.

After an hour more of reading, I paused to rub my dry eyes. My will to read further was waning, so it seemed like a good time for a break. I put down my book and took a moment to survey the cabin. All shades were drawn tight, as it was still daylight outside. The actual time of day was lost on me, thanks to a combination of no wristwatch, no cell phone, and the fact that I would have been half-a-dozen time zones off were I to guess. Everyone but me was alseep, the lucky bastards. I planted my elbow on the armrest, buried my chin deep into my palm, and sighed.

An elderly Japanese lady walked down the aisle past my seat. Right as she passed me, she halted and slowly turned around. I took notice and looked at her face. She seemed slightly bewildered, reaching a hand up to her forehead as if she was starting to feel queasy. She used her other hand to grip the headrest of the seat in front of me. Then her leg quivered and she tumbled over, falling to her side.  She bounced off my lap, flipped back the opposite direction, and landed on the floor with a dull thump, coming to rest in the aisle next to me.

Pings echoed across the cabin, as I and several others quickly jabbed our “call attendant” buttons.  The ceiling was a constellation of blue call lights. Two flight attendants rushed to the lady’s side. Even more followed, carrying oxygen canisters and a defibrillator. Passengers nearby stood up in order to get a better view.

I was not one of them. Inches away from me was a comatose woman, being poked and prodded into consciousness by highly-trained professionals. As I seriously pondered the possibility of someone dying next to me, I curled my body towards the left, putting the spectacle to my back, and did my best to bury myself in my book.

Tokyo couldn’t get here fast enough.

Image credit: Oleg Dunin on Flickr