It was a tsunami of khaki pants and loud plaid

Have I shared with you how very much I detest flying? And I don’t mean that in the I apologize for the inconvenience, folks, but there are 52 planes ahead of us so it’ll be another week or so before we take off so sit back and relax as much as you can in that puny amount of space you paid $225 for and think back fondly to the time that we’d have gotten you all liquored up for free while you waited, maybe even giving you a complimentary blanket and pillow, well before the airline industry took a faceplant into the shitter and started charging you $25 per checked bag and $2 for a bag of stale peanuts kind of way, although that one does suck the big wazoo.


When I flew down to North  Carolina recently, I had a connection in Washington’s Dulles Airport. The first leg of the trip was fine as I had an aisle seat which is a good start to any trip that requires me to defy gravity while sharing leg room, recycled deadly toxins and potentially lackluster emergency flotation devices with total strangers. And as luck would have it, there was no total stranger occupying the seat next to me and I’m just going to go ahead and assume that God overslept, thereby missing a perfect opportunity to screw with my pathological germophobic tendencies and aversion to small talk and yes, I know, I’m usually all about talking, big or small, with perfect strangers because when you’re married to a man who thinks “Negatory. Next?” constitutes an in-depth conversation, you become Pavlov’s dog whenever anyone within a two mile radius opens his or her mouth to speak. Nevertheless, I just can’t manage pleasantries with anyone when I’m hurtling through the air at a million miles an hour while strapped inside a ginormous vibrator with wings built by the lowest bidder.

With an empty seat next to me, I didn’t have to be brave and I was free to quietly freak out with no witnesses during both takeoff and landing because hurtling through the air at a million miles an hour while strapped inside a ginormous vibrator with wings freaks me the hell out and I don’t care how many times Nate tries to comfort me beforehand by whipping out his ven diagrams and power point presentations to demonstrate the science of flight because the words “speed,”  “lift” and “thrust” together mean only one thing to me and it’s pretty damn enjoyable and has nothing to do with vibrators unless I’m really desperate and Nate’s out of town so STOP RUINING SEX FOR ME, NATE.

That freedom to freak out almost made up for the twenty-two escalators and people movers and trams I had to fling my body and carry-on onto in order to get through Dulles to Gate A to make my connection in twenty minutes. What the hell, Dulles? Why don’t you just go stand over there next to your buddies Chicago O’Hare and Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson and London Heathrow and then you all can whip out your penises and get it over with already?

The second leg of my trip down to North Carolina didn’t go as smoothly as the first because I spent the majority of it shoved up against a window. Why? Because the passenger sitting in the aisle seat next to me was morbidly obese. That, in and of itself, was not the problem so all of you foaming at the mouth and just itching to staple that Marie Claire article to my tongue and burn me in effigy, CALM DOWN. I couldn’t care less if someone is obese in real life or on TV because it wasn’t that long ago when I was a bit chubby and causing scales all over western New York to run screaming for the hills my own self.

Had this man just sat down with no incident, we’d have gotten along just fine and by just fine, I mean that no matter his weight, I’d have still spontaneously grabbed his hand and squeezed off his blood supply during takeoff and landing and turbulence, all while screaming incessantly at him to tell Nate and the kids that I love them and that Nate can’t re-marry for at least 35 years after my death and then he would have reported me to the flight attendant and I’d have probably been detained by Homeland Security and thereafter arrested for physical assault and we’d have spent a good amount of time together filling out stupid paperwork under ghastly fluorescent lighting and getting to know each other over shitty coffee or, in my case, shitty hot chocolate.

But he didn’t just sit down. Instead, when he took his seat, I believe he inadvertently pushed up the armrest between us and I’m saying inadvertently because I like to give people who did not burst forth from my abdomen after sixty hours of labor, leaving me with 800 stretch marks and an ugly scar, the benefit of the doubt. Because the alternative of him having done it on purpose is beyond rude and I’d like to think that no one is capable of that kind of rudeness unless they’re running for office and think filling your kid’s’ halloween bag with VOTE FOR ME stickers is a great marketing tactic.

This raising of the armrest allowed his girth to, shall we say, surge forth? I felt kind of like New Orleans when the levies failed except Anderson Cooper wasn’t reporting live from my lap, damn it all to hell.

In a matter of seconds, his weight became my problem.

I wiggled around in my seat, which still cost me the same amount of money as it had twenty seconds prior even though it was now much smaller, and tried to somehow pull the armrest back down between us but it was completely blocked by the man’s shoulder. I tried to politely ask him to scooch over a bit so that I could use the armrest but do you know what “Excuse me, do you mind scooching over a bit so that I can use the arm rest?” sounds like when you’re sitting directly over engines, under a steady flow of those recycled deadly toxins and somewhere near a wailing baby? Me neither. But I’m guessing it’s something like ZZZZZZHHHHHHHHHGGGGGGGG WAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH ZZZZZZHHHHHHHHHGGGGGGGG to the tenth power.

The forty minute flight was sold out and this man didn’t smell or sweat profusely or sneeze on me and because he actually glanced in my direction and smiled politely once or twice, I’m wondering if he was even aware of what was happening. So I gritted my teeth and sucked it up and I did this by scooching farther to the left myself and taking really shallow breaths while peering out the window with only my left eyeball which was not as hard as it sounds since it just happened to be smooshed against it at the time. Because really, what was the alternative? If I had complained and asked to move, where was I going to move to? Checked baggage? The cockpit? The lavatory? Because we all know how I feel about public toilets and crossing state lines in a vertical coffin with a cheap lock and questionable plumbing was almost as bad as the predicament I found myself in and at least in my expensive half seat, there was supposedly an oxygen mask directly above me in the event of an emergency like, say, being asphyxiated by a large mammal. And even if I had pitched a wicked hissy and demanded use of the armrest, who was going to volunteer to amputate the guy’s left hemisphere to make it happen?

Just curious … how would you have handled the situation?



Share this post

22 thoughts on “It was a tsunami of khaki pants and loud plaid”

  1. Avatar

    Hmmmm. Hard to say. Were you in a two-seat row? I think if I were in a two-seat row, I’d have asked him if he minded changing seats and therefore gotten the aisle seat, which at least gives you room to be jammed over a bit without leaving eyeball-prints on the window.

    If you were in a 3-seat row where switching seats wouldn’t have gained you the space of the aisle and/or if he refused to switch seats, then I think I would’ve just sucked it up.

    I imagine he has a certain self consciousness about/dread of flying for being the size that he is and was probably not feeling all comfortable anyhow. I mean, I’m not *huge* huge, but I feel self-conscious about sitting next to strangers in planes, theaters, wherever, and I don’t overflow my seat. I don’t even overflow the armrest.

    At least he wasn’t drunk and didn’t spill anything on you. That used to happen to my husband every time we flew somewhere in our pre-kid, traveling-for-fun-because-we-could days. On a NY-London flight, the guy on his right spilled gin on him. Twice. On a NY-Vegas flight, it was a Bloody Mary. (And seriously, who the hell drinks Bloody Marys on an airplane?) Each time, hubs wound up wet and reeking of alcohol for the duration of a not-insignificant flight. Oh and Bloody Mary dude (yes, I said “dude”) also fell asleep and snored and his head kept falling onto Hubby’s shoulder.

    *shudder* (Yes, I am eternally grateful that hubs always takes the “next-to-the-stranger” seat when we travel together.)

    Anyhow, at least you are home safely now. 🙂

    1. Avatar

      Yes – it was a two seat row. And I know he probably felt a bit self-conscious, because I remember how I used to feel when I was heavier. He wasn’t obnoxious – he actually seemed nice – and it was only a 40 minute flight so I sucked it up. But what if it had been a three hour flight? I honestly don’t know how I would have handled it. It was physically uncomfortable as it was.

      1. Avatar

        Then I think I totally would’ve made excuses like “I’m sorry, but I have a thimble bladder” type things and asked him if he minded switching seats so I could be on the aisle. Then I would’ve followed up by going to the bathroom at least once to back up my story (even though I find airplane bathrooms even more horrible than I find feet, and you know how I feel about feet) (and seriously, mile high club? In an airplane bathroom? Ew to the tenth power!!) and been so relieved when the flight ended.

        How is your dad, by the way? Hopefully still recovering well!

  2. Avatar

    For 40 minutes I would have sucked it up but it isn’t 40 minutes really is it? That’s just the in air time. There is the 30-45 minutes on the ground before take off, then the 30 or so minutes on the ground after landing, plus the 20 minute it takes for it to get to be your row to stand up and depart. Reason #34 why I hate flying, they try to deceive you about the time you will spend in the plane. I’d rather they say “It could be 3 hours before you get out of this plane” as they seat you, so when they let me out at 2 hours and 50 minutes I am pleasantly surprised rather than pissed off my 40 minute flight kept me cooped up for over 2 hours.

    But actually, due to claustrophobia and a fervent belief that everyone else on the plane is sucking up all the usable oxygen, I pitch my hissy fit at check in. I need an aisle seat & if I can’t book one when I make my reservations I create the mother of all scenes until the check in lady finds me one.

    Near the front, so I can board last & get off early before all the oxygen gets used up. I’ve had panic attacks while waiting to deplane when I am in a back row because not only are all those people using up the available recycled oxygen, they are sucking up all the new fresh oxygen by the door & I am convinced I will pass out if I don’t get that fresh air RIGHT NOW.

  3. Avatar

    Yowza. So sorry you had to do that. I guess I would have sucked it up because I hate confrontations. But I sure would have been grumpy, and I wouldn’t have smiled back. And forget about small talk!

  4. Avatar

    I probably would have done the same as you, but I don’t know, because I can’t stand being next to strangers, being touched by strangers and being in small spaces, lol. Maybe I would have lost it and got a seat in security. Is there security seating on airplanes?

  5. Avatar

    Exactly the same way.
    (BTW…I live ten minutes from Dulles!!!!!!!!!!!! We could have had hot chocolate (mine with a serious dosing of espresso) together!

  6. Avatar

    I would have, and have, done the same thing as you. I have done a ton of travelling and I absolutely hate when this happens. I am not tiny either, but don’t spill over my seat, so when I get seated next to someone bigger than me it can be really uncomfortable. I probably would have made a bit more of a stink about the armrest though, I NEED that barrier for my personal space, and I get a little weird about needing to put my arm somewhere on a plane. Glad you got to and fro in one piece and your dad is doing a bit better.

  7. Avatar

    OMG I hate flying as well 🙁 I’ve only been on a place ONCE in my life and it was to go to disney in Florida…

    I cried all the way there…
    Broke my finger in the pool…
    Went to the hospital…
    Got drugged…
    Went home the next day and threw up all the way back…

    Yea, not the best experience for me xD

  8. Avatar

    I totally cracked up at this part: “think back fondly to the time that we’d have gotten you all liquored up for free while you waited, maybe even giving you a complimentary blanket and pillow, well before the airline industry took a faceplant into the shitter and started charging you $25 per checked bag and $2 for a bag of stale peanuts”. It’s so true!!

  9. Avatar

    I don’t know. I hate flying, too. At least I know I’m not sitting next to a person bigger than me on the way tomorrow. Kim’s my seat mate, yay!! I get to be the fat person for her.

  10. Avatar

    I believe I’d’ve spent the duration of the flight locked in the bathroom, sniffing my nail polish fumes and drinking hand sanitizer. Which is way more filling than those peanuts.

  11. Avatar

    40 minutes doesn’t seem like a long time unless you’re trapped in an extremely tight spot in an airplane, right? I don’t think I would’ve been able to stand it. I probably would’ve asked the flight attendants if I could hang out with them in the galley….or just hung out in the bathroom the entire time. As small as those bathrooms are, you probably would’ve had more wiggle room!!!

  12. Avatar

    I probably would have just sucked it up too, because really any overweight person on an airplane KNOWS that they are spilling over into the other person’s seat and is just praying that they don’t kick him off and make him go buy a 2nd seat.

  13. Avatar

    I have a lot of airline travel horror stories. Unless it’s my kid sitting next to me, the armrest is always down. I don’t ask, I just make it happen. My seatmate can deal with it and think I’m a bitch all they want, I don’t care. I paid for that three inch separation.

    When I flew from Dallas last week there was a very large young man sitting next to me. He needed a shower, and he had terrible gas. I”m glad that the plane had good tailwinds, as we got in 30 minutes early, because the tail winds coming from my left were NOT acceptable.

  14. Avatar

    I have no idea what I would’ve done, because I get all crazy just thinking about going on an airplane. I am way way WAY too much of a control freak. The whole sit back, relax, and have a nice trip does nothing for me.

    This is why I convinced my brand-new hubby that we should take the train on our honeymoon. We got a sleeper car, and though he swears he’ll never do it again, I’ll take a super-cramped, teeny-weeny compartment over being wedged next to a stranger for an extended length of time any day. Seat over-spill or not.

  15. Avatar

    I’m very sad that you didn’t include our text conversation. I really hope that guy didn’t use your pillows for a nap! I generally only fly with my family, but the last time, I had an experience too. Good times… :p

  16. Avatar

    Back in 2003 I flew 7 hours next to an obese woman whose right arm lopped over my left breast the entire flight. I wrote Continental Airlines asking for a refund of half my fare, since I felt I had use of only half my seat. I was refused. It was the beginning of the end of my enjoying flying.

    You were noble!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *