When You’re “That” Passenger

I love travel and while most of us can agree how rewarding it is, there is no way around it – the physical act of getting to a location can suck sometimes. It is scientifically proven* that the farther away your destination is, your chances of encountering annoying shit increase exponentially.

Sometimes the annoying shit is having to listen to people rant about being rebooked on a flight and that they DIDN’T GET COMFORT PLUS SEATS (the horror! THE HORROR!) Sometimes it’s dealing with TSA or navigating through a new airport. And sometimes, dear reader, YOU are the annoyance. And by you, I mean me. Because I was THAT person traveling back from Dublin on Friday. Despite my best intentions, I annoyed the shit out of everyone I encountered on my flights. Let me count the ways.

  1. Bathroom Time Part 1

If there’s something you must know about me, it’s (A) I have a small bladder, (B) it is overactive if I’m nervous or have caffeine, and (C) if my bladder decides it needs a restroom, I am unable to focus on anything else. (It makes SO MUCH SENSE that I pick window seats on planes, right?)

I was on a flight last Friday from Dublin to the US. We’d finished the in-flight service and I’d dug out my laptop to do some work. As a window seat passenger, I’d gotten used to waiting for one of the passengers in my aisle to get up first for my restroom time, to avoid annoying my seatmates. But sometimes that doesn’t work, and you have to use the bathroom before the other passengers do. I tried to continue focusing on my work, but my bladder was like, “Hey! You just had a coffee fifteen minutes ago. Let’s find a restroom.”

“No, bladder,” I said. “Keep it together.”

But my bladder did not keep it together, so I looked down the row. “I need to use the restroom,” I said to my seatmate. We both looked at the woman in the aisle seat. She was fast asleep.

He gave me a look that clearly read, “I’m not waking her up. This is your journey.”

“Ma’am,” I said gently as I touched her arm. “Ma’am?”

She did not stir and I felt guilty. Damn my biological needs, this woman was trying to sleep. I stood up and looked behind my row. We were seated right in front of the restrooms, so there wasn’t another row behind us – just a wall. I could conceivably slip behind our row and escape that way.

“I don’t think that’s going to work,” my seatmate said dubiously, watching me contemplate my escape.

I sat back down resignedly. “Let me know if she stirs,” I said, and reluctantly dug out my laptop.

I sat there staring at my screen for about five minutes, trying to ignore my bladder. There was no ignoring it. I really had to go. I looked at the woman and tried to wake her up gently. “Ma’am? Ma’am?”

This woman was comatose.

“I wish I could sleep like that on a plane,” my seatmate said.

I nodded. “Me too,” I said, standing up and looking behind my row again. There comes a point where you stop caring about how you look or what other people think. If this woman was not going to wake up, I needed to use the restroom somehow. I stood on the chair and extended my leg over the seat.

My seatmate watched, mouth agape, as I extricated myself from my row and crawled unceremoniously over the seat. I made it over! Success! TAKE THAT, NAYSAYER. Sucking in my stomach, I squeezed myself behind the row to sweet, sweet freedom, the woman on the end seat never stirring from her deep slumber even as I slammed my body behind her seat. Other passengers were watching and I tried to ignore the fact that I was making a spectacle of myself. Restroom needs take priority over self-respect.

Once I was finished, I came back to the row. The woman was, of course, still asleep. I touched her arm gently. No movement. I looked behind the row. There was no way I was going to make it back to my seat from behind. The angles were not in my favor.

I left, waited in the restroom line one more time JUST TO MAKE SURE EVERYTHING WAS EMPTY, then went back to my row. This time I said, “Ma’am? Ma’am?” and touched her arm with more weight. She stirred and jumped as she saw me, startled. “I’m so sorry,” I apologized, feeling terrible that, after all this trouble, I still had to wake her up. “I need to get back to my seat.”

She and my seatmate stood up and I slumped back to my seat.

2. Bathroom Time Part 2

I don’t think I’ve ever been on an international flight that landed an hour early. I exited into Terminal E at 1:45 PM EST, contemplating my next steps. I always opt for a long layover on international flights as a buffer for any late arrivals, long customs lines, and going back through security. What I didn’t realize is that Dublin has a pre-clearance facility, which meant I had no customs lines, no security lines, and a nearly 6 hour layover.

I was already exhausted and my next flight wasn’t until nearly 8 PM. I looked at the departure screen. There was a flight to Indianapolis leaving at 3:15. I could see if there were any openings on that flight for an earlier arrival home. It wasn’t something I’d done before, as it was the last vestigial superstition from my old fear of flying days. I was admittedly light years away from my old fears. I can get on a plane now and not look at the other passengers, thinking we were all doomed to being featured on an episode of Air Disasters. I used to dread takeoff and landing (statistically, if anything goes wrong with a plane, it’ll happen during one of these two events). But now I loved both and snagged window seats just to watch. I actually…like flying, which is something I never thought I’d ever say. But my last remaining superstition was changing flights – the old me wouldn’t have done it. Why give up a seat on a perfectly good flight? You don’t know what you’re getting into. And besides, what if a delay or maintenance issue happens with your new flight? You just lost a good seat on your original flight.

But I was tired and I wanted to be home. Ignoring my superstitions, I set my luggage aside and pulled out my phone. First, I checked if there were any open seats on the flight. Yep, there were open seats. Next, I went to Flight Aware to see if there was even a plane at the gate. There was no use giving up my seat if the plane hadn’t even arrived. The plane was at the gate. I might as well try if I had an opportunity. I grabbed my luggage and took the train to Terminal A. I arrived at the gate and approached the Delta employee. “Do you have any stand-bys on this flight?” I asked.

“I did, but they’ve already been assigned seats,” she said.

“Do you have any open seats?” I asked. I explained that I had just arrived from an international flight and had a very long layover.

“I do,” she said. “I’m about to start the boarding process, but I’ll get someone to help you.” She called another employee over. I couldn’t believe my luck. I stuffed down my superstitions about giving up my original flight as the next employee searched through the database.

“I only have middle seats left,” she said. “Is that okay?”

“This is saving me six hours at the airport,” I replied. “I’ll happily take a middle seat.” She grinned and assigned me a seat. I stood in line to get on the plane. I couldn’t wait to text Husband to tell him I was going to be home early, but I wanted to wait until I was sure the plane was taking off. I’ve been on flights where a pilot didn’t show up or there was some maintenance issue that kept us grounded, forcing us all off the plane.

I settled in my seat, composed my text, and waited until the flight attendants went through the safety announcements. We started to push back from the gate. This was for sure happening! I was returning early. Success! I sent the text to Husband and put my phone on airplane mode.

“We’re third in line for departure,” the pilot announced. “Flight attendants, prepare for departure.”

I happily settled in my seat. Even in the middle seat, I could enjoy takeoff for the best part – when the wheels lift from the runway. That means that adventure awaits. I closed my eyes and waited. I could hear the engines humming as the plane started takeoff. But the plane sped down the runway for only a second or two before stopping, returning to a slower crawl. I jolted in my seat. Something was wrong. The screen on the seat in front of me was showing the plane at an altitude of 300 meters. Clearly it thought we had already taken off.

After a moment or two of traveling down the runway, we stopped. “Um, hi folks,” the captain announced over the speaker. “I stopped the takeoff sequence because the throttle** was just….not sounding good. I will feel better if I ask maintenance about it first and have them take a listen. So just sit tight for ten or fifteen minutes. Thanks for your patience.”

I put my face in my hands. ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME? The one time I switch flights, I picked a busted plane. It was clearly an example where intuition = anxiety + statistics. I wanted to be home so badly. I opened my phone and searched for flights home to Indy. I might as well prepare for the worst if this plane was going to be grounded.

After about thirty minutes, the pilot said, “Thanks for your patience, folks. I’m wrapping up some paperwork. Then we should be on our way in about ten minutes.”

Ok, so we were going home then? Phew. But now I had to pretend that he didn’t tell us that the rudder (or throttle) was sounding weird. COOL. THAT’S FINE. THIS IS FINE.

Remember how I said my bladder is active when I’m nervous? I looked at my seatmate. He was an older man who had been asleep during most of the delay but was awake now. “Do you mind if I get up and use the restroom?” I asked politely.

The man glared at me as if I were an annoying child, then stood up wordlessly. The nerve! This dude was lucky that he was dealing with an older and slightly mellower version of myself, and that an overactive bladder was my worst reaction to this nonsense. If this were 2010 me, I would have already been engaging the entire row in a group therapy session against their will.

I have to admit, it has been a long time since I’d been that nervous during takeoff. My rational brain knew this plane wouldn’t be taking off if it were not safe. My reptilian brain kept wondering if the movement on the plane was due to turbulence or the busted throttle (rudder?) 2010 Jen would have been freaking the fuck out and would have asked, “IS THIS NORMAL?!” to her begrudging seatmates every five seconds. 2023 Jen remained silent, instead digging out her earbuds, turned on The Office, and tried not to think about it.

3. The Carry-On

Before the takeoff debacle, I’d arrived at my seat without anywhere to put my bag. There were two backpacks in the overhead bin above my row, one of which belonged to the grumpy older man, I was sure of it. He did not move out of his seat to claim his bag. I stared helplessly around the plane, my jet-lagged brain desperately searching for an open bin while holding up the line. Finally, I spotted an open bin about four rows behind me. I slammed my luggage in it, then thanked the passengers behind me. “I’m jet-lagged,” I said as an excuse for making everyone wait. “I appreciate it.”

After we landed, I told my seatmate that I needed to grab my bag. He had been asleep on the flight and was noticeably less grumpy. He stood up and let me by. I excused myself until I got to the row where my bag was. A kind passenger grabbed my bag for me, handing it to me.

“Thank you so much,” I said. Holding the bag, I turned around and tried to set it down as carefully as I could. Despite my best intentions, I hit a passenger’s arm with my bag as I set it down.

“I’m so sorry,” I said hurriedly. The passenger ignored me, staring straight ahead.

I looked down the aisle, resignedly. I tried.

Welcome home.

*Stark, J. “Annoying Shit with Travel – a Mathematical Journey.” The Journal of Made-Up Facts, April 2023.

** Or rudder. I cannot remember. This is not the important part of the story. All you need to know is something critical on the plane sounded fucked up to the pilot and he aborted takeoff. This has never happened to me before. There’s a first time for everything, I guess! Good times!

Categories: Life, Travel

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2 replies »

  1. I loved the footnotes and scientific inquiry…. Thanks for sharing and congratulations on your trip … πŸ˜ŠπŸ˜ŠπŸ’•πŸ’•

    Liked by 1 person

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