I’m sure many people have stories to tell about interesting flights they’ve been on – like the time my husband and I were flying home from England, and somewhere over the North Atlantic the stewardesses came around asking for men’s leather belts to tie a man down. That’s all the details we were ever told. We made an emergency landing in Newfoundland and the guy was unceremoniously hauled off the plane in handcuffs. I figured the guy was just drunk and unruly, but my husband was white knuckled the rest of the way thinking the worst possible scenario – we’ll never know. At least we made it home.
When I was in my 20s I was flying a lot due to summer jobs, internships, and family visits. Most of the time I was traveling alone, and to my happiness found myself sitting next to interesting people. We’d end up sharing a few drinks and have lively conversations. It was a great way to pass the time.
These days, with the way airlines squash you in like sardines, there is a constant dread of being stuck next to someone who snores or who spreads out into your tiny space with arms and legs and loud music in their ear buds. But I can’t recall any such bad experiences back then – funny how that is.
Here are some short accounts of some of my more memorable flights:
I was flying from Toronto to Washington, DC and was in the window seat just behind the First Class partition wall and I found myself sitting next to a senior officer of the US Air Force. I instantly noticed him and his staff when they entered the plane because they looked very serious and were in full uniform carrying briefcases. I didn’t know enough at the time just by looking at his ribbons and stars who he might be, but I knew he was high in rank.
He told me that he had been in Ottawa on official business and was on his way back to the Pentagon. We chatted about my internship at the Smithsonian, and he told me about all the different fighter jets and other aircraft that he’d flown.
Eventually I said that I always thought that it would be wonderful to go gliding.
I told him about how a glider had landed not far from where my parents lived and that I’d seen footage of flights that looked incredibly beautiful. He said that he loved gliding and that he’d love to take me up there sometime. He gave me his card and told me to call him at the Pentagon and he’d take me. Wow.
I chickened out and never called. I missed a golden opportunity – a lifetime adventure – too afraid of going out with such an impressive and powerful man. (Stooopid me)
On a flight from Athens to Toronto I sat next to the editor of a travel magazine.
We chatted for several hours (its a long flight) and had several glasses of wine and a couple of meals. We talked about her work and her trip to Greece. I told her about my work on digs, and my travels around the country, and at the end of the flight she offered me a job writing for her magazine.
Just like that!
She gave me her card and told me to call her, and when I was ready, I’d have a job.
Life was too busy for me at that time, and I never followed up. I was in the midst of writing my thesis and finishing my degree and couldn’t fathom adding to my already heavy work load. And then – life just moved on.
On my first flight to Athens (from Halifax) I was traveling with a friend and we were very late for boarding our flight on Olympic Air.
We ran all the way to the terminal and by the time we got there, there were no regular seats left, so they took us up the spiral staircase to the top floor of the 747 to First Class.
We were the only passengers up there for the entire flight, and we even had our very own stewardess. From where we sat at the front of the plane, we could look into the cock pit.
This was in the ‘olden’ days when cock pits weren’t locked. The pilots came and went, visited with us and the stewardess, and invited us in to see the view.
We were served champagne and great food. It was amazing.
Two poor University kids on our first big adventure to Greece, going First Class all the way.
On another flight from Athens to Toronto I sat next to a Greek Canadian artist. We talked about art and Greece and our travels. It turned out that he designed and created the massive and intricately carved screens (Iconostasis) for Greek Orthodox churches and that he had commissions all over the world.
It also turned out that his brother was a film director for CBC, and had filmed a documentary on my father – small world!
On a flight from Toronto to Washington DC I sat next to an off duty American stewardess. She had perfect blonde hair, perfect makeup and perfect clothes and was very pretty. She looked like a Barbie doll stewardess. She was really nice and fun and we talked and talked during the flight.
She told me about her training, and all about the things that she’d seen go wrong on her flights – fires in the galley, medical crises, and on and on. It was fascinating, but it was also unnerving to hear how often emergencies happened on airplanes and the passengers never knew.
On a flight from Ankara to Athens I didn’t sit next to the dog – the dog had a seat of his his own across the aisle from me. He was a big blonde dog and he had a very elegant, wealthy lady sitting in the window seat next to him.
He didn’t buy me drinks or offer to take me somewhere interesting, but he made quite an impression on me.
The airline was Turkish Air as I recall, and it wasn’t a big airplane. The dog and I and the elegant lady (and whoever sat next to me) were in the front row.
When the plane came in to land at Athens, it took a sudden sharp turn and plunged like a sea eagle does – straight down all at once. The engines were roaring and the entire plane was violently shaking all over. The seats were shifting and sliding around, stuff was falling, and I remember people screaming and praying and crying.
I looked over at the blonde dog across the aisle from me and he had braced himself for landing with great dignity. He had forced all four of his feet into the seat to secure himself during the precipitous descent. His composure during those few terrifying moments kept me from complete panic.
Then the plane suddenly raced to a forceful and abrupt stop. We’d landed. We were alive. People cheered and wept.
The elegant lady was hysterical and shaking as she and Mr. Dog got out of their seats and went down the metal stairs to the tarmac. Then Mr. Dog calmly found an appropriate spot and peeded, and the journey was over.
Best person on a flight ever – Mr. Dog.