Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - April 26, 2024

Plane folk

Most young children are initially pretty cautious around strangers, but not the young boy next to husband Art and me as we waited to board our flight to Manchester, England. He wasn't quite a ball of energy, but he didn't suffer from a short supply either. Dad decided to give him a chocolate treat, probably hoping to have him focus on it for a while instead of wandering among the other passengers. What appeared to be chocolate stains near his collar spoke to it as being a go-to solution for his parents.

To my surprise, the boy chose me rather than either of his parents to help remove the wrapper. Once I had partially peeled it back, he put about an inch into his mouth, bit the piece off, and continued his previous exploring.

I imagine that folks who opt for plane travel are pretty much like everyone else, yet the bunching together of a large number in a fairly regimented situation does provide a great opportunity for this sort of people-watching.

Earlier, on our plane from Chicago, Art drew my attention to a woman of about 30 across the aisle from him. She had difficulty putting her carry-on in the overhead bin, so he offered to do it for her. It would be typical for some acknowledgment of the favor to be given, but none came. Art said it wasn't that she seemed ungrateful, but rather she was almost driven to move on to her next challenge - arranging the area by her seat properly for the flight ahead.

At that point, one of the flight attendants passed by and the young woman caught her attention. The ensuing conversation was about the passenger's inability to register her special meal request on the airline's website. The attendant first became defensive, but then realized the young woman just wanted to know if there were any options.

A few minutes later, the attendant returned with a special-request meal that had been ordered, but that passenger had failed to appear. The woman scrutinized the ingredient list carefully and then pronounced it acceptable. Once again, no "thank you" or anything of the sort was forthcoming as the passenger immediately returned to creating a comfortable "nest" around her.

Later, Art noticed she was twirling her hair while watching a video and listening to two different cell phones, one earbud from each in an ear. Art turned to me and said, "High maintenance!"

I had noticed another one of these in the airport in Chicago. Most of us were just waiting, but she was knitting, stopping every few stitches to respond to her tablet that was running a game, while all the while chewing gum at a record-setting pace.

Nearby, a mom was trying to corral her toddler, who seemed intent on joining passengers rushing by. I held my breath each time someone barreled through with a rolling suitcase, afraid it might catch the girl and send her flying. Before long, dad came with a hamburger and fries. The girlís attention immediately turned to the food.

I donít think of myself as much of a traveler, especially when compared to our friend Bryce who works as a doctor in Alaska in alternate months and then travels the world during the intervening ones. But just 20 years or so ago, it wasn't uncommon to spot people you were pretty certain had never flown before.

One overseas flight to Europe had a bunch of older fellows heading to a D-Day anniversary celebration at Normandy. One of the group had a lanky frame and leathery sunburned skin. The jeans, Western-style shirt, and boots all seemed to shout "rancher." His incessant pacing made it clear he felt out of his element.

After a few hours, he passed by the toilet and gave the closed door a once-over. Later, he pushed the door open a bit to look inside. My hunch was his need was growing and he was waiting until the urge would overwhelm his uncertainty.

When he wandered off once again, a well-upholstered woman arrived, but she didn't hesitate. For whatever reason, she didn't lock the door. After a minute or so, the "rancher" reappeared and decided to take the plunge. He began pushing the door open in a very deliberate way with his hand. Almost too quick for the eye to see, the woman's hand appeared and pushed it shut. The startled cowboy jumped back and then quickly scurried away. I never saw him again!

Art probably qualifies as a member of the unusual "plane folk" family. Our recent flight to Manchester was pretty bumpy due to turbulence. The pilot apologized for what he called the "lumpy" trip that kept my anxiety level pretty high. But Art said he just considered it to be a free roller-coaster ride.

He wasn't that interested in the recent eclipse, seeing it as pretty mundane stuff. Yet how many others pull out their cell phones mid-flight and turn on the GPS to watch the path of their planes across the earth below?

Ah, yes! These "plane folk" all have their own little quirks when it comes to flying and provide a source of entertainment - or at a minimum - some diversion as the rest of us wait for the trip to be over!

Top-left: Art "excited" to see our plane is operated by the airline from his hometown. Bottom-left: It's a small world! Art discovers a Green Bay Packers fan in London's Heathrow airport. Top-right: A photo I took just to capture a step in the trip was later discovered to have captured our "high-maintenance" travel companion. Bottom-right: close-up of the area in the oval of the photo above.

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