Strange Seatmate

The adolescent seatmate plunked down in the narrow seat next to me on the plane bound for Phoenix. The electronic game was immediately taken from its case and thumbs set in motion to play with fervor.

It was hard to tell whether I had a girl or a boy next to me. The turned backwards, baseball cap concealed the hair and facial features and the skinny jeans with the rips at the knees were not giving gender clues.

Curious, I asked, “Are you traveling by yourself?” Without looking up the polite response was, “No, I have my siblings in the back.”

In the row ahead of me another child traveling alone, settled in. He eagerly told his seatmate, a middle-aged woman surrounded by her own children, that he was eight years old, his moms e-mail address, his home address, his home phone number, and details of his parents’ divorce.

The parents of the boy had pre-arranged his travel and the airline employees were aware of his situation, and they not only escorted him directly to his seat from the hands of the parent dropping him off, but they checked on him continually throughout the flight.

Once airborne my seatmate resumed the game, head down, fully engaged and clearly not interested in having a conversation.

After flying for several hours, we did begin to chat.

“I’m here with my cousins.”

“I thought it was your siblings?”

“No, it’s my cousins.”

I asked if there was someone to pick them up when we arrived in Phoenix. 

“No, my uncle is in first class, he will take us home.”

Having just published a book, Confounded by Immigration: Immigration from a Biblical Perspective, which included a chapter addressing human-trafficking, all kinds of alarm bells rang in my head. Two different stories, no one checking in during the entire suspicions grew.

The flight attendant came back several times to check in on the boy in front of me and never once glanced at the child next to me.

As my imagination started to run away, I pictured this child in a very vulnerable position. I wanted to alert the flight attendant of possible human-trafficking. I wanted to press the child for details and try to confirm the story. I wanted to mind my own business.

Before landing, I recalled my own children attending a program called “Stranger Danger,” which has segued into “Clever Never Goes.” Developed in the 1980s, “Stranger Danger” was a response to an apparent epidemic of children being kidnapped and murdered. Since most abductions were committed by adults the children already knew, a new message was created; hence “Clever Never Goes.” Originating from the United Kingdom, the “Clever Never Goes” concept drills into children not go anywhere with anyone unless plans have been made ahead of time. 

After mulling over the dilemma I was having over the child next to me, I was keen to observe during deplaning that there was no one waiting from first class and clearly the child was holding back waiting for someone, siblings or cousins, to catch up from the rear of the plane.

I passed the flight attendant on the way out. I said nothing about my suspicions about the child who changed the story more than once, who showed no obvious signs of distress or fear of any kind. The child who was just interested in getting to the next level on the iPad and minding their own business while passing the time away.

I could not stop thinking about the awkwardness of trying to engage a child in conversation or how afraid I was for this total stranger’s safety.

And then it dawned on me. Maybe, just maybe, this child was paying attention when they were told in class “don’t talk to strangers,” and to them I was the stranger.


Category: Airplanes

Latest Stories
Checking In/Checking Out

Filter by Category

Everyone has a story to tell...

Submit Yours Here

Points of Departure: