View from the Middle Seat

I have a love-hate relationship with airports. Mostly hate, if I’m being honest. I appreciate the grandeur of being able to travel such great distances, but there is still always an acute form of anxiety associated with airports. Particularly the vague and underlying feeling that no matter how close I am to my gate or my plane, I am only one misheard announcement from being stranded. Of course it doesn’t help that the announcements in the airport are often mumbled through what I can only assume are the worst quality microphones available. The airport itself is like if a mall and a train station were merged into a never ending hellscape. Restaurants (if you can even call them that) that I have never heard of seem to be the most popular choices, particularly ones that serve only pretzels.

All of the people working at airports seem to have had their souls sucked out of them. In place of their souls they have a glassy-eyed look and a monologue about taking off your shoes and belts, as well as making sure nothing is in your pockets. I can’t imagine it is anyone’s dream job to wave people through a metal detector and grope “randomly” selected victims, but if it is, they are the ones that should be on a no-fly list.

The one saving grace of airports seems to be the parts that move for you. Escalators, and their cooler siblings moving walkways, are the last remaining luxury afforded to those flying commercial airlines. Having machines do movement for you is a form of opulence that would melt the mind of many a medieval peasant, and one that certainly helps the beleaguered ranks of: families returning from or heading to Disney World who often have the most obnoxious children currently living on planet earth; traveling salespeople numbed to the hell of air travel; and, study abroad trips consisting of overactive young people and their overstressed, underpaid chaperones.

Actually sitting in an airplane is without a doubt one of the most uncomfortable positions that any human being could ever be put in. I believe the middle seat could be used as a more than adequate form of torture should the boys at Guantanamo ever get bored.

There is a strange sense of community that comes with being on a plane sitting next to someone. You each sacrifice your personal space in order to get to your destination, hoping that the person next to you is not too nosey or talkative to make the experience even more excruciating than it naturally is. On a recent flight, I can remember sitting next to a man who before take-off engaged in a loud conversation over the phone about someone using his money to buy shoes.

“I got a question for you. What the hell have you been using my money on? Since I’ve seen you post all those new shoes, are you using my money to buy all those new shoes?”


“Uh huh”



At this point he switched the call to a Facetime and showed the person on the other end what Chicago looked like. Cold. Across the aisle and a row ahead of me, a man became too tempted by the intriguing conversation to look away any longer, and took a glance at the man on the phone. Rookie eavesdropping move, you look with your ears never your eyes, as a sign of respect of course...and as a way of making sure you get all the juicy bits of gossip without the person knowing you’re doing so.

“Yeah, I’ve been in the airport since six am. I could use some mushrooms.”

I personally would go for a coffee or an energy drink before mushrooms, but to each their own. After that his conversation became less and less interesting. I instead focused on the woman in front of me, who despite her perfectly manicured nails and freshly dyed hair, seemed to be approaching 60 given the way she navigated her tablet, holding it so close to her face her nose almost touched the screen. She was reading a book on her tablet in a font so large I’m sure people on the ground would be able to read it as we passed by. Some true crime novel with a female protagonist...I didn’t get much before she put it away.

I’ve been very cynical of planes and the people on them, but I will say that there are little moments that remind you that everyone is human, and that we all deserve respect and dignity. For instance, the flight attendants passing out drinks, giving kind smiles all the way down, making little jokes with people. It takes a great deal of charisma to get someone in the torture rack that is the middle seat to give up a chuckle. Another heartwarming instance of humanity, at least for me, is when someone falls asleep next to you, not only is it a sign of trust, but gently waking them up when their food or drink arrives always makes me feel like a parent somehow. Like I’m looking out for them, making sure they get their juice and that they don’t nap for too long.

Speaking of parenting, lastly, and most importantly is the baby. Every plane has one, and they serve a vital role of screaming their lungs out nonstop. I don’t know how it can be possible for every flight to have at least one guaranteed infant, but that, to me at least, is how things have always worked. I don’t blame them, I think they are having the most natural reaction to the recycled air and abrasive, cramped seating arrangements. I think if we were able to throw off the chains of social inhibition, commercial airlines would be overtaken by the almost cult-like harmonizing of human suffering.


Categories: Airports, Airplanes, Trips

Latest Stories
Checking In/Checking Out

Filter by Category

Everyone has a story to tell...

Submit Yours Here

Points of Departure: