CONFESSIONS OF A CLAUSTROPHOBIC FLYER

by Nancy King

Sartre was wrong.Hell isn’t other people, it’s flying with a company I will call WeDon’tCare Airlines.

The first sign of trouble came when I printed out my boarding pass and noticed I had no seat assignment even though I’d booked seats for all my flights. I called WeDon’tCare and was treated to: “Our menu has recently changed . . .” and there was no option to speak to anyone resembling a person. Silly me. After listening to too many: “I’m sorry, I don’t recognize . . .” I began to press numbers randomly to relieve my irritation and frustration. Much to my shock, I connected to a reasonable facsimile of a human. I quickly stated my dilemma in case she hung up. “I’m not able to assign you a seat, you’ll have to go to www.wereallydontcare.com and book your seat there.

“I don’t have access to a computer,” I told her.

Not missing a beat, she repeated herself and added, “You can book a seat when you check in.”

“But what if there are no seats available?”

“I can give you seats 31F and 22F.”

“But they’re in the back of the plane and they’re window seats. I’m claustrophobic. I hyperventilate. I panic. My blood pressure goes up and I get horrible headaches. That’s why I booked bulkhead seats.”

“Do you want 31F and 22F or not?” she snarled.

Afraid of ending up with no seats I booked them and immediately agonized about how I would deal with a long flight locked into a window seat. During the two days remaining before my flight I called several times, groveling, pleading, and begging for other seats. Apparently, WeDon’tCare refuses all job applicants with even a whiff of compassion and they all read from the same script—if you’re able to connect to a person.

I arrived at the airport three hours early, hoping to ease my rapidly increasing panic but there was no one behind the airline’s desk. When I saw a policeman walking by, I asked if he knew when the personnel would arrive. “Knock on the door, someone’s there.”

I knocked. A rumpled ticket agent looking like an adolescent who’d just gotten out of bed with his girlfriend came out. His uncombed hair fell over his eyes and I wondered if he could see. “What do you want?” he muttered. “We don’t open for another hour.”

I explained my predicament. He said no seats were available but he could sell me a “choice seat” for twenty-five dollars. Biting my tongue and gritting my teeth, I agreed. He said the seat was an aisle seat in the front of the plane. He gave me the paperwork, told me the seat number, I gave him my credit card and exhaled with relief.

When it came time to board, I sat in the aisle seat in the front of the plane for which I’d just paid twenty-five bucks, only to be told that I was sitting in the wrong place. Stupidly, I hadn’t looked at the number of the seat I’d paid for. Stupidly, I thought the rumpled male had done what I’d asked him to do and what he said he would do. Stupidly, I’d paid twenty-five dollars for my worst nightmare— a window seat in the back of the plane, the seat I’d already been assigned. Shame threatened to asphyxiate me. I began to shake and hyperventilate. Unable to help myself I had a full-blown panic attack. It was all I could do to keep from screaming like a crazy woman. I tried to calm my breathing but it was as futile as stopping wild horses: besides, by then I was shaking so hard I couldn’t think. The flight attendant looked annoyed. People around me were sneering and giving me dirty looks because I was disrupting boarding and blocking the aisle. I worried that the flight attendants would forcibly eject me from the plane.

Perhaps there are angels who hover over us, in disguise, helping when they can, because an elderly woman who was standing behind the flight attendant came to my rescue. “I have an aisle seat up front. I’m happy to exchange seats with you.” Unable to take in what she was saying in my panicked state, I sat, frozen, staring at her.

The flight attendant couldn’t control her irritation. “This is a full flight. You have to move. You’re sitting in someone else’s seat.”

The elderly woman said to the flight attendant, “She can have my seat. I’ll take hers.” I was so busy trying to stop my panic and control my breathing that I couldn’t move or speak. I just sat, motionless, like a dead noodle.

By now there were hordes of people waiting to board. The angel woman offered me her hand and said, “Dear, I’ll help you move.” Without waiting for me to respond, she patted my hand as if to calm a terrified child. “Is that your bag?” she asked. I nodded. “Do you have anything else?” I shook my head. “Take your bag and I’ll show you where my seat is. Still holding her hand, I got up and moved to her seat, which was two rows in back of the seat I thought I had paid for.

I barely managed to say, “Thank you,” as she walked serenely to the back of the plane.

The WeDon’tCare airline might be, genus aeroplanus horribilus, but there are definitely people who are homo sapiens perfecta.

Wherever you are, compassionate, kind, helpful, female traveler and seat-giver, please accept my profound gratitude and appreciation. You reminded me, once again, of the importance of our caring for each other.

Nancy King has written many books and articles dealing with imagination, creativity, drama, and literacy. You can read the first pages of her novels: A Woman Walking, Morning Light, and The Stones Speak. on her website: www.nancykingstories.com. Her books can be purchased from her website or ordered by local bookstores.

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