The Ups and Downs of Flying

by Mary Helen Darah


I’m actually doing it. I’m getting on the damn boat and heading northwest to cross “see Alaska” off my bucket list. The only thing is, to get on the boat, I need to get on a plane first. I know, I shouldn’t complain. It is absolutely miraculous that it only takes hours to transport myself, an overstuffed checked bag and a carry-on with wheel issues, (that most likely will not fit in the overhead bin) across the country in hopes of seeing a moose. It would take months, if not years, for our ancestors to make the same trip, with the constant fear of being pillaged, dying of some unknown disease, or running out of supplies. It really puts the temper tantrum the man had sitting next to me on my last flight over a peanut shortage in perspective.

I am a seasoned flyer. You don’t know what you’re made of until you take three children under the age of six solo through the Atlanta Airport. Although B.C. (before children) flying was just as “adventurous.” My first major solo flight as a high heeled, long-haired young adult was to Rome, Italy. I sat between two Italian men who could not speak a word of English. I fell asleep and woke up to find the man to my left fondling and smelling my hair. While his fingers were still embedded in 1980s hair that had its

own zip code, I quickly grabbed my “Italian for Dummies” book and to the best of my ability told him to “tenere le mani a posto” (keep your hands to yourself). I decided I would be safer if I turned to the older gentleman on my other side. Although my Italian was rusty I understood that he wanted to show me something. He produced a plastic bag from under his seat containing foul-smelling crabs.


I was between someone with crabs and someone with the potential of giving the female population a different form of “crustaceans.” I did not sleep again during the entire nine-hour flight.

Recently, I returned from visiting my beloved Uncle Tom, AKA “Unk,” in New Orleans. Red is such a happy color except when it appears on a weather radar on the path you will be taking. When a flight attendant gets on the speaker and says there will be slight air turbulence, buckle up, you know you are in trouble. Also when a retired RAF (Royal Air Force) pilot sitting next to you grabs your hand and says, “You know Love, this landing is going to get a bit dicey.” The Reader’s Digest version of the 38 hours it took me to finally make it home includes massive delays, four cups of coffee, and 26,000 steps walking around a terminal waiting for a flight, any flight, to take me back to my family. It also included an overnight stay in a less than desirous hotel in Chicago. I was exhausted, but discovering a rundown, full-size fridge in my room that I was certain contained a body gave me a second wind. Upon opening the door (I just had to) I am happy to report the only remains were that of weeks old Chinese takeout and some liquid in a bottle that I decided to leave to a CSI professional to figure out.

Looking back, I believe that experience even tops the time I had to hover over Atlanta for three hours while sitting next to a woman who had been feeding grapes to her pet ferret the first part of the flight, without the foresight of factoring in any potential delays. Which is worse, a gaseous small mammal or a bag full of crabs? The jury is still out.

Turbulent times and all, I am still amazed at flying. The last flight I was on, my daughter, who has lots of acronyms after her name including BSN and ACNP, came to the

aid of a passed out 29-year-old with a faint pulse. For this, she was given a complimentary water bottle by the airline. What was truly amazing about the experience was seeing the crew and passengers come together as a team.

Throughout my decades of travel, I cannot count the times I have bonded with the person next to me. Yes, you can find yourself surrounded by men with crabs, but most of the time you sit next to a random stranger and discover commonalities even with a tattooed and pierced gentleman wearing a T-shirt stating, “If you can read this you’re too close.”

I’m excited to get on the boat and ready for the potential bonding that can occur from delving into someone’s life while hanging in the air for hours. I’m going to buckle up and head toward adventure and memory making moments, through what I hope will be friendly skies.

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