My husband was in the aisle seat, I was in the middle seat, and The Man was in the window seat.
The Man had one white earbud in his ear; the other one was dangling in his lap. His right thumb swiped through several screens of his smartphone in less than a second. He heaved a sigh.
“This is f*cking lame,” he muttered.
The plane was supposed to take off 15 minutes ago. At that time, the captain had announced that the plane had technical difficulties, but he anticipated that we would be up in the air soon.
The minute hand continued to sweep its arc across the clock face; soon we were 55 minutes behind schedule. The Man spoke into the microphone of his white earbuds:
“Hey, it’s me … yeah, we haven’t taken off yet … yeah, we were supposed to take off like an hour ago … This f*cking airline sucks … Whatevs …”
The captain picked up the intercom phone. The Man mumbled something and then pulled the earbud out of his ear.
“I’m sorry, folks,” the captain said. “I thought that we could get this situation under control, but we can’t. The plane’s indicators are telling us that the nose isn’t in neutral position, even though other instruments and external measurements say that it is. I can’t risk flying this plane like this. Safety comes first, so we’re going to switch planes. I’m sorry, folks. The flight crew will tell you where to go shortly.”
Quiet murmuring moved through the cabin.
“F***********CK!!!” The Man screamed.
Then he punched the wall of the plane.
Silence filled the aircraft. I could hear The Man breathing.
I forced myself not to turn my head. My husband also kept looking straight ahead.
“I’m sorry that you have to start working,” my husband said, though his lips did not move and no sound came from this mouth. It was a telepathic message. I sighed in response.
I looked over my shoulder. The people seated behind me were staring at The Man with alarm. A flight attendant about five rows away shot a dark look at The Man, but did not move closer.
Don’t reinforce bad behavior, I reminded myself, wondering if I should say something. I didn’t have enough information at this point to know what to do next. Do I ignore him? Do I pretend that nothing happened? But what if he escalates his behavior because no one is acknowledging his distress? But what if he punches me if I ask him what just happened?
I glanced at him. The Man was chewing on his fingernail. His leg was bobbing up and down. The single earbud was back in his ear.
“It’s really frustrating, huh,” I said while grabbing the personal belonging stowed under the seat in front of me. If he tried to hit me, at least I could throw my bag at him.
“Yeah! This sucks!” he exclaimed. The woman in front of him turned her head a few inches to look at him. She swiveled her head back around. “I fly back and forth across the country every week and it’s been a sh*tty week and I just want to get some sleep tonight because I have an 8 a.m. meeting tomorrow, and I usually fly a better airline and this is just f*cking ridiculous.”
“We all just want to get to where we want to go …” I kept my bag on my lap.
His leg stopped bobbing, and he pulled the earbud out of his ear.
“Yeah. I mean, I guess this f*cking plane problem doesn’t happen a lot, but why this plane? At the rate we’re going we won’t get into Seattle until 1 a.m.”
My husband’s posture relaxed as The Man shared his duties as the Vice President of Something Important at The Company Where Important People Work. His Important Boss was expecting A Very Important Report. No one seemed to understand how difficult this Important Report was; it was hard for him to get the Important Report done given all of his other Important Duties.
The Man slumped back into his chair and sighed.
“… but, I guess the most important thing is that we get there safely, right?” he said. He flashed a warm smile at me. I smiled back at him. My husband demonstrated an extraordinary fascination with the contents of his bag.
“So, hey, what do you do for work?” The Man asked.
“Oh, I do stuff for the county.”
His phone chirped. The Man looked down, and his thumbs began to tap out a message as he mumbled, “Oh, that’s cool.”
Maria Yang is a psychiatrist who blogs at her self-titled site, Maria Yang, MD.