a flight to london and the social experiment we call air travel


Flying North blog is now in London with me, doing what we like to do best – sitting at a new cafe near Victoria Station, Caffé Fratelli, having a latte.  If you stop by, they don’t take credit cards yet so bring some pound notes with you.  As I was sitting on the Tube ride in from Heathrow, I got to thinking about the plane flight and how, not unlike the NYC Subway, the mere act of traveling by plane is a sort of social experiment.  However, unless the subway gets stuck in a tunnel, you probably won’t be spending more than six hours in intimately close proximity to your fellow travelers.

The Delta flight from JFK was a 2-3-2 seat configuration, and I wisely chose an aisle seat as the right seat of the three.  Enter, the social experiment.

To my right in the aisle seat across from me was a woman who looked like she had stepped out of a Renaissance Fair, complete with middle-earth-looking rings and miles of stringy straw-colored hair that somehow stretched its tentacles all the way to me when I least expected it.  Now when I say she looked like she was from a Renaissance Fair, don’t picture a put-together British Queen, instead picture a woman who lives alone in an apartment she has had since the 1970s with her thirteen cats. 

She had a printed skirt with an akinte-cloth-meets-Barnum-and-Bailey’s-Circus theme.  Her old black sandals were only made worse by the black nylon socks she wore with them.  It made me wonder, was she German?  To make matters worse and in keeping with the Renaissance theme, every five minutes she was hacking like she had tuberculosis.  To her right was a Sikh Indian who had to be at least seventy, with full headgear and the faint smell of curry on his breath.  Together these two were magical.

To my immediate left was the skinniest Asian student I have ever seen, in his very early 20s, around 5 feet 5 inches tall, with black shaggy hair.  He had a Toshiba laptop and a backpack full of books with which he did his college work while I attempted to sleep.  What made him an interesting character is that when spoke, he sounded exactly like Hugh Grant – in a voice so polite and so mature it just didn’t compute.

To his left was a sixty-something woman, who, upon take-off, took three pillows and four red Delta blankets, cocooned herself in all of it, put her tray table down, laid her head on it, and went to sleep.  The shaggy Asian and I were taking bets on if she had died or not.  I was concerned that the Renaissance woman’s cats might smell the rotting carcass and try to eat her.

In front of me was the largest African man I have ever seen in my life, with skin so beautifully nero it almost looked gray.  This man had Clash of the Titan-sized arms and legs, and of course he had a penchant for reclining his seat as far back as he could.  He was so much in my lap I could have told his fortune by reading the bumps on his head.  He also had an iPad.

Then there was me, trying to catch a few winks while in the midst of the grand social experiment.  Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to London’s Heathrow Airport, and thank you for choosing to fly with us.