There are several phrases you hope never to hear on a four-hour flight:
“Prepare for a water landing.”
“There’s mother*ckin’ snakes on the plane!”
“Today’s movie stars Robin Williams.”
But earlier this year, I heard the five words that struck more terror into my heart than all the others combined, as they were uttered in a hushed tone by the mother of the 8-year old boy seated next to me:
“Does your tummy still hurt?”
When his immediate response was, “Yeah – real bad,” and she handed him an air-sick bag, I knew I was in for the ride of my life.
The plane hadn’t even taken off yet when he began squirming in his seat. The second the seat belt sign was turned off, his father rushed him to the bathroom, but not before he threw up in the aisle opposite me.
After about a half hour, he returned to his seat, smelling of an acrid combination of vomit and airplane soap. Given that I am highly susceptible to stomach bugs, I focused all my energy on becoming as small and as light as a feather so as not to come into contact with his disease. My body floated above the armrests. My lungs would only inhale 100 molecules of air at a time. Eventually, he fell asleep and I allowed my body to land.
Midway through the flight, he began to stir. His mother was occupied with her infant daughter in the seat next to her, as the boy weakly said, “Mom? Mom?”
I immediately reached over and yanked her sleeve, pointing down at her now sweaty son. He sat up and searched for a bag, which I took as my cue to leap up, grab my book, kick my purse as far under the seat as it would go and make my escape.
I went to the galley up by first class and saw a stack of garbage bags, so I grabbed one and brought it back to the mom, ensuring that the boy had as large a target as possible. From there, it was just a waiting game. We had over two hours left in the flight, so I ran some quick mental calculations and determined that at his rate of vomiting every 30 minutes, and his estimated maximum stomach volume, I needed to stay in the galley for at least another 90 minutes.
As I stood there reading my book, one of the flight attendants – Joakim – asked if he could get me anything. I told him I was fine, and that I was just avoiding my seat-mate who was vomiting.
“Oh god, are you next to that little boy? Is he getting sick again? His dad tried to hand me the bag of vomit while I was delivering food service!”
I told him my story, and he apologized and said that unfortunately it was a totally full flight so there was nowhere for me to go. I said I was fine in the galley, far from the sounds and smells of my neighbor.
On his next galley run, he asked again if he could get me anything, “Bloody Mary? Screwdriver? Glass of wine?”
It was 10:00am. I hadn’t eaten anything other than a piece of toast four hours earlier. So I said hell yeah bring me some wine, and that’s when it became one of the best flights ever. Leaning up against the counter, sipping my wine and reading my book, I started to chat up everyone as they waited in line for the bathrooms. They would ask if I was in line, and I would say no, I was just trying to avoid getting vomit on me. Then we would talk, they would hang out in the galley for a while, some more people would join us – it was like a house party.
Every so often, Joakim would come back and hang out with me. He shared vomit and diaper horror stories from previous flights. He was my favorite flight attendant ever, and not just because he brought me two more glasses of wine during the two hours I stood there.
When the seat belt sign came on as we began our descent, I flashed Joakim a sad look and he shook his head. “Not yet,” he said. I could stay back there a few more minutes. Once it was truly time for me to take my seat, he handed me another garbage bag, “Just in case.”
The boy was again sleeping and my seat did not appear to be contaminated, so I quietly slid in, buckled my seat belt and closed my eyes. When I arrived in San Francisco, the text I sent my friend simply said, “Plane here. So drunk.” When life hands you lemons, sometimes you have to make Cabernet.
Filed under: General on April 22nd, 2010