Hit The Road
Single-serving friends have staying power
Having a meaningful conversation with someone on an airplane is an interesting experience because for that five-, six- or nine-hour period of time, you're that person's best friend.
Assuming the person isn't traveling with a companion, establishing a connection through conversation creates a bond, which that person does not have with anyone else on the plane. But, most likely, once you leave the aircraft you'll never see that person again. Maybe you've shared your life history, divulged information you'd never otherwise dream of telling a stranger (for that short time, you're not really strangers!), and yet you will both walk away, probably forgetting the encounter by the next time you board a plane.
This has happened to me at least half a dozen times. The last time I was on a flight from Phoenix to Boston, I sat next to an off-duty flight attendant named Suki. She saw me writing and proceeded to tell me not her life story, but her mother's amazing history. During three hours she told me about how her mother had been disowned by her family when she fell in love with a Jewish-American soldier in Korea. The soldier's family threatened to disown him as well, and he left Suki's mother to return to the East Coast.
Suki's mother met and married another GI, who became her dad. Years later, while living in Philadelphia, Suki's mother saw the soldier who had left her heartbroken in Korea. He was crossing a road. The two ex-lovers stared at each other, then the light turned green and they never saw each other again.
Suki and I talked about turning this history into a longer project. But we walked out of the plane and out of each other's lives, and while the haunting story has stayed with me, I really had to think hard to remember this woman's name for the purpose of writing this article.
WHAT IS IT about flying that seems to suspend time? Perhaps it has something to do with flying through time zones, either chasing the sun or flying from it, that makes us feel as though, for those few hours, we're completely separated from real life.
Whatever the case, I think that these "flight friends" are part of what I treasure most about traveling. Even if we never speak to each other again, I've created a connection with someone, and they've touched my life. Every person has a story, and if they decide to share it with me, that's a gift I'm glad to receive.
Recently, I have taken guilty pleasure in watching DVD sets of addictive TV series on my laptop instead of being open to in-flight conservation. Tomorrow morning I'm boarding another plane, and this time I think I'll keep my laptop stashed under the seat in front of me. Instead, I'll read a book or a magazine, and maybe, just maybe, the person in 24-B will decide to share his or her story with me before we land in Chicago.
Joy Uyeno travels frequently throughout the year, and her column geared toward beginning travelers or youths experiencing their first extended stay abroad appears the second Sunday each month in the Star-Bulletin Travel section.