October 23, 2008
When I flew to Orange County for my class reunion, the flight was almost completely full. I hoped to be sitting next to some business person who just wanted to read the paper and sleep, because that is what I wanted to do. I really didn’t care to carry on a conversation with anyone on this flight as I was tired from my late night shopping expedition to find THE dress for my reunion and getting up early for the flight (o-dark-thirty as we would say in the airline business!) and a soggy 90 minute drive to the airport in early morning traffic. As I boarded the aircraft, I noticed that there was a little head bobbing around in the row I was to sit in. “Great.” I thought, “Kids. Oh well… Gosh, there are two of them. ” I could see no parent in the row with them, just a teenager on the aisle next to them. ”Are they alone?” I wondered as I schlepped down the aisle with my roller-board and favorite travel purse big enough to hold my lunch, book, and makeup. As I arrived at the row, I realized that the parents were on the other side of the teenager. The family of five had the entire row except for my seat, which was the far window seat. The kids were really cute, a boy and a girl, contained excitement pouring out of them. I didn’t really want to climb over them to my window seat, and I thought that they might like to have the window seat, so I asked the Mom and “Yes!” they wanted the window seat. So, I settled into my aisle seat, putting me in the middle of this sweet family. In some way, I felt a part of this family, a great feeling, even if it was make-believe.
I came to realize that the reason for the family’s seating arrangement was because this was the first flight for the entire family except the father. The wife understandably wanted to be near her husband and the children were extremely well behaved. They were so well behaved that I know that they had been well trained their entire lives, not just “ordered” to “be good” on the flight. Their internal behavior controls were so well set that even with the excitement of their first flight, they never had the least little thought of misbehaving. They were a delight to their tired seat-mate, who only closed her eyes for about 20 minutes, choosing to interact with them rather than sleep during most of the flight.
Before we could take off, there was the matter of fastening the seat belts. Seat belts on aircraft operate differently that those in vehicles. As adults, we just somehow know how to fasten each of them without any problems. It was different for these two novice fliers. Sabrina took just a slight minute to figure it out, but Matthew was still struggling. As a former FA, I know the safety importance of knowing not only how to fasten your seat belt, but also how to UN-fasten it as well. So I wanted to make sure that they both knew how to un-fasten their seat belts as well as fasten them. This took a few minutes and Sabrina was like a concerned mother hen making sure that her little brother was buckled in just right! So sweet to see after all the sibling squabbles that I’ve observed over the years on planes. She was really taking good care of him to make sure he was safe. They were polite, attentive, interested in what was happening inside the plane as well as outside (now that they could see out of the window), and quiet.
One example of their good manners was after the beverage service and Matthew was finished with his beverage cup and pretzel bag and wanted to throw them away. He carefully watched what the Flight Attendant was doing (as all passengers do –Flight Attendants are the In-Flight Entertainment as there is nothing else to watch!). He could see her making her way from the front of the plane toward our row picking up the finished service items. He was ready. And so were his manners! Well, every time she got even remotely close to us, he would hold up his empty cup toward her and say very politely, “Would you please take this for me?” Well, she never heard him and didn’t even see him and evidently her trash bag was full, so she just walked past us back to the galley. He watched her go by and put his cup back down on the tray. Another FA walked by (her arms full) and he perked up and held his cup up toward this one and again said, as if for the first time “Would you please take this for me?” She too, unintentionally ignored him. “Uhm,” I thought, “this is getting interesting.” Then she walked back by us, this time going the other direction and he did and said the exact same thing in his sweet child’s voice. Same reaction… nothing. This happened at least two more times and I don’t know if I was more appalled by the Flight Attendant ignoring him or by the amazing fact that he never wavered in his sweet polite request of “Would you please take this for me?”. By the way, even I couldn’t get their attention, and I was sitting on the aisle! Trust me, if a FA isn’t ready to pick up your trash yet, she won’t. Finally one of the Flight Attendants realized that we had items to be picked up at our row and came and took our trash. And, sure enough, as though he had never uttered those words, he said very politely, as though it were the first time he said it, “Would you please take this for me?” Which she did. and then he said, ”Thank you.” I was impressed… good job Mom & Dad!
The reason for this family’s first time flight was THE TRIP to DISNEYLAND!!! No wonder the kids were excited! If you have ever flown from the Northwest to Southern California you know that the beautiful Pacific Ocean reveals itself from the fog & clouds when it is ready to do so. On today’s flight this happened somewhere south of Monterrey. All of a sudden you could see the beautiful blue ocean interspersed with the slashes of brown mountains that are the California Channel Islands. Time for a geography lesson –so I told the children what I knew about Mendocino, Anacapa, Santa Barbara, and Santa Catalina islands. Then we were over Vandenberg AFB, then Oxnard and PT. Mago NAS, and this is where the gentlemen from the row in front of us joined in our scenic conversation. We were all enjoying pointing out areas of interest to these two little ones as they craned their necks to see out the window.
About this time, I finished up most of the water from my clear plastic water bottle. Time for a science lesson. I showed my seat mates how the water bottle looked now (normal and not collapsed) and I closed it up tight and put it into the seat pocket in front of me. I told them how after we landed, the bottle would look completely different without our doing anything to it. I explained that it had to do with “heavy air” and “light air” – phrases I have used to help children understand air pressure. I did a brief explanation and let it go at that. About 15 minutes later, Matthews ears really began to hurt. I explained that it had to do with the light air inside his ears trying to get out, but the heavy air in the cabin ( now that the cabin was again pressurized) was pushing hard to keep the light air inside his head and this difference is what causes the pain. Pulling out the now collapsed water bottle I had a visual for them to see what was happening inside their ears. l immediately showed them both the Vasalva maneuver which Sabrina could do right away. The only thing Matthew knew was that his ears hurt and he kept chewing his gum. Finally, after many instructions, he figured out how to do the Vasalva and guess what! His ears popped and he was fine!
When we pulled into the terminal area, Matthew saw the terminal building and knew that Disneyland was their final destination. He just figured that we were at Disneyland and kept asking me if that was Disneyland. I told him “No, that is the airport terminal.” several times, but he just wanted to believe that we were at Disneyland! He finally believed his Dad when he told Matthew that we were at the airport.
As happens on aircraft… most conversations are not private and my conversations with the children were no exception. The two gentlemen that were in the row in front of us heard everything and as we deplaned, one of them made a positive comment to me about the children. I said my goodbyes to the family and followed the gentlemen off the plane; that being the end of it, or so I thought.
Chapter 2 Fast forward two days later to Sunday evening after a busy, fun, weekend visiting and at my reunion. I had the same plans for the flight home that I had planned for the flight to Orange County — read a little then take a nap. It didn’t work out that way, again! As I was boarding my return flight home, I took my assigned seat and noticed that my seat mates looked vaguely familiar. No, it wasn’t the family that I was sitting between, it was the gentlemen who had been in the row in front of us on the flight down to OC! What are the odds of that?! They had participated in a special Golf Tournament over the weekend and were disappointed with their results so they were happy to be headed back home. We had a wonderful conversation and fun working the crossword puzzle on the flight home. It was a fun trip all around … the flight down to Orange County, the weekend reunion, and the flight back home. Just think how different my flights would have been if I had “just read my book and slept” as I had initally planned to do!!! It was much more fun to interact. I love the possibilites that travel presents if you open yourself up to them!