Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Awkward Morning After... Or, Why I Am Only Flying First Class From Now On.

Yesterday morning, approximately twenty-four hours before I landed in Rio de Janeiro, I left my house. My whole family drove me to the airport, and while I was worried that getting there only an hour and a half early wouldn't leave me enough time, those fears immediately disappeared when I saw that there were eight people in the security line when we arrived. And not a single person in the check-in line. So no, I didn't miss my flight, but as soon as I got on my plane I realized there was an even bigger problem: I just might die aboard it. 

I boarded the plane only to find out that it was probably the smallest and oldest one I had ever been on. Even with just one seat on the left and two on the right, fewer than half of the total seats were filled. I found mine easily and immediately pulled out the safety instructions, since I was worried I would need them. That document told me that the plane I was on was an Embraer 135, and that the final assembly of this aircraft was completed in Brazil. I couldn't decide whether that was a good or a bad omen.

So picture this, the auspicious start to my journey: I'm in row 5, and I can hear everything that's going on up front. Everyone's on the plane but the cockpit is still open when I hear a man's voice: "I've never done this kind of plane before." Please don't let that be the pilot, I think. Luckily it's not; I am pleased to realize that it's just an airport employee on the breezeway wondering about paperwork.

A few minutes later, everyone is buckled in and the flight attendant (singular) is walking back and forth down the aisle taking notes. The woman across from me suddenly decides that she wants to move up two rows. "Sorry, ma'am" -- the flight attendant sends her back -- "I've already done the weights analysis." Um, excuse me? I have several problems with this. First of all, I'm sitting in the aisle seat but since there's no one next to me I was planning on moving over to look out the window. I guess I won't be risking that now. But my second problem is this: what if I need to get up to go to the bathroom during the flight? I don't want the loss of my weight to cause us to crash -- while I'm still locked in with the toilet. Lastly, what did she do -- estimate everyone's weight as we walked on? But what about our carry-ons? She has no idea how much my Portuguese dictionary or my Portuguese verb book weighs. Or maybe there was a secret scale we walked over while entering the plane. I would have loved to steal a glance at the flight attendant's notebook to see what kind of calculations she used for this "weights analysis."

Just before the plane takes off, the pilot announces not "Flight attendants, please prepare for departure," but simply "Phyllis, please prepare...." This is actually kind of cozy after all.

So obviously I made it to New York alive. When I arrived, I quickly found my gate (though after making my way through a long winding maze of temporary hallways across the tarmac), and lo and behold, one of my classmates from my Portuguese class was sitting there already. I was glad to find a travel partner since I still had a long journey ahead of me.

The flight from New York to Atlanta was quite uneventful, as was the five-hour layover in New York. Nick and I got to the gate before the plane that was leaving from there before ours had even boarded, so we just found an empty corner to settle in. None of the dozen or so TVs listing the departures even had our flight yet. So we waited. And waited. And ate. And wandered around a little. And waited.

By the time our departure time was nearing, our gate had been moved to the other side of the terminal -- which gave us another way to kill time. By the time I boarded the plane, it was over 12 hours since I had left my house. And I still was only in Atlanta.

The taxi toward take-off was promising. Out the window, we could see fireworks -- and I had thought that I would be missing them this year. The nice Brazilian man next to taught me how to say fireworks in Portuguese. Once we were in the air, we flew over several other fireworks shows -- a perfectly fitting last memory of America for the six months I'll be away.

However, things started going downhill from there. The talkative eight-year-old girl in front of me said to her father, "Let's play a game, Dad. It's called Sky Mall." You can imagine how painful that was to listen to. I couldn't be too mad, however, since I am sure I have played similarly obnoxious games before. Just perhaps not as loudly.

I couldn't really forgive her, however, for reclining her seat and leaving my legs awkwardly splayed to the side. She wasn't even sleeping! She just kept talking. When I tried to rest my knees against the back of her seat, her bouncing almost dislocated my knee cap.

But eventually I settled into a slightly comfortable position and closed my eyes, deciding to forgo watching "Seventeen Again." However, every time I started to fall asleep I was jolted awake when I felt the man beside me tap me on the leg or shoulder. I would lift my eye mask each time and see that he was actually asleep. And that was when things started getting really bad.

For the next several hours, the man fell asleep on my shoulder and spent the whole night caressing it. Like, literally caressing my shoulder and arm. Very gently and lovingly. He would occasionally wake up suddenly and apologize profusely and turn away, but within just a few minutes he would be at my side again. It definitely ranks up there as one of the most awkward experiences of my life. 

Eventually I gave up even trying to sleep and just played Solitaire on my iPod, staying as close to the wall as I could. Out of my window I could see what I assume was the Amazon rainforest, stretching out in the darkness as far as I could see. The perfectly full moon reflected orange on some body of water below. The sky was black except for the occasional shooting star. I was finally in (well, above) Brazil, and it felt incredibly surreal.

After several more apologies from the Brazilian man, he managed to stay on his side of the arm rest and I managed to get an hour or two of sleep. However, soon it was light again and we both woke up to an intense awkwardness as the plane descended into Rio and we ate breakfast next to one another. I didn't know what to say to him -- should I acknowledge all that transpired between us in the night? Or should I just pretend it was all a dream? Luckily I didn't have to choose -- he complimented me on my very soft and comfortable shoulder.

I decided right then that from now on I want one of those bed-like chairs in first class every time I fly overseas. However, my experiences with Brazilian men can only get better, right?


  1. Louisa,

    We'll get right on that first-class ticket thing. . . . Peter pointed out to me that in some ways this story is similar to your train ride in France.


  2. The last time I remember you and Peter playing games with Skymall was, let me see...... during our flight home from Atlanta this past October (but not loudly).


  3. haha I can't believe that guy was actually stroking your shoulder! Creepy. Also, how did you not watch seventeen again? It would have improved your whole experience significantly.