Up up and away

I love to travel. I also love to people watch. Flying gives me the opportunity to do both.

I’ve never been one to sleep on planes. I can’t relax enough. I get too keyed in to the noise around me….people talking and moving around in their seats, papers shuffling, rifling through bags, coughing, etc. Plus I get paranoid about people watching me or doing things to me. Hey, don’t judge.

Since I don’t sleep, I’ll usually read. Most of the time that’s enough to fill the time.

That wasn’t the case on my most recent flight though. I was on a flight from Omaha to Newark and it was about 3 hours. Not terribly long, but long enough. I read for about an hour. Closed my eyes for a few minutes but to no avail. A girl’s gotta try. So, that’s when the people watching kicks in. I watch and observe and put together stories in my mind as to what their lives are like.

First there was my seat mate. Here are the deets:

  • Early 30’s and married
  • Dress is casual but hip – dark wash jeans, salmon colored button up
  • Thin build with a shaved head.
  • He is reading a book on how to grow and stretch yourself on the job.
  • Old Timex watch
  • Unfriendly – never said a word to me the whole flight
  • Germaphobe. At one point, he bumped me with his elbow while getting his book out and immediately recoiled and wiped his elbow. A bit later, when handing the stewardess some trash, his arm grazed mine twice and he visibly shifted in his chair, wiped his arm, and I think he might have shuddered.
  • But, he has B.O.

Here’s the story I made up in my head about him.

His name is Ethan. He’s married to Alisha and they have 2 little kids. He has a job where he has to travel a lot, probably a consultant of some kind, and he’s trying to climb his way up the ladder. He wife buys his clothes because she wants him to be trendy and look good at work. He’s gotten used to it. The job requires him to interact with people to get sales. That doesn’t come naturally to him. He is introverted but forces himself to be extroverted at work. All that “show” is exhausting so he only does it when he has to. He doesn’t like all the travel but it’s necessary. Airplanes are full of germs. Hotels are full of germs. At least he gets a lot of Hyatt points. Also, flying makes him nervous… and a 3 hour flight? Deodorant failure waiting to happen. He senses that he’s a little ripe so he physically moves away from me on the plane. He’s embarrassed by it. Appearance and impressions are everything. Besides, what could he have in common with a tatted up chick? It’s best to keep reading until the flight is over.


On the flight home, I sat next to a lady who wanted to talk but was socially awkward. I tried to be nice and chat some but also give her hints that I wanted some space and not to be bothered. She did not get the hints.

  • Late 40s or early 50s, married with 2 older kids (she told me this)
  • Long blonde hair, partially pulled back. It’s starting to come loose though
  • She’s wearing peach pants and a matching cardigan, with a flowered shirt underneath
  • She has a half empty cup of ice in the seat pocket, a long with a big black binder and file folder
  • She’s looking at her phone but is turned so that she is leaning against the wall and holding the phone toward me me…almost like she is filming me with it
  • She squirms a lot

Here is her story:

Her name is Ellen. She works for a transportation company doing research. She travels around the country meeting with buyers. Her husband is an accountant and works a lot…all the travel has made them estranged. Her oldest is off to college and her youngest is starting high school. She has ADHD. It’s hard for her to sit still and concentrate, especially on a long flight. She tries to do some work but gets bored. She looks to see what I’m doing (which is reading) and turns so that she can read it too. She’s also very nosy. She’s curious about me so she starts asking random questions….how long have I been married? Do I have kids? Why am I traveling? Where do I work? When I turn back to my book, she shifts in her seat and tries to sleep. She’s tired from the week away but can’t quiet her mind. She thinks about home and her family. Her son will be working or out with friends when she gets home. Her daughter probably locked in her room watching TV. Her husband will be in his home office working. No one will even notice when she returns home. She’s lonely. She thinks about next week and how she’ll be traveling again. She needs a break. She turns to me and smiles a sad, tired smile and says she is glad to be home. It sounds forced and she knows it.


I wonder what stories people make up about me? Do they think I travel a lot? Do they wonder if I’m a badass because I have a tattoo on my wrist? Do they observe me reading and not talking and assume I am quiet and introverted? Do I look like a wife and mom? Do I look like someone in technology or in management?

I guess we never know what impressions we give off to others and how accurate their assumptions are. We’ll probably never know. And how easy it is to change those impressions by simply changing what you wear, what you do, what you eat, or how you act.

Who do you want to be on your next flight?

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