Posted by: SandPen | December 3, 2018

Two Women in a Middle Seat

The flight to Phoenix for our annual golf tournament started smoothly. As usual I selected a window seat, 21A this time. A fairly diminutive woman was already in the middle seat when I boarded. Great! No crowding. With female neighbors, I generally make conversation their choice. She chose not.

The coughs began before lift-off. Little coughs pointed straight ahead, unimpeded by hand or handkerchief. They came at too frequent intervals. Sometimes I twitched slightly but that went unnoticed. Years in the aircraft industry left me with a clear understanding of cabin airflow. In through the ceiling, down and outboard across her seat to mine and out through a baseboard grill.

Our captain was piloting his last flight before retiring after 29 years with the airline. His family was riding first class down and back from Seattle with him. I mentioned to my neighbor after landing that it would not be my idea of how to celebrate retirement. She smiled and agreed—without adding a cough.

My cough started a day later and progressed into severe chest congestion, stomach cramps and an overwhelming weakness. By the fourth day I was too weak to play golf and had to give up after nine holes. Maddening since I held the lead after three rounds. The lady in the middle seat was not receiving good vibes.

Worry that medical attention was needed made flight home Saturday evening a necessity. Determined not to cough on the flight, I loaded up with cough drops and syrup. Again, it was a window seat, 19A this time and my neighbor turned out to be another woman, in this case able to occupy the whole seat. I steadfastly withheld coughs and breathed toward the window as much as possible.

We exchanged pleasantries, then she and her husband plugged tablets into the seat in front and became engrossed in the entertainment provided. Looking around it became clear just how far in the rear of the technology race I’ve fallen. No one talks anymore. Take away engine and air noise and we would be in a flying tomb…well, hopefully not literally.

I have a nerve in my right forearm that has mastered the ability to twitch exactly when not wanted. On the way down, it became apparent that I should select a “D” window seat. Then, when a flight attendant reaches out with a beverage, I could grasp it with my left hand and avoid the risk of spilling it on my neighbor. In fact, on the way down, the woman’s size made it possible to reach all the way around with my left hand.

Not so on the way back. The cabin was darker too, so my new neighbor was in serious risk of a shower. When the flight attendant stretched out with a glass of water, I told the woman I had macular degeneration and a nerve twitch in my right arm and was deathly worried I would spill the water on her.

“Oh here, let me help.”

A little later, when the beverage cart arrived, she asked what I would like. Ginger Ale. She ordered it and passed it across.

“Be careful, she filled it to the top.”

I was now her ward. Half an hour later, with only ice in the glass, I dozed off and later woke with a start that spilled the ice off the table in her direction. I apologized profusely.

“Oh, don’t worry. Ginger Ale is what we use to get stains out.”

After landing, she asked if I needed help in the terminal. She apparently was ready to help the little old blind man with whatever was required to see him safely on his way. Said I would be fine. My wife was coming to pick me up. Wanted to tell her what a pleasant person she was. How the world needed more people like her. But now she was on her smartphone and then busy with her husband getting ready to deplane.

Two women in a middle seat but at opposite extremes of the consideration spectrum.

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