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Flying the Friendly Skies

I present you with the People-Watcher’s Guide, Travel Edition


hile many of you may be spending Pesach in your own homes, there are others who, by choice or familial pressure, must travel. Maybe you’re visiting family, or maybe you’re living it up at a hotel, but if this temporary relocation includes air travel, this article is for you.

In fact, all frequent (or not-so-frequent) fliers can clip this article and store it in your carry-on for future use; it may come in handy.

Without further ado, I present you with the People-Watcher’s Guide, Travel Edition.

Find the following characters in the seat next to yours — or, if you look closely enough, in your very own seat.

The Schmoozer:

Just when you shove those foam ear plugs into your ears and reach for your complimentary eye mask, Rhonda appears on the runway and flashes you a wide, toothy grin. “Well, I’ll be!” she begins as she places her luggage into the compartment over your head. “You look just like my second cousin, Beatrice! If I didn’t know any better, I’d give you a big ol’ hug right here!” Then her face gets serious. “Too bad Beatrice died of lung cancer last year.” You cluck your tongue appropriately and remove your ear plugs. This is going to be one long flight.

The Teenager:

Believe it or not, teenagers are a semi-predictable bunch once you get the hang of them. And of this one thing you can be sure: They have zero interest in talking to you. Which is why they make excellent seatmates on a ten-hour flight. Recognize a teen by the hood covering their forehead, or the electronic device casting an eerie blue glow on their face.

The Crying Baby:

No need to look too hard to find this one. The parents are likely the ones cowering apologetically nearby or bobbing up and down rocking the offending baby. All well-prepared passengers keep their carry-on stocked with a few spare pacifiers and an extra pair of ear plugs just in case your seat happens to be the one next to Baby’s. Especially if the baby is yours. But then you should probably just make annoyed faces along with your neighbors and let them think the baby belongs solely to your husband. Don’t worry, the crying will stop when you land.

The Whiny Kid:

It’s a close tie between this one and the Crying Baby. Because the baby might actually fall asleep at some point, but the Whiny Kid never does. They are just perpetually overtired kvetches. No matter how many Bissli bags their parents toss them and how many screens are shoved in their faces, they will forever find something else to kvetch about. Solution: Slip some melatonin discreetly into the next Bissli bag and smile graciously when their parents wonder at the sudden behavior change. Just don’t give them your name.

The Antisocial Butterfly:

You can recognize this one by her blatant reluctance to make eye contact. She’s probably an introvert who has work to do, or slumber to sleep. If you recognize yourself in The Schmoozer, then it’s probably best for everyone involved if you swap seats with a different Anti-social Butterfly who happens to be sitting next to a Schmoozer. How will you know? The ASB is the one grimacing into the safety manual while their neighbor is having a one-sided debate over Ukrainian politics. (Feel free to send shadchanus gelt my way after the flight.)

The Frequent Flier:

You can’t miss this one on a mission, heels clicking determinedly through the airport. Her cardigan is casually draped over her shoulders, her passport and ID easily accessible in a chic wallet. Her minimal luggage falls within the prescribed weight limit, and her neatly packed carry-on rolls effortlessly behind her.

After she settles comfortably into the seat next to yours, she retrieves the latest novel you’ve been wanting from her conveniently midsize pocketbook (which she knew the airline allowed in addition to the carry-on). When the flight takes off, she gives a casual glance out the window, as though checking the weather, before returning her attention to the novel without the slightest arch of a brow. She does arch her brow, however, when you — for the third time in 20 minutes — apologetically climb over her to retrieve your pretzels from the duffel bag you stuffed in the overhead compartment.

The Organized Mommy:

We all know her. There is, no doubt, at least one of these on every flight, usually seated, of course, next to the Disorganized Mommy, who would rather be sitting anywhere else. When you wake up from your Benadryl-induced nap and realize drowsily that morning has come when you least expected it, you teeter down the aisle toward the bathrooms. While rubbing your bleary eyes, you notice a smiling Organized Mommy waiting in line ahead of you with a fresh face of makeup, toothpaste, toothbrushes, and a full-sized negel vasser cup in hand. There’s a line of kids in matching pajamas trailing behind her. “Hey, can I borrow that cup when you’re done?” you ask. “Sure! I brought an extra one just in case!”

The Muncher:

When you’re finally exiting the plane, you can’t help but notice the empty seat with 15 empty chip bags, a bunch of sucked-out applesauce pouches, and several chocolate wrappers. The seat next to that one is suspiciously clear of any debris; you can’t help but wonder if he was secretly eaten by his seatmate.

The Covid-Conscious:

Armed with mask and gloves, she looks at you like you’re carrying deadly germs around on a dessert platter, ready to serve. If you find yourself seated next to the Covid-Conscious, mind your manners and sneeze in the other direction. And don’t cough.

The Screen Addict:

If you find yourself seated next to the Screen Addict, ask the stewardess for an eye mask, lest you turn into an SA yourself. The SA will alternate between a selection of screens, sometimes viewing them all at once. They will surf channels through the night, and when entertainment is unavailable they will watch the map or safety guidance displayed on the screen. If you would like to draw their attention, feel free to text them.

The Cubby-Hogger:

Just as you’re about to heave your one knapsack into the allotted overhead compartment, along comes James from three seats away with seven duffel bags and a backpack the size of a small sedan. He says not a word, nor does he make eye contact with you, as he effectively hogs your entire overhead compartment. Noticing the snake of tattoos along his forearm, you wisely keep your mouth shut and your knapsack between your feet for the duration of your flight.

The Sleeper:

You wish The Sleeper would share his secret with you, so that you can promptly give whatever he’s taken to the Whiny Kid next to you. But, alas, he makes no sound (other than several groundbreaking snores) until the end of the flight, when he finally turns to you smiling, oblivious and semi-apologetic, asking if it’s his turn to hold the baby.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 889)

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