Illiteracy is rampant. People are out of communication.
- Karen Black
On a plane for Atlanta.
The row ahead of me includes, from aisle to window, dad, mom, 3-4 year old.
While signs suggest this isn’t junior’s first flight, he’s also not quite ready to take over for the captain.
He cannot help moving. He is driven by the energy of a pre-schooler multiplied by the idea of actually flying – up there – in the planes. They look so sky when they sore over his house.
I sit at a safe observation distance in the aisle seat with a sleeping elderly couple providing suitable insulation between my flight and this kid’s frenetic energy.
I’ve other work to complete, but can’t tear my eyes and ears off of the scene.
This little guy cannot stop investigating. He’s got questions, and his compact size allows him to wiggle to vantage points I’ve never enjoyed in flight.
I am loving the story he’s writing of the flight.
The flight attendants, all big hair and drink rations, are having none of it.
“Ma’am? Ma’am! He’s got to sit. He’s got to sit down. The captain’s got the fasten seatbelt sign on. Ma’am?”
The line is delivered with a smile reminiscent of the one the evil queen must have flashed when meeting her stepdaughter while courting Snow White’s dad.
Not above attempting help, the flight attendant tries to buy compliance from the little guy, “Do you like chocolate milk? I think I’ve got some chocolate milk in back.”
Motion stops in the seat, and the flight attendant turns toward the tail of the plane. To no one in particular, she flashes a face of “OH. MY. LORD.”
After the milk is delivered, our rows enjoy a period of relative calm.
“Uh-oh, mommy,” I hear.
Mom’s head looks toward the window seat and then turns to dad, “His armrest is broken. We should tell them.”
Dad, stereotypically non-communicative, nods his head and heads back to sleep.
Twenty minutes later, mom and kid work their way to the restroom. He’s gotta go. Plus, peeing on a plane sounds like an adventure.
While they’re away, flight attendants begin collecting trash. One meets another just behind my row.
“He broke the armrest,” she says.
A heavy, all-knowing sigh.
They continue on their way.
From that point, until we exit the plane, a quiet battle takes place between the flight attendants and the family seated in front of me. It’s as thought mom, dad, and kid have shown themselves to be incompetent as passengers. Several times, they are questioned as to the upright and locked status of their seat backs as we prepare for landing.
The kid has broken their plane and they will take it out on this family in the only way they know how – by flight attending them to death.
As I watch the situation turn from cute to funny to sad, I wonder at the seconds of miscommunication that shift how these two groups understand one another. An event took place for which neither was responsible, but both were party to, and it defined how they came to know one another.
It took only seconds.