Southwest Airlines has a policy where they don’t assign seats to their passengers, they let them on the plane in waves and the seating tends to sort itself out. This works quite well; the people who like to sit at the front of the airplane tend to get what they want, those who prefer window seats can find them, and the family with the crying infant can have any seat in the house. I don’t *really* care where I sit, but I like the window seat because it provides an intangible sense of isolation. It’s related to the knowledge that I’m only three quarters surrounded by strangers.
The man in front of me as we walk through the jetway looks like one of those artsy types, the kind that listen to hip music and dress in black for hip reasons. He must be in his mid twenties, not recently out of school, but he walks with this gait that says, “I mean business”. He grabs a seat between two attractive girls about my age. I see a window seat behind him, and another girl moves to let me into my intangible isolation.
I rarely talk on airplanes. It might be that I just don’t always feel comfortable striking up a conversation with someone who can’t leave if they want to. I once sat next to a Mormon missionary who preached her religion for the entire three hour flight, and although I learned some fascinating things there was a point in which I was tempted to cash in on my atheistic lack of morality. The person next you is also an awkward target of eye contact; if you look at them you’re already in their face, and if you don’t you are essentially talking to the tray table. Which is awesome.
It appears the man in front of me isn’t like minded, as he has already struck up a lively conversation with the two girls on either side of him. He tells them he lives in San Francisco. He’s an artist. He was *very* hip.
The two girls ate up every word for as long as I actively listened, hanging on his pauses and rising on his crescendos. The window girl was slightly bigger than the aisle girl, and I could see her body language whenever the man would turn his attention away. It was a competition. The two girls were competing for this hipsters’ attention. They each wanted to be the one who connected on the plane, and they didn’t want to share.
I tuned out the banter and lost myself in my book, ignoring to the best of my ability the local game of who can be more interesting.
It was when I reached to change the track on my CD player that I realized the girl sitting next to me was asleep. Normally that wouldn’t faze me, but she had her head ever so gently resting on my shoulder. Her book lay half closed in her lap, and her rhythmic breathing told me she was fast asleep. As peaceful as anyone could ever hope to be.
Most of the time being non-threatening doesn’t help much, but every once in a while you get lucky.