Monday, December 27, 2010

The Passenger In 3B

Having made it home this morning, I promise I'll get the next part of "Home for the Holidays" up in the next day or so...But...

After 22 years of flying I finally got a truly crazy passenger as a seatmate. Briefly.

I was booked in the First Class cabin for Continental's red eye SFO-CLE. I keep promising myself that I'll never do a red eye flight again, but it seems more often than not they offer the best timing to get back to Cleveland from the west coast. Such was the case tonight, and I wanted nothing more than to sleep.

Boarding opened and I quickly found my way to my seat with a view of the world -- 3A -- and started to settle in for the 4 hour 15 minute flight. Oddly, I happen to overhear the captain telling the flight attendants "If you have any problems with passengers, let me know and I'll deal with it." I didn't really think anything of it at that moment.

I noticed the gentleman who took 3F seemed a bit odd, but I initially wrote it off as just a nervous flyer. He didn't really settle in when a couple holding boarding passes for 3E and 3F showed up and pointed out that he was in the wrong seat. At that point from his behavior it was clear he wasn't completely lucid, and he muddled his way to 3B.

Ok. Nervous flyer. I've seen this before, he'll settle in and we'll be done. Our flight attendant comes by and asks if we want anything to drink. "Orange Juice, please" is my request. My seatmate is obviously displeased by this selection and orders "two glasses of champagne for us" and tells me I need to relax. The first of many times that phrase will be uttered over the short time we will spend together. The flight attendant responds that they don't carry champagne, and the seatmate settles for white wine.

I had no intention of drinking on this flight.

While the Flight Attendant is away Mr. 3B grabs the cuff of my right arm. "Beautiful color" he says. "Thank you" I respond. "I love the color of your shirt" comes a few seconds later. "Thank you". "You need to relax. I'm not sure if I would do it myself but that's an interesting color for your shirt." "Relax" This general series of exchanges persists throughout our stay together. I don't like being touched, and even absent touching this is just making me really uncomfortable, especially if I'm going to sleep on this flight.

Trying to redirect the conversation I try asking him about his travels. He's not very responsive but what little I can glean is that he came to visit relatives for the holidays and it was a "huge mistake"--his words. Even that sentence ended with him commenting on my shirt color.

The flight attendant appears with two cups of wine and the orange juice I requested. Mr. 3B starts to get a bit agitated. I think the easy exit is to oblige him with a toast and a sip. "To time with family" doesn't go over well. And again he tells me I need to "just relax" (hint: telling me to relax usually has the opposite effect). He reaches across the foot-wide no man's land of the first class armrest and puts his hand on my leg--far too close to my pelvis, even for close friends and relatives. I shift away.

At some point I notice that his movements are very loose and "swishy" -- the signs I associate with someone being under the influence of something. Oh. This is starting to explain a lot.

I plug my headphones in (thanking whatever Deities came to mind that this aircraft was one of many in Continental's fleet equipped with DirecTV) hoping that that would give him the clue. He tries to put one of the earbuds in my ear. We are no so far past my tolerance I'm running various scenarios through my head.

3B unpacks the complimentary headphones for his seats and puts them in his ears but doesn't plug them in to anything and continues trying to talk to me through the earbuds--talking about my shirt ("Is that custom?", "Beautiful Color") and telling me to "relax, dude". He drops his phone. It's out of my reach but I point it out. He seems confused and doesn't think that he has a phone. Ok.

I wait a few minutes, weighing pros and cons. I'm not going to be comfortable awake on this flight. I'm not going to be able to let my guard down enought to sleep on the flight and I can get a room in San Francisco for the night if need be. I grabbed my jacket and carry on bag and swim upstream -- against the flow of still-boarding passengers and make my way to the galley.

"I'm sorry to bother you but it seems the passenger in 3B might be drunk, high, or both" slips from between my lips. Before any response comes: "I need to move, he needs to move, or I need to get off this flight." I'm fully prepared to head up the Jetway and deal with rebooking on something tomorrow. I would have taken an Economy seat if need be.
"Oh, he's not with you?" the first flight attendant enquires.
"No, and I don't think I've ever seen a passenger so...out of it." my response. I fill in the details like the generally odd behavior and the inappropriate touching.
a second flight attendant chimes in "Let's get him off then". A beat. "Seriously, if he seems drunk, we can't let him fly. I'll get the captain."
The captain comes out and I do a brief rehash of my concerns. After observing, the captain decides that he's not going to be comfortable with that passenger on his flight.
I'm asked to wait in the galley.
The gate agent comes down.
3B will not be travelling via Cleveland tonight. I am staying on board.

On one hand I feel kind of bad for the guy, but he really didn't seem to be in any shape to fly (talking to the 3E and 3F couple--who, it turns out, were also glad to see him go, as we were waiting to get off the plane my guess is that he was originally booked on a flight to Newark that was supposed to leave 3 hours earlier but had been canceled. If that hypothesis is correct, I can guess where he spent the 3 hours.

The crew handled the situation quite swiftly and remarkably professionally, and I was able to sleep comfortably. Waking up, as I always seem to do, just in time to watch the signature city lights of Chicago pass below, fading into the Great Lakes then giving way to Grand Rapids, Detroit, and finally home. Cleveland.

Happy New Year!


* Trivia: as air pressure decreases the effects of alcohol and other intoxicants are more pronounced...if you're drunk and unpleasant on the ground you're going to be really drunk and unpleasant in the air.

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