When the flight took off, he was just a well-built, graying man with a wrinkled button-up shirt and a day-old copy of USA Today. By the time we landed, I knew him as Will, the 36-year-old recent divorcee who had spent the weekend with his college buddies, commiserating in his recent woes. I knew he preferred red wine over white, used to work as an animator who now dabbled in agency graphic design and would do anything for tickets to see U2. And he was recently diagnosed as bi-polar by the same doctor who advised he have knee surgery a few years back.
When our plane landed, he said his farewells to the woman he was sitting next to (in the row behind me) and went on his merry way.
So is the nature of the standard airplane seatmate / therapist relationship.
Though I don’t need to hear every last detail about a person’s life, I am absolutely fascinated by the fact that people don’t mind spilling their souls to the people they sit next to on airplanes. It never fails to surprise me what people will divulge … and how comfortable people feel to advise their seatmates in return on everything from marriage problems and college choices to medical issues. There is something about flying that allows for unusually short-lived but intimate relationships found nowhere else in our society, that I know of anyway.
Perhaps it’s the fact that we share mere inches of space with our seatmates or the unquestionably short duration of a flight (in the grand scheme of time). Within a certain time period we are confined to a specific space, and a lot of people feel comfortable sharing every little detail with perfect strangers, knowing full well that they’ll never, ever see these people again.
These therapy sessions start out quite innocently, almost always with a question along the lines of, “Why are you going to (insert destination here)?” From there, the conversation either leads to answers about family, friends or work.
And then the dominoes begin to fall. In order to sustain a conversation, the person who asked the question originally must either respond to the answer or the answerer must conclude his answer with a question for the person who asked. From there the conversation either fades away into awkward silence or, if it is the beginning of the flight, falls into an hours-long conversation of illegitimate children, weird work stories, strange surgeries, private encounters and so much more information that TMI doesn’t even begin to describe it.
Airplane seats may not recline all that much, but there frequently seems to be someone in need of therapy who sits next to the person who has no qualms with diagnosing problems.
What is the strangest thing someone has ever told you on an airplane? Have you ever been someone’s therapeutic ear on a flight?
Photo credit: Hen3k Hen3k