October 09, 2013


I had an aisle seat on my flight home. Next to me sat a young woman, about the age of my college students. She had blond hair that hung into her face and stylish plastic glasses. I knew something was wrong when she began searching the seat pockets frantically.

“Where’s the airsick bag?” she asked. “I’m going to need one.”

I pulled mine out. “Here.”

She opened the bag and held it near her mouth. The plane hadn’t even taken off yet, so this precaution seemed strange.

“Are you okay?” I asked. She burst into tears. Not just a few tears rolling down her cheeks, but anguished sobs. I patted her back until she was able to breathe.

“My grandmother died,” she said. “I tried to get there in time, but I didn’t make it.”

I talked to her soothingly while the flight attendant was walking up and down the aisles, telling everyone to put on their seatbelts. It was during take-off, when the plane was ascending with sickening lurches that I realized that the young woman was pretty drunk. The flight had been delayed for several hours, and she’d spent that time in the airport bar.

“I tried to drink my problems away, but it didn’t work,” she said to me tearfully. By the time the plane had risen above the clouds, she was vomiting, repeatedly, into the airsick bag. The flight attendant brought us more bags and some napkins, plus a glass of ginger ale. Flight Attendant wasn’t much older than Drunk Young Woman, and she seemed relieved when I assured her I’d keep an eye on her sick passenger.

Outside the window, the sky was dark. Inside, the plane was mostly dark, too, filled with sleeping passengers. In the dim light, I took the hair tie from Drunk Young Woman’s wrist, and pulled her hair back from her face so it wouldn’t get drenched in vomit. She spilled the glass of ginger ale into my lap. I wiped her face with wet towels I’d gotten from the airplane bathroom. She leaned against me, saying things like, “I’m not usually like this. I’m just really sad.”

Pretty soon, she stopped talking. She slumped over the airsick bag. Her skin was pale. I talked quietly to the Flight Attendant, who assured me that she’d have medical personnel meet the plane when we landed. I kept talking to Drunk Young Woman, and she usually would at least nod in answer to my questions.

When we landed, the Flight Attendant asked everyone to stay in their seats. I found Drunk Young Woman’s purse, put her glasses and phone safely in there, and closed it. Three men in EMT uniforms hurried down the aisle towards me. I gave them her purse, and two of them lifted her to her feet and carried her off the plane. I sat back down and attempted to clean up the area – stuffing all the vomit bags and wet cloths into the plastic bag Flight Attendant had given me.

That’s when, to my surprise, all the passengers around me began talking to me. I’d thought most of them were asleep during the flight, but it seemed they’d all been listening the whole time. The older man in front of me stood up, turned to lean over the seat, and said, “I just want to tell you that you handled that REALLY well.”

The woman across the aisle, who had given me her extra airsick bag, said, “I was so impressed. You were really great with her.” And the woman on the other side of her chimed in, “If I’m ever sick on an airplane, I want you sitting next to me.”

It was lovely, really, to get such affirmations from strangers. As I stepped off the plane into the cold night air, I could see the ambulance: the girl was sitting up, at least, so I hoped she’d be okay. As I came though the gate into the baggage area, I saw an older man and a woman who looked like they were waiting for someone. I knew they must be the uncle and cousin who had promised to pick Drunken Young Woman up. I went over to tell them what had happened, and they rushed off to the counter to figure out how to get to her.

I hope by today, she’s recovered. I know she wanted to be at her grandmother's funeral, and I hope her family and friends are helping her grieve.


Anonymous said...

Thank for sharing this story with us. I'll keep that young woman in my prayers.

Bardiac said...

So very sad.

But I can easily imagine that next time I'm grieving on an airplane, I'd be grateful to sit next to you.

Flavia said...

What a sad story.

But I'm not surprised that you were the person to give her what she needed at that moment.

susan said...

You are totally who I"d want sitting next to me on a plane at a sad moment--what compassion you show for others. And how sad for that girl; I hope she is OK.

Magpie said...

yes. i'd want you right there with me. you're a lovely and compassionate woman, and you do the right thing.

robin andrea said...

You showed her such human kindness, such heartfelt compassion. She was lucky to be sitting next to you, and you are lucky for having such a good heart.

Liz said...

What they all said.

Zhoen said...

You were what we all hope we will be in a crisis. Or will have beside us in our time of need. And often, we are, and we do.

Tie-Dye Brother-in-law said...

Other than that, how was the flight?

Seriously - I know you're not too fond of flying; I'm wondering if the need to be a care-giver distracted you in a positive manner?

Ms. Moon said...

When I was a very little girl, my mother had to run from my father who was a bad drunk who had recently acquired a gun and with the help of some friends, she managed to smuggle my brother and me out of the house and onto a plane to Florida where her parents lived. Unbeknownst to me or my mother, I was coming down with Strep throat and on the plane, I began to vomit. I was sitting next to a man and I will never forget throwing up orange juice all over his newspaper and I will never forget his kindness to me.
Your story reminded me of that. The horror of vomiting on a stranger, his compassion and kindness when I did.
You, too, will be remembered.

jo(e) said...

Tie-Dye Brother-in-law: Oh, you're right. I am always much better on an airplane if I have someone to take care of.

jo(e) said...

Ms. Moon: What a thing to live through. I'm guessing that vomiting on the plane was the least of it. Thanks for sharing that glimpse of your life.

Annette said...


And the Spirit leads. May our own children in their distress be able to "depend upon the kindness of strangers" like you.