“War in the Skies” by Stacey Gustafson

This story appears in the anthology “Not Your Mother’s Book…On Travel.” 

If you’re like me, you hate to fly these days. Flying has become tortuous since X-ray body scans, flight cancellations, smaller seats and lost luggage. We travelers are sometimes treated worse than cargo.

But there are strategies to employ in order to survive flying. Southwest Airlines offers an open-seating policy where customers can grab any unclaimed seat. On a recent flight from San Jose to St. Louis, I hatched a scheme. I waited for my number to be called at the terminal, rushed to the first available empty row and grabbed an aisle seat. Then I set a trap like a spider to solicit a seatmate.

Anyone skinny, without kids or a large handbag, and who appeared germ free met my prerequisites. I spotted a possibility and announced to her in a loud voice, “Excuse me. Would you like to sit here?

“Oh, thanks. How thoughtful,” she said.

More like self-serving.

But on airlines with assigned seating, your seatmate is a crapshoot. Take a recent Delta flight. Without checking my ticket, I was confident I was in the right row and grabbed a prized aisle seat. I stowed my books, attached the seat belt and waited. And watched. A rather portly man came barreling down the aisle, eyeing my area.

Oh, God, please no. Just keep walking, I thought. Let’s just get it out here—one size seat does not fit all. He lumbered by.

I survived the next wave of crying kids, sneezing teenagers and businessmen with briefcases. A slim, petite woman smiled in my direction. Jackpot, come on over. She fumbled to check her ticket and said, “You’re in my seat.” I checked and rechecked my ticket. She checked hers again. Damn, I had the wrong seat!

I returned to the main aisle and moved down a few rows. Like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, a man over 6’4” and 250 pounds, was in the aisle seat of my row. I squeezed past Big Guy, climbed over his huge shoes, oversized coat, bulging briefcase and big bag of greasy takeout food. I avoided eye contact out of pure irritation.

Then the flight attendant announced, “Put away all electronics. Buckle your seat belt.”

Mr. Big dug around his seat searching for the belt, knocking me in the chest with his mammoth elbow. “Sorry. Can’t find the darn seatbelt.”

A few more jabs to my ribs and the search was over. I glanced out the corner of my eye to watch him buckle in, no seatbelt extender necessary. Whoosh, like a can of biscuits, flesh exploded over and under the armrest and filled in all available spaces.

After removing his shoes and stuffing the extra blanket under my footrest, he asked, “Honey, could you please turn on the overhead light?”

That was his opportunity to snatch my armrest. My skinny arms were no match for his muscular, oversized appendages. I tried to ignore my discomfort and took a short nap. When I awoke, I discovered my tray table down, crowded with a cup of water, a can of soda, a coffee mug with the contents half finished, and The New York Times. An iPad was squeezed to the side, the cord dangling across my lap.

Stacey and the "Big Guy"

Stacey and the “Big Guy”

I let out a sigh and fought to keep my mouth shut. Despite its size, the tiny bathroom would be a welcomed reprieve from the cramped setting.

“I need to go,” I said, and rolled my eyes as he removed all his items from my tray table. Then he stood and let me by.

Over the loudspeaker, the flight attendant said, “Due to turbulence, you’ll need to return to your seat, please.”

You’ve got to be kidding.

In my hurry to be reseated, Big Guy moved to the middle seat. Despite his “nice” gesture, sitting in the aisle seat proved as bad. He leaned on me the rest of the flight, bending my spine like a case of scoliosis. I was so far into the aisle my head got clubbed by the drink cart.

Soon our captain announced, “Prepare for landing.”

Once on the ground, I gave Big Guy a smooch on the lips. Then I whispered in my husband’s ear, “Thanks for the terrific vacation,” squeezed his arm and motioned for our kids in another row to wait for us at the exit.

Maybe next time I can be upgraded to first class.

Travel 250_rgbStacey Gustafson is a humor columnist and blogger. Her short stories have appeared in Chicken Soup for the Soul, Not Your Mother’s Book, Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop, Midlife Boulevard and More Magazine. Stacey lives in California with her husband and two teenagers. Stacey makes an entertaining tour guide in her new book “Are You Kidding Me?,” a brash, voyeuristic peek inside the topsy-turvy world of suburban motherhood, midlife madness, and all points in between (http://amzn.to/1phOUqi). Visit her blog at http://www.staceygustafson.com or Twitter @RUKiddingStacey.

Again, this story appears in “Not Your Mother’s Book…On Travel.” The book features 58 travel stories from around the world. Purchase this book today from your favorite retailer, Amazon (http://amzn.to/108SSFD) or Barnes & Noble (http://bit.ly/1tAGDZF).

To submit your stories for consideration in future NYMB titles, go to http://www.PublishingSyndicate.com and click on the “Not Your Mother’s Book” tab.

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