Flying High

I don't normally write about travel, but in my latest WIP, I include a flying machine that's kind of like the one in da Vinci's early drawings. Unlike da Vinci's invention, though, mine is used by a maniac as a way to terrorize and execute people. In one scene where the machine is not in use and being fairly benign, writing about it brought back memories of my own experiences flying. I guess writers draw not only on their imaginations but also on what's happened to them in the past. My flying adventures are not colorful, but they have, now that I think about it, provided much in the way of research for my characters' emotions and actions.

I've been in a number of airports, both national and international, and I can safely say that I've learned a lot about people just by watching them use this most aeronautical form of public transportation. It is amazing how people respond to what's going on around them in an airport, how they deal with problems, for example, or situations that might lead to conflict.

There's one airline in particular that comes to mind when I think of conflict. That airline, for some reason, uses "herd boarding." In other words, passengers are not assigned a seat. Instead, they pick their seats as they get on the plane. Before they get on the plane, they have to stand in line in the order based on their boarding number that appears on their ticket. Basically, people line up according to a random number on their boarding passes and then board the plane in that order.  If you're one of the first, then you're guaranteed you'll get to sit with your family. If you're one of the last, which I always am, there's a risk that my husband could be seated eight rows away depending on what's available by the time we get on. Now, I know there are ways around this; however, I discovered those only after having flown this airline about four times. For those who don't know how to better their chances of not getting the seat between a man with a flatulence problem and a woman who wants to complain about the political party she hates--which happens to be the one you belong to--all the way across the country, the whole lining up and take your chances adventure is sometimes a little much. It seems harmless enough when I describe it, but on some flights it turns into The Lord of the Flies.

One time I remember standing in my spot waiting to board, having been one of the very last who had been watching everyone else trudge past her for fifteen minutes, when a man who appeared to be on the verge of belligerence asked me my boarding number. I told him, and he grumbled something that led me to believe he thought I'd taken his spot even though I was #6 and he was #7. He got behind me begrudgingly and stewed. I smiled and tried to be pleasant, but this guy wanted none of it. He wanted my spot, that place in the food chain that was just a little higher than his. It didn't matter that we were in the last group anyway and that we'd both have to choose between seats next to the guy picking his nose and the person banging his head on the seat in front of him in time with his technojazz tune. My "Hey, we're all in this together" can-do attitude didn't go very far with the Mr. Survival of the Fittest. This is definitely not the kind of person you want to be plane-wrecked with on a tropical island.

Other times, people are so completely nonplussed by the flying experience it's wonderful. Years ago, I noticed a group of fellow passengers coming down the aisle to take their seats. They were all dressed for what looked like a wedding, sans the bride and groom. They were jovial and obviously excited, chatting with each other the whole flight. When we arrived, they hustled off the plane the same way they'd gotten on it, almost as if they were getting out of a limousine in front of the church instead of walking down a gangway into a busy airport. They were focused on the celebration ahead and not the cramped seats or stale air in their mode of transportation. It was inspiring in a way, because you got the feeling they'd have all ridden surfboards if that's what it would have taken to get them to the event ahead; that's how important it was. I bet they had lots of fun. I know I enjoyed their positive energy.

As a traveler, I'm okay with airports. They are what they are, and since transporter beams haven't been invented yet, they're pretty much it for me in terms of long distance travel. However, as a writer, they're one of the most awesome people-watching vistas I've ever experienced. Will parts of the personas of the people above appear in my stories? Probably, if they've not wormed their way into them subconsciously already.

So what’s your favorite place to people-watch? You don’t have to be a writer to appreciate how fascinating humans can be, so please do share in the comments, and, as ever…

Happy Reading!

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