The first time in my life I’ve been scared on a plane…

I’ve flown over two million “butt in seat” miles in my life, and I don’t think I’ve once felt unsafe during those times… until today (and I’m writing this “live”). I’m flying a domestic lower-48 route that shall remain nameless, and for the first time I felt unsafe the moment we pushed back.

So what was it, you ask? Something with the plane? Something with the crew? Nope, neither. Rather something with the guy seated across from me. I’m not sure if I’m just incredibly exhausted due to getting over a cold or if my feelings have some basis, though never before have I been so close to asking the flight attendant to call the captain and offload me out of fear.

What happened? Well, the guy seated across from me exhibited every possible nervous behavior, which in and of itself didn’t faze or bother me. He played with his beard, opened and closed the tray table lid every second, tapped his foot every second, and played with the wires he had in his hands. But everyone has a bad day, be it due to stress, a fear of flying, personal circumstances, or because they’ve had a bit too much to drink (that’s actually called a good day, right?).

What concerned me wasn’t his nervousness, but the anger I perceived he had towards me, and I’m not sure why. He looked over at me with anger on his face for long periods of time, and when I briefly glanced back he would quickly look elsewhere. He would loudly stomp his foot on the floor and then look at me. And he would even create a “fist” of sorts while looking at me. He did all this while mumbling to himself.

I’d like to think I’m decent at interpreting other peoples’ body language, and his simply screamed “I’m going to kick you’re a$$ and pin you to the floor the second we’re off the ground.”

As we got to the runway my palms were sweating and I was this close to pressing the flight attendant call button and asking that they return to the gate, but at the same time I didn’t want to cause such an inconvenience for other passengers, or in this post 9/11 world cause some massive airport shutdown, or even me being sent to Gitmo… who knows. The description above probably doesn’t do the situation justice, but suffice it to say that I felt unsafe and threatened on an airplane for the first time in my life for nearly 45 minutes.

The good news is that now that we’re airborne he seems to have less of an issue with me, so I guess in retrospect I’m happy I ignored it.

Though I’m curious what you would have done in the same situation? Ignored him and hoped for the best? Engage him in a conversation to “feel him out?” Request that the plane return to the gate? Something else?

Filed Under: Travel
  1. “Engage him in a conversation to “feel him out?” Are you nuts??????

    Guess I would have opted to move to a different seat (assuming your flight wasn’t full).

    I’m like, really good with words and wit, but if I perceive someone is a problem, I ain’t playin’ with that fire…

  2. I think he just likes you and doesn’t know how to express it properly 😛

    That much said, I think most of the aggression ever directed towards me by passengers on planes were little children. Nothing to be scared of, there.

  3. I would have moved to another seat. Because if you said something God only knows what could have happened. Another good reason to sit in an aisle seat

  4. the world is full of freaks .. – have a cocktail, put your earplugs in and snooze. In a couple of hours he’ll be gone ….

    just because you’re up front flying isn’t always a pleasant experience … unfortunately one of the loons made it up there with you today …. lets hope he’s not reading your blog posts … !


  5. btw, this is a Delta blog post, right? Cause I really want to win a prize for my answer…

    lol 🙂

  6. I’ve had a couple of situations like that, sitting next to a gentleman reading an iranian newspaper (and exhibiting nervous signs, but not necessarily anger at me), as well as getting on a plane in Phuket, where I (and the rest of the passengers) had not been properly screened… meaning (and Lucky, you probably experienced this too), you go through the metal detector, beep, and keep on your way, twice. I remember looking at a Japanese couple who had the same idea my wife and I had… if anyone got up or exhibited weird signs on our short flight to Singapore, I’m sure there would’ve been more than myself ready to jump… innocent or not, I could tell at least a few other people were nervous.

  7. Sorry, man, next time I’ll try not to bounce my foot around so much.
    But seriously — post again when you’re down.

  8. I didn’t know Al Gore grew his beard back… Be safe – ask the FA if they are detecting the same crazy vibe

  9. I’m thinking I must scare people who sit near me on planes. I’m always reading/writing in Farsi and I’m a really nervous flyer. I’m always getting up to go to the bathroom because I get sick and would rather toss my cookies there.

    I’ve been scared a couple times. Once, there was a young man who was OBSESSED with the exit door. He kept fussing with it and touching it while we were in the air. This was right after 9/11 so I was hypersensitive. I was ready to restrain him if need be!

    I was also scared last summer when a man flipped in the waiting area. He was screaming and punching and kicking the glass walls. I saw the flight attendants restraining him on the flight during takeoff. They were literally all holding him down!

    If I was in your situation, I would have probably ignored it and worried like crazy the whole way. Glad it turned out okay!

  10. I think I would have had to ping the flight attendant for that one. None much for seeing how it works out with 35k vertical feet are between me and my bed.

  11. Maybe you took (reserved) his favorite seat and he was #pissed and it was a type of DYKWIA behavior 😉

  12. It’s possible that the guy has a mild form of autism and the repetitive movements were ‘stimming’-self stimulation to cope with stress or fear. The stares might have had something to do with an inappropriate social response to the same. I suggest this because my adult daughter has Asperger’s syndrome and reacts this way whenever she flies, although she always notifies the flight attendants when she boards so they don’t get worried about her behavior.

  13. @ Delta Points:

    Ahhh yea, the American Air Marshal wannabe who rescued the “Euros” hahaha

    But seriously, I think you did the right thing by getting involved back then. Could probably do without the Batman/Superman inspired, Hollywoodesque quarter-back hyperbole.

  14. No sour grapes here, but is this an issue for flippant comments? Lucky writes about a legitimate concern and one we could all face. It would have scared me, too. I think that I might have tried to engage him in conversation to see how hostile he really was. Maybe a question, “are you a nervous flier? Could I help?”

  15. Interesting things people get scared about.. :p you can’t open the emergency exit inflight due to pressurisation… If that other guy is nervous or has a twitch, so what? You are on public transport… Even in F!

  16. You took his overhead bin…

    Sorry, couldn’t help myself. I’m at least a little nervous every time I fly.

  17. The fact that he had wires in his hand may have been enough for me to say something to a crewmember. It’s probably nothing, but you never know. I truly am not one who sees a terrorist behind every tree, but it is not outside the realm of possibility that he was behaving this way just to see if anyone noticed, a test run of sorts. It’s also possible that he was just an extremely nervous flier.

  18. Lucky wrote that he wasn’t fazed by the beard or nervous behavior but rather the obvious signs of personal antipathy the passenger was exhibiting towards him. I would have been scared as well, but like Lucky wouldn’t have made a big deal about it and call an FA.

    “What concerned me wasn’t his nervousness, but the anger I perceived he had towards me, and I’m not sure why. He looked over at me with anger on his face for long periods of time, and when I briefly glanced back he would quickly look elsewhere. He would loudly stomp his foot on the floor and then look at me. And he would even create a “fist” of sorts while looking at me. He did all this while mumbling to himself.”

  19. Don’t engage in conversation with people acting like that. Just try to ignore them. Unless, you know, they’re trying to light their shoe on fire or something.

  20. “He played with his beard, opened and closed the tray table lid every second, tapped his foot every second, and played with the wires he had in his hands.”

    Wait… what?!? The wires? Depending on what those “wires” were, I might have taken some sort of action. Otherwise, I would have just kept my eye on him.

  21. @Lucky: Everything turn out OK?

    @Basil & Perryplatypus: I can understand the comments about Frank and Josh but what on earth does this have to do with Al Gore or Cat Stevens?

  22. Seems pretty obvious the guy has a medical problem. I would agree with others here who suggest Tourette Syndrome or similar; possibly even a mental issue. Why did you not ask the FA discretely what is up? Was there someone with him? What was the person next to him doing?
    BTW DBest – since when is this an issue of color? Please…some people always need to play the race card. And does anyone really think a terrorist would do a “trial run” by acting odd like that???

  23. It’s clear the guy had read your review yesterday of the Sheraton Tribeca and had known you couldn’t have possibly enjoyed the hotel as much as you said you did. As such, he likely felt enraged and unsettled about your editorial integrity that would praise such a crappy property solely as a result of your profitable relationship with Starwood.

  24. well rest assured, he wasn’t a terrorist….the TSA already screened him before he boarded the aircraft 🙂

  25. To those waiting for Lucky to respond I am sorry to tell you that Lucky has been eaten by a fellow passenger and won’t be back. Details to follow. Mug shots show an angry bearded man with wires. He ingested about three quarters of Lucky before the FA intervened. There is a 700 post thread about compensation on flyertalk. The airline has offered 5000 posthumus miles. The consensus on FT is that Lucky’s estate is being greedy, there is no FAR that requires FAs to intervene on an in-flight ingesting, and in fact Lucky’s estate should pay for cleaning.

  26. it that behavior was exhibited by a typical US male, nobody would have said a thing.

    I hope you all realize this whole terrorism scare is ridiculous and outright racist!

  27. As a follow up, the rest of the flight was rather uneventful. After observing his interactions with the crew I think he may have been on drugs, but that’s the extent of it.

    Unfortunately there were no other empty seats on the flight, though I would have felt even more uncomfortable moving, since who knows how he would have responded to that if his intentions were bad.

    @ Matrix — Excuse me? You’re calling me racist? The guy WAS a white male…

  28. I’ve run into similar situations in casinos; often at the dice table. But, it’s directly related to people who don’t understand their limits. It often it a result from me telling someone to “calm-down” or “chill” — I sort of laugh when they threaten me now; so much so, I try to remain as calm as possible and passively irritate them back… just waiting for them to *burst* 🙂

  29. @Lucky “whole” is a generalizing term and in this particular case I mean the ever present fear of American with regards to all things arab.

  30. @Matrix
    Re-read Luck’s post. You’re the one playing the racist card here. The term “arab” wasn’t used until your post.

    I think I would’ve accepted the repetitive behaviors and perceived anger at me as simply someone with a disorder. We all have our own problems.
    But the “wires” would have me just a bit more concerned.

Leave a Reply

If you'd like to participate in the discussion, please adhere to our commenting guidelines. Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *