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?