More than 2 million passengers board 30,000 flights every day in the United States. They are the people we stand behind in line, the people we roll our eyes at for fumbling with their belt before walking through the scanner, the people we squirm to avoid bumping arms with during flight. And once in a blue moon, the people we reach out and touch: the veil of mystery momentarily lifted, they become real.
Packed tightly onto an Airbus A319, we waited at the gate in D.C. as the minutes ticked by and our flight time came and went. When I woke up an hour later I found, to my dismay, we were not yet on the ground in Boston…we hadn’t even taxied to the runway. After an hour and a half delay we lifted off, finally beginning our hour-long shuttle between the two cities: business people, politicians, and tourists alike headed north.
We had just come off our own whirlwind vacation to D.C., the first time since eighth grade my mom got to be a tourist instead of attending meetings and holing up in a hotel room for work.
“They have free drinks on the flight back,” she had told me excitedly that morning. “I can’t wait!”
When the drink cart came by, she wasted no time.
Positioned forward in our compact, leather seats, we didn’t see anyone else on the plane for the hour we were in the air, but when we landed in Boston and stopped just short of the gate, we could hear them all groan.
After a nearly two-hour delay in D.C., it was torture to stare longingly at the gate just a few feet away. When we finally pulled forward 30 minutes later, all passengers simultaneously unlatched their seat belts in the hollow clinking of a metal symphony, leaping to their feet and unloading cargo from above.
Bags in hand, we couldn’t help but overhear the women talking in the aisle next to us–just two of 2 million strangers.
“We’re gonna run for it,” one woman said, shrugging. “If we don’t make it, we don’t make it.”
The women’s eyes filled with steely determination as a voice over the PA system announced that the international flight leaving from Terminal E was holding for the rest of their passengers, but they wouldn’t wait long.
Their eyes darted to one another and then to the back of the plane.
“You’ll make it,” my mom assured them–suddenly a third in their conversation for two. “Is it just the two of you?”
“Not quite,” one woman sighed, gesturing to the back of the plane. “That man wearing the teal shirt is with us too. There’s no way we’ll make it.”
Oh, yes you will. I could almost hear my mom think out loud, now filled with a tiny wine bottle of liquid courage.
“Hey, everybody,” she shouted at the passengers now crowding the aisles as my little sister and I fought the urge to hide our faces from whatever would come next. “Let teal guy through! He’s trying to catch a flight. Let teal guy through!”
The passengers reluctantly parted ways to let the man in teal through, their eyes stinging as they silently fumed at being cut in line, like children in a school cafeteria.
“See, we’re nice in Boston!” my mom called out. “Good job!”
The women smiled and thanked her before rushing off down the aisle to their flight.
“I wonder where they were going,” my mom wondered after them.
No longer just faces in a sea of 2 million, I wondered the same as their figures disappeared down the hallway.
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