I’ve heard that when you fly alone, you’re more likely to score a seat upgrade – there are more single unbooked seats, and perhaps flight attendants take pity on sweet, smiley solo travellers. So as I got on this Tuesday night flight from Philadelphia International to London Heathrow, I went against my ingrained, timid, British instincts and spoke to the flight attendant at the gate in my very best voice: “Hi there. I was just wondering whether there was any way I could get a better seat? The flight’s looking pretty empty!” And it really was – no more than 30 of us were about to board.
Very loudly, she droned: “If you wanna sit in first class, the price is $99, sweetie…” To save face, I scrunched my lips and pretended to consider it for a second before she continued: “…though the flight’s so empty that every passenger gets their own row, so that’s not so bad!” I agreed, and quickly made my way onto the plane.
Finding my row, I slid all the way across to the window seat. As I tried to find my phone to send my “I’m taking off, catch you on the flip side” texts, a man in the row behind asked: “Did I hear right? We get a row to ourselves on this flight?”
I glanced back and said “yep. Not bad, eh?” After spending the better part of a week travelling alone, it was now quite natural for me to begin a conversation with anyone who makes eye contact for longer than two seconds. I’d become that person. With my holiday friendliness still in full swing, I asked: “So, what brought you to Philadelphia?”
Apparently, he was visiting a newly-married friend who’d just moved over the pond. After a few minutes of chitchat about Philly highlights (cheesesteaks – better than you can imagine; the Liberty Bell – okay; the Rocky Steps – ran up them and felt like a champion), the plane took off, and I resumed my position facing forward, as any normal flight passenger would do.
When the drinks and snacks trolley made its first journey down the plane and I asked for a vodka and cranberry, my new acquaintance asked for a G&T and struck up another conversation: this time, about the importance of getting your ticket money’s worth by taking as much free plane liquor as you can get.
Funny, AND thrifty – how much we have in common.
Though I’d intended to get cracking on the in-flight entertainment, I was turned around chatting in my seat for so long that eventually, Plane Acquaintance invited me round to his row – “I mean, it’s just easier to talk that way”.
It was at this point, friends, I knew that this was not going to be an ordinary flight. As a Londoner, saying a word to a stranger on public transport is alien to me – let alone physically moving closer to further a conversation. And what’s up with him for asking in the first place? I put it down to him having the solo traveller’s thirst for chat that I’d so often had in that past week, and I obliged.
We exchanged names, occupations, and where else we’d been on our holidays. He told me about his dodgy knee and his fondness for skiing; I told him about my love for pizza and the time I nearly drowned in Barcelona. The conversation flowed, and happily, I didn’t find myself scraping to find the next topic to move on to. I noticed that he had a really nice smile. And kind eyes. And a beard that was working wonders.
Two vodka and cranberry juices later, the lights dimmed, signalling that it was time to use our inside voices. Afraid that I was being way too loud, I began to return to my seat.
“I think I’m gonna go watch a movie now, I need to shut up and let these people sleep.”
“Oh, me too. We can watch one together, if you want?”
Watching a movie – cool. On a plane – fine. On the same tiny screen as an absolute stranger, sharing earphones – eh?
Is…he into me? Am I reading this situation right? Or am I just socially inept, and this is a totally normal development for plane strangers?
Curious as to what the hell his game was, I stayed.
Film of choice: Trainwreck, the raucous and raunchy Amy Schumer comedy from earlier this year. A risky one to watch with someone you don’t know; if you haven’t seen it, take the fact that there was cunnilingus in the VERY FIRST SCENE as some sort of indication of the film’s tone. Luckily, it was so hilarious that the “saucier” scenes to come were nowhere near as awkward as they could have been.
By the time Amy and her doctor beau had their happy, albeit disappointingly conventional reunion, my stranger beau was asleep. My own eyelids heavy, I prepared to go back to my row.
Feeling me move, he woke up. “You’re welcome to stay. If you want, you can lean on me?”
Since I’m trying to tell a seven-hour long story in a somewhat concise way, this question probably reads a lot more random than it felt. Why on earth would I want to sleep – and hey, I actually mean sleep – with a complete stranger on a plane, when there’s an entire row going to waste right in front? Despite my natural aversion to anything *romantic*, it actually sounded like a really sweet idea. I hadn’t had much more than a handshake in what felt like forever, so why in the world not? And if in a few hours’ time, it turns out that I’m nothing more than a “yeah, bro” story for him to tell his mates, so be it – not every nice moment between moderately attractive humans has to end in marriage and twin daughters.
As it turns out, the practicalities of snuggling with someone you don’t know, through seatbelts and a giant afro bun on top of your head was in fact very awkward, and after a few attempts at repositioning, we gave up, and slept side-by-side. You can’t win ‘em all.
Hours, or possibly only minutes later, sudden turbulence shook me awake. And what do y’know – when I looked to my right, Flight Buddy was awake too. Now late night on the East Coast, and early morning in Europe, everyone around was fast asleep. The flight was uneasily silent.
“I can’t believe how empty this plane is!” I looked down the aisle behind me, and there were no passengers at all in the back half of the plane. “There’s literally no-one around.”
Every so often in life, you get an undeniable sense of exactly what is going to happen next. With my inadvertently leading statement about our aloneness (see above), something in the atmosphere had most definitely been tipped over the edge. This was happening. He leant in close. Our eyes locked.
“Every time I try to go to sleep, I get a little voice in my head that tells me to try and kiss you. Should I listen to it?”
TENSION, TENSION, TENSION.
Telling it here, I see how this might seem like the corniest, most eye roll-inducing scene in the world, but in that perfect moment of rough air and electricity, the only thing I could possibly say was “umm, err, OKAY YEAH YOU SHOULD, SURE”.
And this, friends, is how I ended up lockin’ lips with a complete stranger some 30,000 feet above the Atlantic Ocean. To clarify, no Mile High clubs were actually joined – I’m trying to be more spontaneous in life, not get arrested. Anyway, as luck would have it, within some ninety seconds our neighbour across the aisle began to stir and turn on his overhead light. The moment was lost. We carried on with cordial chat and watched the sun rise as we got closer and closer to Wednesday morning in London.
We landed around 7.20am. London Heathrow was foggy, brisk and greyer than ever: a firm reminder that the holiday, and the real life rom-com, was over. Me and #PlaneBae claimed our baggage, exchanged numbers and went our separate ways. A week back on solid ground, a sequel is as of yet unconfirmed – so, watch this space. Regardless, it was a hell of a way to end an amazing trip.
Now, to tell the rest of the stories, from the top…